Renting Clothes: Sustainable Or Not?

The concept is green, however, the execution proves more dangerous for the environment.

Credit: Raconteur

The answer to fashion’s sustainability crisis has recently been under fire for being worse for the planet than previously assumed. 

Published by the Finnish scientific journal Environmental Research Letters, a study investigated the environmental impact of disposing of clothing, including renting, resale and recycling.

The experiment found that renting clothes had the highest climate impact of all. The environmental cost was found to be due to delivery and packaging costs. Renting involves taking the clothes back and forth between the warehouse and the renter, frequently using harmful transportation. Dry cleaning is also harmful to the environment.

Renting clothes has been thought of as a sustainable alternative to fast fashion. Companies who rent clothing such as Rent the Runway and public figures like Carrie Symonds and Gwyneth Paltrow are a few of the brands and faces on board. Ralph Lauren has also announced a rental range.

The trend is on the rise, but xperts are warning against it. According to GlobalData, it is going to be worth £2.3bn by 2029. A report by the World Economic Forum this year suggested that the industry generates 5% of global emissions.

Sustainable and ethical fashion blogger Venetia La Manna said, “Ultimately, we need to address our infatuation with newness and all trend-based fashion businesses need to be extremely wary of the part they play in pedalling needless consumption.” 

Circular Economy and Alternatives

Credit: Kristoffer Tripplaar/Sipa USA, WWD

The study found many rental brands misuse the term “circular economy” – the system where clothes are passed from person to person before being recycled.

Gergana Damyanova, who founded the London-based fashion brand Blonde Gone Rogue that focuses on sustainability, agrees that encouraging consumers to buy fewer clothes and make what they have last longer is the best solution to fashion’s environmental crisis. This solution is only possible with business cooperation.

If rental companies change their logistics to make them more climate-friendly, renting would, environmentally, be on a level with reselling. 

Dana Thomas, author of Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes said, “No executive wants to overhaul their business, and that’s what ‘going green’ will require, not tweaks but an entire overhaul.” 

“Only regulation will solve that problem. No company, in any industry, will volunteer to take a loss for the sake of the planet. They’ll do so when it’s the law. The biggest obstacle is greed.”

Source: Mother Jones

As with any sustainability issue, renting clothing is complex, and every scenario is different. If you want to keep the impact of your fashion footprint low, the best thing you can do is wear what you already own. 

When you need or want something new, make the best choice in regards to quality, sustainability and of course, fashion.

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