Touted as the answer to the fashion industry’s problematic environmental impact, a study has found that fashion rental services are actually worse for the environment than simply throwing clothes away. The findings illustrate how brands tend to oversimplify the complex nature of sustainability.
The rise of fashion rental services was somewhat of a knight in shining armour for the fashion-minded but eco-conscious. Except the so-called ‘circular economy’ of fashion is not as green as it seems. Research has revealed that the industry’s heavy reliance on transportation and dry cleaning means that renting clothes is actually worse for the environment than throwing away old clothes and buying new. Instead of positioning itself as the ‘solution’ to fashion’s sustainability crisis, the research suggests renting should be recategorised. “We should think of renting like second-hand shopping,” says Dana Thomas, fashion sustainability expert. “Not something we do all the time, but on occasion, when the need arises, like proms or weddings.”
The fashion rental market has gone from strength to strength as consumers have sought to recalibrate their relationship with clothing. The growing sector is set to be worth £2.3 billion by 2029, with large brands such as Harrods, Levi’s, and Selfridges all creating their own rental concepts. However, while renting may be perceived as a greener option, it clearly isn't a solution to the eco-crisis. While the rise of the eco-conscious consumer has seen most brands clamour to position themselves as sustainable, many are relying too heavily on eco buzzwords without doing the research into whether they can substantiate their claims. As people become more able to spot greenwashing, there's an onus on brands to be more realistic about their eco-credentials.