The real cost of renting

Rent Vs Buy

The real cost of renting

Sharing occasion wear may appear to be the ethical choice, but is it as green as it seems?

Over the last year or so, new clothes rental companies seem to have been popping up at the rate of a new one every day. Companies including Onloan, Rotaro and Hirestreet are all promising a sustainable alternative to fast fashion by supplying clothes for special days that will be reused by many people. Even Ralph Lauren and Harrods have recently announced their own rental ranges.  It’s a system that gives people the chance to wear clothes that they may not be able to afford to buy outright.

Of course, leather’s durability makes it an extremely attractive material for these companies and for renters – it’s the perfect chance to try those Louboutin shoes or that Chanel handbag for a fraction of the price of actually owning them.

Clothes rental hit the headlines recently when Carrie Symons, wife of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, revealed she hired her wedding dress from MyWardrobe HQ. The £3000 gown can be hired for a day for £45.

Hiring clothes is often seen as a reaction against fast fashion. Nobody’s going to rent an item that is worth less than the price of the postage used to send it. And sharing a high-quality piece must surely divert a number of cheaper ones from landfill.

So far so good. But what are the downsides? Well quite a few, unfortunately. A study published in Finnish scientific journal Environmental Research found that renting clothes is worse for the environment than throwing them away. Looking at five types of clothes use – traditional ownership, reduced frequency of buying new, renting, resale and recycling, they concluded renting was the worst.

This is because of the hidden environmental costs in the clothes rental business model. Delivery, packaging, dry cleaning – all of these things must be done every time an item is rented.

Some rental companies are doing their best to improve the situation. Speaking to The Independent newspaper, Georgie Hyatt, co-founder and CEO of Rotaro said the company has “always taken every step to mitigate” the environmental impact and the company was aiming to launch a fleet of “hyper-local London electric vehicles” by the end of this year.

But what should we do while we wait for the rental companies to clean up their acts? Well, we should probably stick to that age-old bit of wisdom… Buy wisely and buy once!