How fashion rental brands like Hire Street are making getting dressed up fun and affordable

Why buy new clothes when you can rent them? Stephanie Smith finds out how hiring fashion can be a cost-effective solution to an overcrowded wardrobe and two Yorkshire influencers tell how it works for them.

There is a fatal flaw in the fashion “cost per wear” theory, that vague mathematical formula, encouraged by fashion magazines, which suggests no one should worry about buying an expensive piece of clothing because the cost-per-wear value ensures it will be an absolute bargain, in the end.

However, wardrobes bursting with clothes worn only once or twice tell a different story.

To the rescue comes fashion rental, with online platforms such as On Rotation, Hire Street, HURR and My Wardrobe HQ offering clothes for hire, rather than to buy. Yorkshire fashion lovers, especially in Leeds and Sheffield, have been quick to embrace the trend, according to Hire Street, a rental platform with staff in Leeds.

Bridget Mackinnan rents clothes via the By Rotation app and will also rent out her own checked Sleeper dress when she had had her baby.

Hire Street was founded in Newcastle in 2017 by Isabella West, an Oxford economics graduate, then 26. She started it in her parents’ basement, and now the company is fast becoming a rental empire, partnering with Marks & Spencer, Oasis, Nobody’s Child, Lipsy, Decathlon and more.

Typically, a M&S x Ghost dress costing £79 in store can be hired for four days from Hire Street for £14. You book it on Hirestreetuk.com, it’s delivered to your door, you wear it (you can take out insurance against damage), and then send it back in the provided return bag, with no need to wash as that is all taken care of.

CEO Isabella says she wanted to provide a sustainable, affordable alternative to wear-once fast fashion. “I borrowed 200 dresses from friends, took photos of them and then uploaded them onto the new site as rental products. I marketed the service predominantly on Instagram,” she says.

The clothes are stored in a warehouse in Glasgow, and every item has a chip to track its rental performance. “We know the fabrics that will be the most durable and which styles have the lowest returns rates,” Isabella says.

Ruth Preston, from Leeds, hired a Self Portrait dress for a Christmas wedding.

A formal occasion like a wedding is a key reason to trial rental for the first time. “Why spend £100 to buy a dress and wear it once if you could hire it for £20? Life is expensive at the moment, and there are lots of events this summer post-Covid, so we are seeing huge growth in demand.”

Rental bundles let customers hire three items for 14 days for £40 (a holiday bundle) or three items for 30 days for £50 (social, workwear and maternity bundles).

But what is in it for the retailers? Isabella says they understand that the way people consume is changing and want an informed, inside view on the rental market, which is forecast to grow 10 times over the next five years. Plus they want to show that they are serious about sustainability and they need to reach a new generation of customers.

“The typical customer is 26-32, a young working professional with lots of social events to attend,” she says. “Most of our customers live in big cities or urban areas such as Leeds, Newcastle, Manchester, Liverpool and London.

Fashion rental entrepreneur Isabella West of HireStreetUK.com.

“During the pandemic, we pivoted the business, launching our rental as a service software, Zoa. We learned that retailers would want to move into the rental industry under their own brand in years to come, so used the pandemic to focus on building our B2B white label offering.”

Rental demand has boomed since restrictions were eased,” Isabella says, adding: “The pandemic caused many people to be more mindful in their consumption. Now affordability and sustainability are more important than ever.”

Bridget Mackinnon is a digital marketing consultant from Harrogate and a mum of three, soon to be four, children. She uses By Rotation, a peer-to-peer app platform used to rent clothes from others and offer your own clothes for rent.

She recently rented a black Sleeper dress for a special trip to Venice with her husband. It cost about £40 for six days including postage (and no need to wash).

M&S x Ghost Ditsy smock dress, £69 retail, from £10 to rent from HireStreetUK.com.

“I already had one Sleeper dress and knew how much I loved it but at £265 for a new one from Net a Porter, I decided to rent instead. I don’t wear black a lot so this was a fun way to try it out.

“I’ve been both the renter and the rentee and only had positive experiences. My favourite rentals include a Lowe basket bag and a gorgeous statement dress from Vampire’s Wife. It feels a much more sustainable option.”

Bridget has rented out her own blue check Sleeper dress. “As I’m expecting our next baby imminently, I’m really looking forward to renting this summer instead of buying temporary pieces, as I know my size and shape will fluctuate. I also love that my wardrobe is getting worn and enjoyed by someone while I’ve been out of action.”

@bridget.mackinnon

Ruth Preston, from Leeds, hired a dress for a Christmas wedding. She says: “I’d never be able to afford a designer dress but I wanted to feel extra special.

“Renting this Self Portrait dress, which retailed at over £250, cost me about £55. Often these days we are seen in photos so frequently that cost per wear in such a dress isn’t logical.

Bridget Mackinnan recently rented this black Sleeper dress - from By Rotation - for a holiday in Venice,

“We always want to wear something new, so from a sustainability perspective it’s a no-brainer. I felt like a million dollars in it, then the next day I parcelled it up and sent it back. So easy. No regrets and all the memories.”

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