What happens when fashion consumers start shopping smarter and more sustainably, without wanting to forgo style? Well, the last decade of the fashion e-commerce scene points to luxury rental platforms.
Just in the last four years, Singaporean companies such as Style Theory, Rent A Dress, Covetella, Style Lease, and Acquired Time have joined the ranks of luxury rental startup operations. Some provide specially curated subscription boxes every month, which include several pieces of clothing for everyday wear. Customers must return this clothing by the end of the month in exchange for another box. Others offer one-time rental services on formal gowns.
Whichever the model, one thing is for certain: a sharing economy could be the future of fashion consumption, and retailers must find a way to adapt to its effects.
But first, what’s great about luxury rental?
The most apparent appeal of luxury rental services is their relative inexpensiveness. Instead of shelling out thousands for a single piece of clothing just for a single special event, shoppers can rent items for significantly cheaper prices. For instance, a S$2,500 Badgley Mischka gown can be rented at Rent A Dress for only $150 (for four days), a mere six per cent of its retail price.
At this point, some of you might protest, “But brick-and-mortar rental boutiques have been around for a long time! What’s so revolutionary about this?” Well, e-commerce has sped up and simplified the process. Affordability doesn’t just come in the form of saving money, but time as well. No longer do shoppers have to spend an entire day travelling around the country searching in specific boutiques, sometimes with no guarantee of finding suitable items for impending events.
Luxury rental platforms afford efficiency that won’t discount quality.
From luxury brand ball gowns to prestige brand work dresses and blouses, luxury rental platforms give customers a huge collection to choose from, regardless of occasion. However, unlike your average store, the size of this selection is much more constant. That Rolex Yachtmaster you’ve been eyeing can be on your wrist in a week, even if you’d just gotten your Rolex Submariner three weeks ago.
These platforms offer a larger collection of luxury items than the average person is likely to own. And for people who can’t bear to be seen in the same piece twice, renting may be the way to go.
Only surpassed by the oil and gas sector, fashion is the most polluting industry in the world. In Singapore, people purchase an average of 34 new pieces of clothing and throw away 27 pieces every year. However, as consumers of today grow more environmentally conscious, the concept of a sharing economy has become increasingly attractive. Why not spend less money on clothing — that will end up tucked away in your closet anyway — by not really owning it?
Especially with prêt-à-porter luxury goods, whose prestige tend not to last as each new season blows in, clothing rental extends their lifespans by expanding the number of potential closets they could be picked from. Renting allows us to “put away” clothing we no longer want, waste-free. Even if we don’t want it, someone else might. We could see these rental platforms as a kind of reseller of your unwanted clothing, where the resale is actually promised.
It goes without mentioning that luxury comes with a hefty price tag. Before you spend a few thousand dollars on a new watch, you’ll want to know how resistant it is, how solid it feels, how it wears on your wrist and matches your wardrobe. An hour in a watch shop can’t tell you all that, but wearing it yourself for a few weeks could.
That is where luxury rental comes in. Rental lets people be smart consumers, providing a cost effective way to try before we buy. Not only do these trials come at a fraction of the items’ actual retail prices, but they can also help shoppers make informed and satisfactory long-term investments.
How is the market responding?
The luxury rental business does not appear to be shrinking any time soon. Its benefits range from the personal to the economical and environmental. But what are luxury brands saying?
It is no surprise that some retailers fear a cheapening of their brand. The new affordability of designer goods begs the question: Is luxury still considered luxury? It is a common adage in high fashion marketing that experience, not ownership, is the key to luxury. Can the prestige of a Chanel Première watch exist then, if one can now claim to have bought such an experience for only S$100? If exclusivity defines luxury, accessibility democratises it. The prospect of declining brand prestige and, subsequently, an overall lower demand for these brands, could make luxury rental a massive disruptor.
At the same time, we can already see several high fashion labels adapting to these changes. With an understanding that brand loyalty is the ultimate linchpin for consistency, big-name brands like Balmain and Alexander Wang collaborated with fast fashion retailer H&M to reach out to a younger audience. Once the purchasing power of this audience rises, these brands stand to benefit from the early established brand loyalty.
Some retailers have even taken more direct action in embracing luxury rental — by investing in it themselves. For instance, a Neiman Marcus store in San Francisco houses a space for Rent the Runway, so that shoppers who are trying on dresses from the rental platform can easily pair shoes and accessories displayed in the department store. In essence, retailers like Neiman Marcus are taking advantage of rental businesses by serving to supplement the latter’s products and services by cross-selling their goods.
In the same vein of boosting sales, brands and retailers might also want to partner up with rental platforms for exposure, especially for lower end luxury brands who may not yet be household names. Some rental customers eventually decide to purchase items after the stipulated month is over, making rental platforms an avenue for advertisement. Furthermore, research has shown that handling an item for a longer period of time raises your monetary valuation of it, due to a ‘pre-ownership attachment’ that develops. In short, rental might do the converse of cheapening designer goods, and in fact raise their demand.
So what does the future hold for luxury?
In the next decade, it is worth seeing how the ‘experience’ of luxury will continue to evolve. High fashion labels may shift their focus towards building their brand affinity and brand values in an age where consumers are more socially aware and environmentally conscious. As more brands and retailers start to embrace rental ventures, we can foresee an increasing number of partnerships and collaborations between individual labels and rental platforms. However it plays out, luxury rental startups are here to stay.
Think luxury rental is a bad idea? Or perhaps you have more to say on what’s so good about it. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
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