My closet is within the cloud.
That’s not how I really describe the darkish, clothing-stuffed nook I tear via every morning. But at the least a portion of my clothes is now chosen via an app. And I do not even personal these clothes: I pay a subscription price to put on them for a month, then I commerce them in for a brand new batch when my time is up. According to Rent the Runway cofounder and CEO Jennifer Hyman, this mannequin—the place we hire clothes, equipment, and delicate items that we at one level would have outright bought—goes to vary the whole lot sooner or later.
Over a yr in the past, I set a aim to not purchase new garments. If I felt the urge to purchase one thing, I made a decision, I’d prohibit myself to secondhand, borrowed, or rented clothes. I used to be partly impressed to do that after studying a late-2017 New York Times column concerning the creator’s “no-shopping year.”
If I used to be going to curb my consumerism, garments appeared like an excellent place to begin. The trend trade places quite a lot of stress on the blue marble we name dwelling. According to a report from the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, the carbon footprint from textiles manufacturing in 2015 was larger than the CO2 equal of worldwide flights and transport mixed. Our file for waste isn’t any higher: It’s estimated that greater than half of the “fast fashion” produced around the globe is thrown out in below a yr.
OK, so, my singular avoidance of shopping for new garments within the socially aware Bay Area means little or no within the large image. But it was much less concerning the act of procuring—I’ve by no means a lot preferred it anyway—and extra a few shift in considering round possession. Even earlier than studying the New York Times piece, earlier than Marie Kondo’s guide and Netflix present, I used to be feeling horrible about proudly owning issues I wasn’t utilizing. This new experiment grew to become the textile equal of an app-tracking dashboard that uncovered how a lot time I used to be losing on my smartphone: I could not cease sporting garments fully, however I might be much more considerate about how I did it.
Rent Is Due
Like the Times author Ann Patchett, I made exceptions to my very own guidelines. I’ve drawback toes (doubtless because of years of taking part in basketball), so I opted to purchase new operating sneakers that match correctly as a substitute of the uncomfortable used Nikes I discovered at a consignment store. At one level I purchased a brand new wetsuit, so I would not freeze within the Pacific surf. When my mates had infants, I typically despatched new, miniaturized clothes objects as items, and when a last-minute video shoot for work required a wardrobe merchandise, I ran out and acquired two new however cheap shirts.
Otherwise, I shopped at native consignment retailers and Goodwill, scoured ThredUp and Poshmark, and ultimately, hopped aboard the Rent the Runway practice.
Rent the Runway launched in 2009, and for a very long time was targeted on one-off leases. Going to a gala? Rent a gown and put on it as soon as. It was and nonetheless is a dream service for anybody who attends quite a lot of weddings.
My personal expertise with one-time RTR leases has been combined. Last summer season, I used the service to safe a proper gown earlier than heading to a pal’s nuptials within the mountains. The package deal arrived previous its scheduled date, so I panicked and acquired one thing else within the meantime, not realizing what procuring alternatives there can be at our remaining vacation spot. (Rent the Runway issued a credit score to make use of sooner or later as an apology for the delayed package deal). When I arrived on the wedding ceremony, one other girl there advised me she, too, had run into an issue along with her RTR supply.
But Rent the Runway’s month-to-month rental service—not for formalwear however for enterprise apparel—has been extra helpful than I might have imagined on this yr of no-new-clothes. Since final May, I’ve been utilizing the Update plan, which sends 4 garments merchandise every month. They arrive in a garment bag with a pay as you go UPS label for returns. They scent pleasant, and they’re typically issues I by no means would have purchased myself however lastly have the power to attempt. There’s additionally an Unlimited plan, which incorporates 4 objects however does not require you to ship them again inside a sure timeframe. You can swap out garments while you really feel prefer it. Two days later, you get new stuff.
As its title suggests, Rent the Runway’s stock is firmly upmarket. Update prices $89 per 30 days. Unlimited is $159 per 30 days. If you like the thought of sporting Jason Wu, Derek Lam, Kate Spade, Diane Von Furstenberg—and having the choice to purchase from designer labels at a steep low cost later—then, positive, it is a steal. For many individuals, together with those that purchase secondhand as a result of that is what’s of their price range, these month-to-month RTR charges are nonetheless greater than they’d pay for clothes in any given month.
The strategy of RTR competitor LeTote is totally different: Founder and CEO Rakesh Tondon says it needs to be the corporate that serves the 99 p.c. Most of LeTote’s clients spend $69 to $89 a month on their subscription packages and usually tend to see extra mid-market manufacturers like Banana Republic, J. Crew, and Zara.
After going practically “full rental,” I’ve had little need or want to purchase new garments prior to now yr. There have been these exceptions, in fact. At some level I’ll have to purchase new underwear and socks. (Pro tip: ask for these for the vacations, when Mom does not know what to get you.) And I have not even tried to hire denims, as a result of I do not wish to waste one among my 4 rental slots on an merchandise that I’m 99.eight p.c positive will not match correctly. Denim try-ons at secondhand retailers have been unsuccessful. Those, I could purchase new sometime.
But this entire course of has made me assume rather more critically about clothes purchases. And it seems I’m not alone. Late final yr, consulting agency McKinsey & Company partnered with the commerce publication Business of Fashion to supply a report on the style trade’s ecosystem. Among different predictions, the report forecasts the “end of ownership,” as clothes consumers develop extra involved about sustainability. “Woke” shoppers are searching for transparency round provide chains, and on the identical time anticipate sooner and sooner supply, the report says. (Yes, McKinsey put “woke” in quotes.)
One of the important thing folks highlighted in that report is Jennifer Hyman, cofounder and CEO of Rent the Runway. So I went straight to the supply.
Hyman’s thought for a “closet in the cloud” first got here to her and Rent the Runway cofounder Jennifer Fleiss in 2008. From the very begin, they envisioned the clothes-swapping service that I’m utilizing now, however, Hyman says, “the only share-economy company that existed at that time was Netflix, and I thought consumer behavior wasn’t really there yet.” So they began out with special-occasion clothes.
Three years in the past to the month, their imaginative and prescient crystallized when the corporate soft-launched its month-to-month rental service. Hyman says she observed that clients had began to hack the system: They would hire one thing for a particular occasion on Saturday evening, then put on the outfit to work on Monday or Tuesday with a cardigan or blazer thrown over it to decorate it down, then ship it again. Women began clamoring for a product that may serve their wants for the event that was really most necessary to them: Going to work, and the opposite life stuff that occurs 5 to seven days every week.
Rent the Runway’s personal firm valuation is now someplace round $800 million. It claims 10 million members (all of these clients buying ladies’s attire; the corporate does not hire males’s clothes), and Hyman likes to say that it runs the biggest dry-cleaning operation on the earth out of its warehouse in Secaucus, New Jersey. Like many on-line providers that deal in atoms in addition to bits, Rent the Runway is as a lot of a logistics firm as it’s a know-how firm. And now it is leaping into one other space of individuals’s lives that Hyman sees changing into extra customized: dwelling items.
Rent the Runway simply introduced that it is working with West Elm, a Williams-Sonoma firm, to hire out bedding, pillows, and different delicate items to hip dwelling dwellers. Hyman stresses that this is not about furnishings leases; maybe as a result of some furnishings rent-to-own providers have a status for being predatory towards shoppers, notably low-income consumers. This dwelling items service is meant to be a part of an extension of RTR’s present model and attraction to individuals who crave (apparently on a regular basis) a type of self-expression.
Most apparently, Hyman says the corporate is responding to the best way folks are actually sharing their personal areas on social media. So, sure, it is due to Instagram. “Just as our closet has become an area that we now share online, it’s the same thing happening in our home,” she says. “They’ve moved from personal to public spaces because of social media.”
I did not assume that my very own need to hire clothes was fueled in any respect by social media; nor do I feel I’d be renting pillows anytime quickly. But then I noticed what number of occasions I’ve stated to folks in latest months that it is good to have a rented shirt to put on to each convention, each talking engagement, each party, as a result of images. Photos are all over the place now. I used to be, in reality, the cliché.
Green Is In
The largest query I nonetheless have after months of not shopping for new garments is whether or not I’m doing something remotely significant for the atmosphere. Short reply: I do not know. Without hyper-vigilant data-tracking and realizing extra about Rent the Runway’s personal footprint, I would not have the ability to decide whether or not having this stuff dry-cleaned and shipped to me each month is best or worse than brief journeys to my very own dry cleaner and an extended jaunt to a mall as soon as in a blue moon.
But the minds behind these corporations insist their fashions are higher in the long run. Tondon, from LeTote, says his clients put on every clothes merchandise one and a half to 2 occasions per rental on common, and that very same clothes merchandise will get shipped out on common 10 occasions earlier than it will get to an end-of-life stage. If we’re being beneficiant, meaning each bit of clothes will get worn round 20 occasions earlier than it turns into trash. That’s significantly better than the variety of occasions most clothes is worn, which is 2 to a few occasions per owned merchandise earlier than it is discarded, Tondon says.
“The collective carbon footprint of people going out and purchasing on a one-off basis, coupled with the new garment having been created, is far greater than the cost of circulating these clothes in a community of users,” Tondon says emphatically.
Hyman does not reply instantly once I ask about RTR’s transport quantity and what meaning for the environmental footprint of the trade, however she does discuss concerning the peripherals. “Our packaging is reusable. We recycle all of our materials. Our dry cleaning is entirely green,” she says.
It’s the big-picture plan, that aim of getting ladies turned on to the closet within the cloud, that would be the most sustainable factor in the long run, Hyman believes. “It’s really about teaching women how to think about investing versus purchasing,” she says. “When you purchase something, you should be making investments—things you’re going to use for years and years.” The relaxation, she says, you’ll be able to simply hire.
We’re to not the purpose the place the entire bodily items in our lives are rented. But clothes? I’m on board.