Millennials' attitudes towards clothing ownership are bringing about a major change in the fashion industry
- Renting has become a major fashion trend as younger consumers who crave newness look for more sustainable ways to shop.
- Rent the Runway has been around since 2009, but Urban Outfitters, American Eagle, and Express have recently launched their own clothing rental services.
- This shift in shopping habits spells trouble for fast-fashion retailers that churn out new styles each week.
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Urban Outfitters is the latest store to announce that it would be launching a clothing rental service.
In fact, it's so confident that young consumers want to rent their clothing rather than buy it outright that it has launched an entirely new business to support this. Called Nuuly, the new business launches this summer, giving members the chance to rent clothing from across Urban Outfitters' brands - Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, and Free People - as well as from more than 100 third-party brands such as Reebok, Levi's, and Wrangler.Urban Outfitters is in good company. Other brands such as American Eagle and Express are already offering their own versions of clothing rental and reacting to changing habits in the market.
Last year, Business of Fashion called out rental as being one of the next big trends in the fashion industry and a natural progression from what has been happening elsewhere.
"In more and more categories, consumers are choosing to rent rather than own goods outright," a group of writers wrote in the publication's State of Fashion report for 2019, naming Netflix, Spotify, and ZipCar as examples. If millennials aren't buying houses, cars, or the latest movie, why would they keep buying clothes?
"This is a fundamental evolution in consumer behavior and we expect it will have an impact in the fashion business in the years ahead," they wrote.
Rent the Runway is the leading player in clothing rental right now. The company was valued at $1 billion in March after raising $125 million in a round of funding. CEO Jennifer Hyman has said that she has set her sights on creating the Amazon Prime of rental."This new living closet that we've created is going to apply not only to how you get dressed, but it'll apply to all of the products that you use," she told The New York Times in March.
"Nothing is off the table," she told Business Insider. And she's already made progress. Via a partnership with West Elm, Rent the Runway recently added kidswear and bedding to its offering.
Attitudes towards ownership are changing
Beyond renting a tux for a wedding weekend, clothing rental hadn't quite taken off until now. That is largely because attitudes around shopping for clothing are changing.
Experts say that young consumers are looking for more sustainable ways to shop and choosing to live clutter-free lives in the spirit of Marie Kondo.
And rental fits neatly in with both of those habits: It feeds their thirst for newness and does so in a sustainable way.
There's an obvious loser in this scenario, however. That is the fast-fashion store - H&M, Forever 21, Asos, for example - that has traditionally lured younger shoppers with low prices and constant turnover of clothing.
While the backlash against these stores isn't widespread yet, it's brewing.
"The signals are [fashion is] on the same trajectory as plastics and forests and alternatives to meat," Mike Barry, director of sustainable business at UK retailer Marks & Spencer, recently told The Guardian."It would be a very brave business leader who didn't look into the next 12 to 18 months and say we are not heading there," he said.