In an unexpected move for fast fashion, retail giant H&M is going to trial renting out its clothes. The multinational retail company will be offering members of its customer loyalty programme the chance to rent selected items from its 2012-2019 Conscious Exclusive collections via its flagship Stockholm store.
The Conscious Exclusive collection is a higher-end, limited-edition sustainable range that retails from about Dh350 to Dh1,000. With the new rental service, up to three pieces from this collection can be rented out at a time for a week, and for a cost of 350 Swedish krona (Dh135) per piece. There will even be a repair service, where customers can get their items mended or upgraded. "We look forward to evaluating this as we are dedicated to changing the way fashion is made and consumed today," says Pascal Brun, head of sustainability at H&M.
The concept of renting out one's wardrobe is hardly new: in the US, Rent the Runway, which launched in 2009, has been widely lauded as a game-changer. Closer to home, brands such as Designer-24, House of MC and The Mode cater to those who want to hire clothes in the UAE.
However, the concept behind clothing rental services was initially to provide very high-end clothes to customers at a fraction of the cost. That means paying for luxury outfits that would only be worn once or twice and then returned. But the last few years have seen a shift in the paradigm, with customers opting to rent rather than own, even when it comes to everyday wear. And businesses are rising to the demand. Rent the Runway has since introduced subscriptions for everyday wardrobe items. In the UK, Girl Meets Dress is a service that allows subscribers unlimited dress hires for £99 (Dh470).
And the big brands are listening, too. This year alone has seen Urban Outfitters, Macy's, Banana Republic, American Eagle and Bloomingdale's announce subscription services at varying costs.
This shift has largely been credited to demand from millennials (who are sometimes called Generation Rent), as well as Gen Z – it seems these age ranges prefer the flexibility that comes with renting over ownership. Perhaps this is because of increased awareness about the negative impact of fast fashion on the environment.
According to a recent United Nations study, "nearly 20 per cent of global waste water is produced by the fashion industry, which also emits about 10 per cent of global carbon emissions". Maybe rent will become the fourth "R" in the environmental movement, alongside reuse, reduce and recycle.
With big labels also entering the rent market, customers may soon see a future that combines the thrill of wearing a new outfit every week, with the knowledge that their fresh fashion is more ethical.
Sure, there are still some kinks that need to be worked out – the environmental impact of constant delivery and return policies, and the chemicals used in the process of dry cleaning, for instance. But, for now, it looks like H&M has taken a step in the right direction.