The Rise of Rentals, Repairs, and More
If your Instagram feed is anything like mine, the last few weeks have probably left your phone awash with runway footage, red carpet best/worst dressed lists, and campaigns from brands promoting their spring-summer lines and waxing poetic about what’s to come in for AW20. Summed up: it’s that time of year when we’re all bombarded with clothing. It’s hard to not get caught up in it all—to not get all hungry and achey for something shiny and glamourous.
It’s no secret that the fashion industry is one of the major global polluters. The linear system of production and consumption ends with thousands of tons of clothing being sent to the landfill where microplastics and other toxins find their way into local ecosystems. And let’s not forget about all the pollution and chemicals that are expelled into the environment from simply making and dyeing fabrics. In a report from WRAP, researchers found that new clothing purchased in the UK produced more carbon emissions per minute than driving a car around the circumference of Earth six times. And that’s a lot to grapple with, for consumers, brands, manufacturers, and everyone else in the supply chain.
Fashion is big money. According to the British Fashion Council, the annual household spending on fashion products sits around £82 billion. And that’s just in the UK. There’s an argument to be made that the current system is working. But is it?
A mounting global panic over climate change and environmental and health concerns has a lot of consumers, myself included, wondering what have we done? I think of my grandma, who insisted her children mailed her their socks to have darned until the day she died. What would she make of this, all of this waste—the billions of tons of textiles that are thrown away every year? It’s hard to say.
Times have changed, as they’ve always said, and the world paradoxically the smallest and biggest it’s ever been. Fabric made in Bangladesh is made into a t-shirt that is then shipped to the United States to be sold in Canada or Mexico or somewhere else. The shirt will maybe be worn for a few months, thrown away, and then replaced with the exact same one. We rarely see the first-hand effects of our fashion consumption, so no one bats an eye. It’s how it is. But does it have to be? Isn’t it time to disrupt the system (granted, we created it) that has put us in this position of mass waste creation?
It’s a tricky spot to be in. People still need to make money. Over half a million people work in fashion retail in the UK. There’s no way the fashion industry will shrivel up and die. The whole thing needs, what my mum liked to call, an attitude adjustment. People aren’t going to stop buying clothing because, let’s face it, wearing something that makes you happy and feel good about yourself is the best. And because the majority of us aren’t nudists, we still need clothing. We as consumers and makers and sellers need to be more conscious and have our eyes open for opportunities to add circularity and to make waves to/in the linear model that we’ve become so accustomed to.
The past month has felt a bit like a blitzkrieg of new fashion content. The subsequent realisation that all of it will undoubtedly be reproduced in sub-par and unethical conditions leaving hungry buyers with garments that are destined for the landfill sooner than later leaves me feeling pretty gross. With that to consider, I’m thankful and so excited to take solace in all the sustainable and eco-conscious initiatives that brands are taking on. It leaves me and all of us at Lowie feeling hopeful for the future of fashion and the future of our planet. So, to offer you a breath of positivity and a taste of those disruptively delicious waves here’s a few cool things that brands are up in the hopes of making fashion better.
We rent our homes, we rent cars, we rent bikes and even books. There’s no reason we can’t do the same with clothing. There’s not a whole lot of sense in having a personal inventory of pieces you’re only going to wear once. That’s where rentals come in to disrupt and a dash of circularity to the scene.
For whatever you’re looking to rent, there’s sure to be a rental service that has exactly what you want. Some of these platforms are subscription-based while others charge a stand-alone rental fee on items. The whole rental scheme not only offers low impact dressing but also democratises fashion by offering dressing solutions that are significantly more budget-friendly.
After a round of financing last spring, Rent the Runway, a luxury fashion service, received an impressive $1 billion USD valuation, proving a piqued interest from investors in the realm of rentals. While Rent the Runway has owned the rental space for nearly a decade, there are a ton of up-and-comers that are offering more than luxury.
Girl Meets Dress follows a more traditional rental scheme offering renters a mix of designer and high street fashion. The Endless Wardrobe offers rentals from its inventory but also give renters the option to purchase items at a discounted rate.
By Rotation, HUUR, and Nuw offer peer-to-peer rental services getting rid of the idea of a stationary inventory and allowing users to lend and borrow everything from everyday to luxury pieces. Brilliant!
For a bit here, it’s like we all forgot that we can fix things. How outrageous would it be to buy a new car upon finding a flat tyre? Unfortunately, the equivalent has become the norm when it comes to fashion. A broken zipper or ripped seam can send a piece of clothing straight for the bin. A lost button can leave a top shoved to the bottom of a drawer for the rest of eternity. This is pretty wasteful behaviour on our part and it doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Mending something is cheaper in the long run and better for the environment, so why aren’t we doing more of it. Speaking from my personal skillset, I don’t know how to fix a lot of things, and I don’t think I’m alone in that. Why would we need to fix something when we can get something better and new? Long answer short: to reduce waste and hopefully reduce excess production and demand for new products and to increase demand for repairable products and repair services.
That’s why here at Lowie we offer Free Repairs for Life. We wanted to make sure that you get as much wear out of your favourite pieces as possible. In the past year, our repair program has really taken off. Starting this year, we’re going to start offering mending workshops because why not!
Similar to Lowie, Scandi denim brand Nudie also offers free repairs for life. They offer repair shops, partners, and send repair kits to customers that are up for a bit of DIY.
Patagonia has a great repairs program. As long as they can fix it they will. In a recent discussion with a customer in the Herne Hill shop, the customer shared that he’s had the same suitcase for over 20 years because he just keeps getting it repaired. How great is that? In 2016, the brand launched its Worn Wear tours. They drove across Europe offering free clothing repairs, regardless of the brand.
For every piece repaired that’s at least one piece spared from the landfill.
Recycling is nothing new. We’ve been doing it for as long as we’ve been making things. But it’s definitely having its moment in fashion, and it’s so inspiring to see the innovation and creativity that goes into making recycled garments and accessories.
For AW 2019, Lowie decided to test out some recycled cashmere on with our Jumpigans. It was a really exciting opportunity, and we’ve been really pleased with the quality and feel of the cashmere. We’ve got some more recycled cashmere coming soon, so stay tuned.
Rothy’s is a shoe brand that makes shoes out of discarded plastic water bottles. Water bottles are broken down and turned into strands of plastic that are woven into shoes using 3D knitting. To date, they’ve transformed 30 million water bottles that would’ve ended up in the landfill into shoes.
Kings of Indigo a Dutch fashion brand is fully committed to sustainability. In current collections, they use organic or recycled fibres. They have a lot of great recycled denim jeans where even the metal fasteners are recycled. By 2025, the brand is aiming to have an entire collection made from manmade or recycled fibres.
Consignment & Return Programs
It’s okay to admit it. Sometimes we get bored with our clothes. That frilly blouse you bought three years ago on a whim might just not feel like you anymore. You don’t want it sitting around your house anymore, but you know that throwing it in the bin shouldn’t be an option. There are quite a few brands offering consignment or return programs to help you get rid of clothes you no longer want in a more conscious way.
Last fall, we launched Re-Love Lowie, a returns program to help keep Lowie from ending up in the landfill. You bring in a piece of Lowie that you’re no longer getting wear out of and in return, you receive a 20% off voucher for your next Lowie purchase. We then do any necessary repairs on the garments so they can be sold at our sample sales and sent off to their next home. Pieces we can’t repair will be up-cycled and responsibly recycled.
American brand Eileen Fisher launched its recycling program, Eileen Fisher Renew, over a decade ago. For each piece brought in, customers receive a $5 voucher. Clothing is then sorted and cleaned, and pieces that are unsuitable for resale are “transformed into works of art using a custom felting method”. Pieces are then available for purchase online and in select shops.
Cuyana has partnered up with thredUP for their Lean Closet program. thredUP is a web-based consignment program that sends pre-paid shipping bags to people looking to downsize their wardrobe. Clothing is then sold for consignment on the thredUP website with the original owner getting a cut of a profit. Through their partnership, Cuyana sends a shipping label with every online purchase. Customers who have clothing they’re looking to get rid of activate the label and send in the package to thredUP. Money made from selling these garments is put toward Cuyana credit. In addition, customers receive a 15% off voucher and when redeemed Cuyana donates 5% of profits to H.E.A.R.T. (Helping Ease Abuse Related Trauma).
Let Us Know
What are some of your fave steps brands are taking to do and be better? Let us know in the comments, send us a message on Instagram, or let's chat the next time you're in the shop.