Why This Clothing Rental Company Could Be The Future Of Fashion

Photo: Courtesy of Wear The Walk
How many times have you bought an outfit especially for a particular event? How many times have you worn it since?
According to a study carried out by Marks & Spencer in 2016, there are 3.6 billion clothes left unworn in the nation's wardrobes – a staggering 57 items per person – with an average of 16 items only worn once and 11 still with the tags on. One in 20 of us even has over 50 items in our wardrobe with the tags still on. In a world obsessed with speed and newness and a clothing industry encouraging overconsumption and mindless purchasing, Wear the Walk's approach to fashion is markedly different.
Fast fashion and our shopping habits are rapidly destroying our planet and have catastrophic results for human life, too. Knowing the devastating effects of our actions, how can we casually consume at such a relentless rate, when there are more socially responsible alternatives?
Wear the Walk, founded by Zoe Partridge earlier this year, is a women’s online fashion platform that offers emerging designers' collections for rental at an affordable price. At the heart of the business is sustainable design and the team works only with ethically sourced brands. Rather than being mass market-produced, Wear the Walk spend time working with the next generation of designers who care about how their clothes are made. In a few simple steps, shoppers can browse through Wear the Walk’s curated online fashion library to pick their favourite items to rent for up to 10 days, allowing women to experiment with their wardrobe and experience the thrill of a new purchase without any of the retail guilt. The platform also provides a personal styling service to offer advice for matching looks to accessories.
We caught up with Zoe to discuss building her own business, sustainability, and why we all should readdress the way we shop.
When and why did you first conceive the idea of Wear the Walk and how did you bring it to fruition?
I don't think there was necessarily a "Eureka" moment per se but I would say it was when I started working at Mulberry. I was shocked at how little they acknowledged tapping in and accessing the next generation of consumers. In my mind this transformed them from being aspirational to rather lackadaisical. I wanted to tackle the issue of "access" but didn't know how to at the time. It was about a year ago that I decided I was going to start an online rental fashion business, which, alongside providing access, focused on solving a universal issue which all women face: staring at our bulging wardrobes and saying "I have nothing to wear".
Photo: Courtesy of Wear The Walk
Retail experience is overwhelming and exhausting. The overcrowding nature of retail led to me deciding to find the best emerging luxury designers, which were not only creating amazing one-of-a-kind pieces but were also inherently mindful about how their clothes were made, and rent out their clothes. Renting is not a new concept by any means, but hopefully the technology, designers and access we're providing is new and innovative!
What do you think is the crux of the problem with our shopping habits and approach to fashion and how do they need to change?
The clothes we wear have such a big impact on how we feel that it's almost like a relationship! This is largely down to the increased pervasiveness of social media. Nowadays, we feel we can’t wear the same thing twice; there is a pressure to constantly be on-trend; and we crave that awful dopamine hit of newness all the time.
The biggest problem among consumers is the lack of awareness of where their clothes are coming from, how things are made and what the labour conditions are. Most fast fashion retailers are creating items to literally be thrown away. It's madness! As consumers, we want to discover the latest and best fashion and we want to see now and wear now, and that's by no means a negative. In fact, it's something we champion, and part of the reason I started this company... I'm so impatient! But I think the fashion industry is coercing consumers to scratch this itch in the wrong way, by overconsumption. To change this, we need to look to new initiatives like renting and being mindful of where clothes are coming from.
Why do you think sustainability is such a dirty word?
I think people feel that by being "sustainable" (which is now such an overused buzzword it barely retains any meaning) when it comes to fashion means having to compromise on either price or style. For a long time, sustainable fashionistas were seen as hemp-wearing hippies!
How do you find the designers and brands you want to work with?
Everywhere! Not Just A Label is an invaluable resource. As well as Instagram, London Fashion Week and PR firms.
How do you hope to see your business grow and evolve?
Apart from world domination?! Joking aside, it was never my intention to solely focus on renting out occasion wear but it's considerably more easy for customers to rationalise. Over the next two years I would like consumers to be socialised into renting for the everyday. People want newness without the guilt, so I'd like Wear the Walk to become the main place for customers to access the latest fashion that they can wear anytime.
What have been the biggest challenges in launching Wear the Walk and who have been your mentors?
As the sole and only founder, I think one of the biggest challenges is time and my lack of capability in areas of the business. Further to this it has been having no one to challenge me when it comes to designer, strategy and scaling. No one when it comes down to it to say that I’m doing something wrong, or right, incidentally! I love being on my own, but it can be lonely. Mentor-wise I've naturally gravitated to people who compensate for my downfalls and work in the area I think is most important to driving this business forward: technology. I've been lucky enough to have the support of some great experts, people like Cally Russell who runs Mallzee, Tabitha Gouldstaub who's pioneered women working in AI, and Donna North from Dressipi.
How have you grown your customer base?
With a little help from my friends! We've just opened a new studio which is open to the public on weekends and via appointment during the week. This has been invaluable for finding new customers, getting insights and building relationships. Alongside this, I've got two extremely savvy marketing ladies that manage our digital space. Instagram is our second shop window!
What would be your advice to budding entrepreneurs?
Just go for it and fail fast and fail hard. If you're failing you're doing something right, but make sure you learn from it.
For more information visit www.wearthewalk.co.uk

More from Designers

R29 Original Series