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It’s officially wedding season. And you know what that means? It’s time to shop. Event calendars are packed with delayed soirées, sunny celebrations, and a revitalized social agenda as the world learns to live with Covid.

But as consumers embark on building their summer wardrobes, they might be doing it in a slightly different way: renting them.

If it sounds odd, it shouldn’t. We’ve been moving away from ownership for a while now, and gravitating towards models of sharing, borrowing, and subscribing. Why own a car when you can get a Lyft? Why own a stack of DVDs when you can subscribe to Netflix? Why buy a CD when you can stream thousands of albums on Spotify?

In this blog, we track the rising trend of pre-loved fashion and the fashion rental market, sieve through some shocking stats about the industry, and look into how consumers really feel about it.

Secondhand is the new black

This may or may not come as a surprise, but the fashion industry produces the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions as France, Germany, and the UK combined. And consumers are starting to rethink their wardrobe choices.

In the first summer of Covid, as the “nature is healing” meme began to circulate, the search terms “sustainable fashion” and “sustainable clothing” exploded in search interest.

But it’s not just consumers keen for change. The fashion industry’s making moves too. Take, for example, the latest edition of New York Fashion Week: ReFashion Week NYC. 

Hosted by donateNYC and the Sanitation Foundation, ReFashion Week NYC spotlights secondhand and sustainable fashion across New York City. It just wrapped up its fourth year in April, running a series of events designed to reduce textile waste and reimagine the fashion industry.

The secondhand market in numbers

Globally, the secondhand apparel market is expected to grow by 24% in 2022, and in the US, it’s set to “more than double by 2026, reaching $82 billion”.

In March, our Zeitgeist data (which provides an on-the-pulse consumer vibe check every month) revealed 20% of UK consumers planned to buy more secondhand clothes in the future.     

Meanwhile, the popular UK reality TV show, Love Island, swapped out its fast fashion brand partners for a pre-loved-clothing contract with eBay. The move was an attempt to align with its audience – research by eBay highlighted that “those aged 18 to 34 have the highest average percentage of second-hand clothes in their wardrobe (22%).” 

And it’s growing: 1 in 5 UK consumers have admitted to buying more secondhand fashion than they did two years ago.

Fast fashion is notoriously detrimental to the environment, and we’re watching consumer behaviors around sustainability start to shape how brands position their products, organize their supply chains, and even grow their teams.

As our very own trends manager, Chris Beer, writes in his deep dive into fast-fashion retailer Shein, “Either due to its perceived environmental failings, controversial data collection, or because it gets caught up in geopolitical disputes, Shein hired an ESG executive in December 2021, so it’s clearly more invested in its broader impact.”

The fashion rental market takes it one step further – and it’s growing

While secondhand still often involves ownership, the fashion rental market takes consumers’ sustainability efforts up a notch. Rather than buying secondhand clothes, renting allows you to borrow them for a period of time, then return them in (hopefully) the same condition, which can be a slightly terrifying task during party season. 

You know the drill. You’ve got to dress-to-impress for a fancy party, and you have to splurge on something you’ll probably only wear once. It’s a shared concern amongst many consumers. 

Our data shows 1 in 5 Americans say they’d rather rent an outfit that they could give back after an event when they no longer need it than outright purchase an outfit that they could wear again.

On top of that, 7 in 10 Americans say price is the most important factor when purchasing an outfit for a special event. 

This is followed by being able to wear it again (57%). So not only are consumers worried about clothing costs, but they’re also incredibly conscious about the one-hit-wonder outfit, and over half want to avoid it where possible. 

The US has paved the way for fashion rental, with Rent the Runway establishing itself as a trailblazer after launching in 2009 (eight years after which, the UK followed suit with HURR Collective). The mission? Stop wedding and event attire breaking the bank – or roping guests into debt for a one-time-wear. 

Seven years after its launch, Rent the Runway announced a subscription service for members – “a first-of-its-kind clothing rental subscription.”

Today, our data shows that in the US, a whopping 8% currently subscribe to a clothing/accessories/cosmetics service like Rent the Runway or Birchbox. And as a testament to the trend’s popularity, this figure has increased by 16% since Q2 2020, and it’s driven by Americans aged 25-44. 

Meanwhile, 15% of consumers in the US have previously subscribed to these types of services in the past, a figure which is up 22% since Q2 2020, and largely driven by Americans aged 16-34.

Safe to say fashion rental is in vogue.

When it comes to wedding shopping, every country’s got a different style

Interestingly, in 9 countries, (including the US, China, and the UK) our data shows that 25% of consumers are planning to spend money as a guest on an upcoming wedding. And 38% of this audience are planning to spend less money as a wedding guest than they did last year – which is perhaps indicative of the cost of living crisis.

But zooming into each country tells a more nuanced story. Fascinatingly, just 8% of consumers in Japan are planning on spending money as an upcoming wedding guest. And we can see why: they’re the least likely market (out of 44 countries) to have shopped in the past month. 

Just 26% of Japanese consumers say they’ve done this, and it’s a remarkably low number, even when compared to Denmark, which holds second-to-last place at 35.4%. 

At the other end of the spectrum, 31% of consumers in India plan to spend money as a wedding guest, followed by China (27%), and the US (21%).

The takeaway? Brands aiming to capitalize on the event attire market need a localized view, because when it comes to retail habits, every country’s got a different style. 

Key players show no signs of slowing down

Both in the US and the UK, key players show no signs of slowing down. In a June 2022 press release, Rent the Runway announced it had doubled its revenue in Q1, from $33.5 million last year to $67.1 million, while its subscriber base rose 82% by quarter’s end.

Meanwhile, Vince Holding Corp, which owns Vince Unfold, a wardrobe rental subscription service for men and women, reported a 36.2% increase in net sales YoY at the end of Q1 2022.

The fashion rental market isn’t just reserved for challenger brands or new startups. Heritage brands are grabbing a slice of the pie because they’ve recognized its value.

In the UK, for example, you can now rent clothes from John Lewis for your kids – a consumer group that continues to amaze parents considering the speed at which they outgrow their outfits. Likewise, Marks & Spencer has launched a ‘rental range’ on Hirestreet, and the brand has “proven the most popular label on the website for bundles.”

The bottom line

For brands, any move into the fashion rental market needs to start with an understanding of consumer behavior. As we’ve seen when comparing local insights to global trends, the story differs around the world. And while some consumers are worried about cutting costs, others are worried about sustainability. Start with the why. Then take it from there.

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