When Lucy Hall was considering returning to the fashion industry — after briefly making a career switch from a model agent to restauranteur — she told herself, she would only come back if she wasn't contributing to the landfill crisis. “I just couldn't encourage people to keep consuming,” she tells Refinery29. Alongside co-founder and British model Jade McSorley, she found her happy medium in Loanhood, a peer-to-peer clothing rental app that allows users to lend their clothes.
The way it works: Lenders create profiles where they list their personal clothes, with items ranging from designer fashion and vintage to emerging brands, for users to borrow at a rental fee. This isn’t the only fashion company with a shared economy and sustainability mindset on the market right now: Nada Shepherd started ReSuit in 2019, while Eshita Kabra-Davies launched By Rotation in the United States earlier this year after having success in the UK in 2019. Not only are peer-to-peer rental apps becoming as common as clothing swaps and closet sales, but they’re also growing fast: Since launching, By Rotation has amassed 400,000 users on the app (including fashion editors and creators like Chrissy Ford and Camille Charriere) and 77,000 listings.
While fashion rental services are nothing new — platforms like Rent The Runway, Vivrelle, and URBN’s Nuuly have risen in popularity as sustainable alternatives to shopping new over the last few years — apps like By Rotation, Resuit, and Loanhood are newsworthy for cutting out the middleman and connecting users to exchange goods directly (albeit for a commission). “We don't hold stock,” says Kabra-Davies. “Everything belongs to people.” With that in mind, she sees By Rotation more like a social network than a traditional rental app. “It’s very similar to Instagram,” she says. “People end up following each other and [can] repeat rent from the same person over and over again.”
In fact, some of the apps even encourage loaners and renters to meet in person to exchange goods, rather than ship, if only to lower the transactions’ carbon footprint. (Taking it a step further, Loanhood hosts in-person clothing swaps.)
A former fashion designer, Nada Shepard recalls thinking of alternative ways for designers and brands to lower their production and avoid waste when coming up with ReSuit. “Every step along the [fashion production] pipeline has added waste, added environmental impact,” Shepard says. “I remember I said, ‘There's got to be a better way,’” While ReSuit currently works on a peer-to-peer model, Shepard’s ultimate dream is to have brands join the platform, thus eliminating the need to produce massive orders that may never end up being purchased by customers: “[Instead,] why doesn’t the designer create a mini collection — one cut of each size — and then rent it out?”
Loanhood is already testing this out by working with the London College of Fashion and Central Saint Martins to rent students' and recent graduates’ collections to raise awareness for up-and-comers who may otherwise be unable to enter the cost-prohibitive retail space. “We have some amazing one-of-a-kind pieces that are kind of out-there but which are perfect for rental,” Hall says. Bonus: “It gives designers an outlet to make money from their creations.”
For everyday renters, it’s also proving a lucrative side hustle. According to Kabra-Davies, some customers on By Rotation are making nearly $4,000 per month by renting out their clothes. “We've had incredible success stories,” she says, pointing to a secondhand Shrimps bag (retail prices for which start around $350) that made nearly $1,500 after being rented so many time times and a Self Portrait dress ($350 and up) that made over $2,200. “It’s been really interesting creating this community where fashion is treated as an [investment],” she says. “Not just with Chanel or Birkin bags, but your average dress.”
It should be noted that cutting out the middleman comes with a heftier set of responsibilities for lenders, who are essentially running a store out of their houses. Unlike traditional rental platforms, peer-to-peer rental apps task their users with the washing and dry-cleaning of their clothes, as well as shipping and handling (which users often work into the final rental price). There is also the risk of damage and theft to their personal property, although some apps, like Loanhood and By Rotation, cover expenses and costs when a piece is reported as damaged or lost. Kabra-Davies says she doesn't see this as a deterrent. “We're operating in a space where things like Airbnb and Uber are like very well-established services that everyone has adopted. It's no less different from sleeping in someone else's bed or actually living in an apartment or home.”
Beyond the monetary successes, what excites these founders is the opportunity to connect style-minded individuals and encourage a more sustainable future that prioritizes keeping clothing out of the landfills for as long as possible. “The main thing that we all have in common is the belief that circular fashion and sustainability needs to be inclusive to everyone and anyone,” says Kabra-Davies.