“That’s a nice jacket, where’s that from?” says Simon, my hairdresser.
“Yeah, it’s not bad, right?” I lied; it was absolutely glorious. It was marshmallow-soft, camouflage corduroy in orange, green, and brown hues. Where did I get it? This Timberland jacket was acquired by unusual means: rented through HURR for £4.42 a day. And so, I told him.
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. Rented?”
That’s generally the reaction I get when I tell anyone about the incoming Great Rental Revolution. Data firm Statista predicts that by 2025, the global rental market will be worth $7 billion. Rental reduces the need for new clothing – it extends the life cycle of clothes and, if it leads to purchasing, there’s a greater likelihood people will actually wear the damn thing.
It’s fair to say this circular arm of eco-fashion has yet to hit mainstream menswear. For the rental revolution to really ignite, it needs to be practical, seamlessly sliding into the daily movements of your average Joe De La Renter. The process involves finding the clothes, having them transported from source to renter, and then back to source with a wash in-between. On the surface, it seems like a lot of legwork to temporarily dress oneself.
Experimenting with four approaches to menswear rental, I sought to answer the question: Is it worth the hassle?
I start off with peer-to-peer ByRotation, and straight away I react to the prices in a similar way to my hairdresser: you’ve got to be fucking kidding me? £800 to hire a Louis Vuitton luggage case for the week? Sure, fashion doesn’t have to ruin the planet, but it would be nice if it didn’t bankrupt us either. Instead of the LV luggage, I go for a Burberry shirt courtesy of Michael Frasey at £34.50 for seven days. Due to the natural chaos of life interrupting my plans, I receive the parcel three days late. When it arrives, it is too small for me. I send it back the next day for an additional £14.17 having never worn it. Hm.
Frasey got into the rental game after hearing that his female friends made up to £2,000 a month from it. He saw that menswear offerings on ByRotation were minimal and dove in while it was still nascent. “What seems to be the most successful so far is occasion-wear, [but I’d] hoped that it would take off a bit quicker than it has; the interest just isn't there yet,” Frasey says. He explains there was still a lot of stigma for men around renting other people’s clothes at the time.
This is also what Brett Staniland, a model and Love Island 2021 contestant, also experienced. Speaking to me over email, Staniland said we all need to ditch this stigmatization and discover the “community feeling” of rental instead. But with so little engagement on rental sites at the moment, it seems that few men even know that renting exists in the first place.
Next, I try the business-to-consumer system, HURR. The brand recently announced it raised $5.4 million in seed funding, allowing it to significantly scale up its operations in womenswear, menswear, and unisex offerings. And, like ByRotation, it had also adopted both resale and peer-to-peer systems. They use Oxwash, a “vertically integrated washing platform” using wet-washing (no harmful PERC used as in dry-cleaning), zero emissions transport, and are working towards net zero on scope-1 and scope-2 emissions.
The sleek HURR packaging arrives and I slip on the 100% recycled polyester fleece Timberland joggers. This is more like it. Love often heads on a collision course with logic, and my relationship with these joggers is no different: If I want to continue wearing them, I should buy them, right? Is this a natural conclusion? Or a remnant of an old ideology? I’m left in a quagmire of ecological confusion where ownership is the only reasonable answer to rental.
My experience resonates with the CEO of HURR, Victoria Prew, who says that HURR, or rental in general, isn’t going to end the ownership model. It’ll just tweak our current systems for the better. What rental does, according to Prew, is raise the value of the fabric. I suggest that this opens access to better clothing through a lower price entry point, and leads to more intelligent and meaningful purchases longterm.
Prew puts me in touch with Selfridges Rentals (also run by HURR), and this is where I experience fashion vertigo. Scrolling down the list of designers that would normally be barred to me, I’m concerned at how exciting this feels. The thrill is in the blip experiment; being a newer, fancier version of me for a few days. But while I won’t have to take out a small mortgage to do so, the price is still steep. Too expensive, really. In the end, rental doesn’t smash the great doors of fashion down but just slightly democratizes the ticket price.
I enjoyed the hell out of my (“my,” ha!) Balenciaga knit from ByRotation and the Dior trousers I rented through Selfridges. Wearing them in the context of my own wardrobe was helpful when making purchasing decisions. (I didn’t buy either.) But even for those interested in fashion, the constant logistics that are required for the #RentalLife bar it from being a genuine alternative to buying clothes. The trips to the post office take their toll.
But there are other less taxing ways to engage. The Devout offers a subscription box service of three, five, or 10 pieces a month. You can rotate out or keep the same items each week, making it possible to significantly limit future purchases, if you so desire. It’s a great concept and it has the potential to take off, but the quality, style, and variety of clothing need improvement.
Elsewhere, MUD Jeans adopted a lease model which technically isn’t rental, but also isn’t outright ownership. For a monthly fee, this B-Corp brand lets you wear their jeans for a year. When the 12 months are up, you own the jeans, until you decide to return them for recycling. This allows the brand to take more responsibility for their materials, and my current MUD Jeans are phenomenal.
Renting, in theory, should have a lower ecological footprint than buying, open up a new community of like-minded sharers, and offer thrilling adventure into the guarded world of high end clothing. But the prices as they stand now seem unjustifiable, there is a lack of inventory, and if it goes wrong (like it did for my late/small Burberry shirt), it can seem… pointless. To turn the tide of renting’s ills, we need a gaggle of enthusiastic early adopters to push out their diverse wardrobes, drive costs down, and normalize and streamline the process.
Most recently, I booked a pastel green double-breasted suit from Jacquemus via Selfridges Rental for an upcoming wedding. My adopted philosophy of renting expensive is to use it to uplift my current wardrobe for occasions. This seems the most likely near-future wide scale adoption of the menswear rental market and perhaps, it’ll creep further into our quotidian behavior, in time.