China Fashion: Street Seen
Meet Congcong a content marketing director from Shanghai!
Clothing rental is surrounded by stigma. From how clean pieces are to sizing to logistical questions, it’s not the retail experience we’re used to. However, it is increasingly becoming a norm for consumers who want to remove themselves from the grip of fast fashion and unnecessary clothing ownership. Rental allows people to wear clothes they wouldn’t usually be able to afford (or rationalise) for a limited time, for a fraction of the price. Services are typically member/subscription-based where patrons pay a flat fee per month, with some platforms offering one-off options too.
Rental began with occasion wear, offering a way to dress for a formal event without spending money on a gown or suit which would only be worn once. This was well before the Instagram era peaked, where photos became social currency to prove you attended something fun and wore something special.
The rental market has typically focused on women and has grown steadily in the past decade. Established in 2009, Rent the Runway is hailed as the first successful rental business, now valued at $1billion. There are now many competitors, including Hurr Collective (who have grown 850% YoY in 2021), Front Row, My Wardrobe HQ and girlmeetsdress.
In 2019, the global online clothing rental market was valued at $1.26bn, and looking ahead to 2025, it’s expected to reach more than $2bn. Much of this growth can be attributed to the changing shopping behaviours caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. This is mostly down to the realisation that an overflowing wardrobe is superfluous, along with the rise of ecommerce overall. One business certainly benefiting from these behavioural shifts is Seasons. Launched in Autumn 2019, Seasons is a menswear rental membership company founded by Regy Perlera and Luc Succès. NYC based Seasons have an acute awareness of how their target audience browse and shop. Speaking of this “generational shift”, Perlera explains, ”Kids growing up with the internet, following brands on Instagram, seeing what all of their favourite celebrities were wearing and wanting to participate in that. It took several years before…the majority of men started to say it was okay that we care how we look.”
With enviable investors including Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian and rapper Nas (both New York natives), Seasons is helping to solve a problem that’s plagued fashion for too long – sustainability. “Everyone wants to feel like what they’re investing in or working on ultimately contributes to the betterment of people’s lives and the health of this planet. Sustainability took a back seat for a long time. If you think about where we were two to three years ago, there wasn’t a huge emphasis on this.” Perlera explains that it’s now more present in the consumer conscience than ever, “The core issue is over the past decade, we’ve been taught that we don’t have to worry about that [sustainability] as a consumer…There didn’t used to be an alternative to fast fashion, until you talk about this accessibility model.” This model is exactly what Perlera set out to achieve, and he has.
As a company who takes items offline once they are no longer rentable, there is a big question about clothing ‘end of life’. This is in juxtaposition to traditional fashion retailers who take items out of rotation as soon as they’re out of season, whereas Seasons, ironically, transcends that trend and keeps items online as long as they are rentable.
Perlera says: “Brands are intrinsically designed to get products out. They’re not very good at getting product back in because it complicates everything.” This is true, aside from the few like Patagonia and Eileen Fisher who have taken responsibility for resale and repair inhouse, brands are very slowly reacting to this issue. Seasons has taken this challenge on at their foundation, “We wanted to be responsible for the way they [items] were disposed of, repurposed or recycled…We have built the technology around getting orders back in, getting product back in, tracking depreciation, utilisation, materials, how it cleans, how long it lasts, all of these things that should hopefully allow us to start upcycling products.” This is the ultimate goal for Seasons, “We get to say that this thing we made comes from 100% recycled materials from the products that we purchased from brands.”
However, upcycling is tricky given the difficulty of breaking down materials which aren’t overly dyed or made of mixed fabrics. The short-term solution is twice-yearly archive sales, with members able to express interest in pieces beforehand and be notified if they become available.
But before a piece even enters the platform, Seasons must decide which brand partners they work with. At the beginning, they would simply buy items as consumers because brands weren’t interested. However, the pandemic shook the fashion industry to its core, and where some brands previously didn’t need a platform like Seasons, it quickly became attractive for them. Now, all of their brand partnerships are wholesale, “We’ve chosen to work with them [partners] because we know they make products that are meant to last…They don’t cut corners on the sourcing of materials or manufacturing.” From classic brands like Acne, Burberry and Comme des Garçons, to more cutting edge and harder to find brands such as Bodi, Rhude, and Cav Empt, Seasons are providing their members with a curated selection of durable, well-made and beautiful pieces, not to mention consistent styling inspiration. As one member says, Seasons are a “cheat code” for what to wear.
Perlera has a member-centric attitude and is sensitive to the fact that people are paying not only for clothing, but to be part of something bigger. The company is still less than two years old, but it is already building new processes to keep track of dry-cleaning operations, and how materials deteriorate over time. This information can be shared with brands so they know how to better manufacture items, as well as help consumers with their fashion choices, even beyond Seasons.
When it comes to leather products, Seasons have experienced a steep learning curve, “We didn’t expect all the maintenance and work that came into maintaining leather.” A combination of items being shipped multiple times to diverse climates and their retained cleaning partners not having the specialist knowledge caused problems, but the team is now much better equipped to handle the hardwearing material. As ever, Perlera is looking ahead, “Long term if we did want to make our own leather products, we would know the best way to make those products. I don’t think we’d want to shy away from it, it’s a very durable material and if done well it’s something that definitely has a place on Seasons.”
Beyond inventory, Seasons has an eye on shipping optimisation. Minimising waste was always prioritised by designing a bespoke garment bag designated to each member. Built to withstand approximately sixty return trips, these have made a real difference to the brand experience, not to mention avoiding wasteful plastics and cardboard. Perlera explains that it “helped us to think about packaging more holistically and reduced cost on materials”, while their next version will be made of 100% recycled and waterproof nylon. They also allow members to opt-out of the recycled plastic dry-cleaning covers. From here, Seasons would prefer to rely less on aeroplane transit and at least for local deliveries in NYC, use an electric van.
With the rental market moving in the direction it is, and growing consumer awareness of sustainability, it’s hopeful that more brands will start to join the circular fashion economy. Seasons are already helping their members and brand partners to meaningfully participate, constantly working on improvements to make their sustainability footprint bigger, and it stands to reason that more rental businesses will follow suit.
Take a look at Seasons here!
BY NICOLA DAVIES
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Meet Congcong a content marketing director from Shanghai!
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