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Wardrobe rental enters the mainstream

Over the past few years the retail industry has drastically changed, and with it consumer behaviour, particularly around purchasing preferences. Factors such as inflation, social consciousness and the pandemic have brought into focus a growing type of shopper – the renter.

Retail shoppers’ behaviour has changed and evolved, along with the rest of the world, with one of the main changes being the focus on sustainability.

Consumers are beginning to prioritise sustainable values when making retail decisions and this is particularly notable in the fashion industry.

On one hand, thanks to the internet, consumers are becoming more aware of the impact fast fashion has on the environment. While on the other hand, fashion microtrends are fuelling the excessive consumption of clothing.

A Princeton University study found that 57 percent of discarded garments end up in already packed landfills, and are destined for incineration, a process which poses a number of environmental and public health threats.

To address growing sustainability concerns, many fashion retailers are looking for alternative options to align with consumer values while still running a successful business.

Jonathan Elms.

Director of Research for Massey University, Jonathan Elms says many retailers are starting to adopt “sharing economy” business models, and whether it be with products or services, consumers are attracted to the concept.

Fashion retailers across the board are already jumping on the sharing economy with the concept of renting. Consumers are introduced to renting a garment for a specific event over purchasing an item they will know that they will only wear once.

Spearheading the rental business is Saejung Oh, founder of popular rental designer clothing company OhRentMe.

Oh says the idea first came about eight years ago when she was studying at the University of Otago. Her obsession with shopping led to her friends constantly raiding her wardrobe every weekend.

Based off this, she began renting out her clothes to other university students.

“I started off with my personal wardrobe. I just loved every piece so much that I didn’t want to sell it but wanted to make some cash while studying. So, it worked out perfectly.”

“I started off posting my wardrobe to buy and sell Facebook groups, and a lot of interest grew, so I set up my own Facebook group. From there it grew organically,” she says.

Since starting her business, Oh says the consumer mindset around what they spend their money on has completely changed the general trend of retail behaviour.

“A lot of consumers are more conscious of their shopping behaviour. They tend not to want to purchase dresses they know they will only wear once, but still splurge on big ticket items if they know they will wear them again,” she says.

Saejung Oh.

Examples of the rental business thriving is during school ball season or for special events, where people are no longer purchasing an outfit to wear once and instead are looking towards renting.

This helps prevent the purchase of fast fashion and garments finding their way to the landfills.

Oh also adds that rental companies allow consumers to wear designer items “they themselves couldn’t have afforded to otherwise”.

But it is not just OhRentMe offering rental options. Popular New Zealand fashion retailer Ruby is already making the most of the sharing economy, collaborating with Designer Wardrobe to offer items up for rent.

What sets Ruby apart from businesses such as OhRentMe, is that Ruby provides a full-size range, whereas other businesses will only carry one size.

For younger consumers, rental businesses have taken over, with countless small Instagram rental businesses popping up. Oh says that the spike in businesses is “great” especially when it proved difficult to run a successful business during a pandemic.

With rental businesses becoming mainstream, Oh says it is very hard to be different and innovative in a climate where everyone is the same.

“Especially when so many eyes are on you, whatever we try do to set us apart, someone will copy and mimic everything we do. Sometimes it feels like a lot of the hard work I do, is for nothing. But I guess that is business! Someone has to lead the way,” she says.

As a point of difference, OhRentMe has opened a brick-and-mortar store in Parnell and is focussing on advertising this more as a way of standing out from the many other similar businesses popping up.

“Our goal in the next five years is to grow our physical store more, and hopefully we can move into a larger place, or even open up a new store in another city.”

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Bernadette is a content writer across SCG Business titles, The Register and Idealog. To get in touch with her, email bernadette.basagre@scg.net.nz