I've been renting all my clothes for over a year. Here's what I love about it — and what everyone should know before trying it.
I've been renting all my clothes since late 2021 through Nuuly, an online-rental marketplace.
It's helped me cut back on shopping, stop buying fast fashion, and focus on quality over quantity.
But now my own wardrobe feels boring and dated. Plus, renting isn't as sustainable as it seems.
About 14 months ago, I started an experiment: Could I give up shopping and rent all my clothes instead?
It was November 2021, a year and a half into the pandemic, and it felt like I had forgotten how to get dressed to leave the house. Figuring out what to wear had turned stressful: What was even trendy anymore? Were people still wearing ripped jeans? Did every dress have cutouts now?
On top of that, I was thinking more about my relationship to fast fashion. Before the pandemic, I'd head to H&M and Zara a few times a month, aware that buying cheap, mass-produced fashion couldn't possibly be good for the environment or my finances, but too addicted to the dopamine hit that accompanied buying cute, cheap clothes to quit it for good.
Maybe, I reasoned, renting my wardrobe would solve all my problems.
I wasn't alone in thinking that. Companies that offer rental services have reported subscriber growth in recent quarters, driven in part by inflation. Rent the Runway said during its third-quarter earnings call in December that active subscribers were up 15% compared to the previous year, and CEO Jennifer Hyman told CNBC that budget-conscious shoppers from all income brackets had started turning to renting over buying. And URBN — the parent company of Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, and Free People — reported during its third-quarter earnings call in November that its rental service, Nuuly, saw a 37% increase in subscribers compared to the previous quarter.
As for me, I'm still hooked on renting over a year later, and I would recommend it to anyone who's thinking about trying it. But I've also uncovered some downsides that have made me rethink everything I thought I knew about clothes.
Pro: Renting has saved me money in the long run by curbing my shopping habit
Yes, I often bought a new top if I had plans on a Friday night, and, OK, yes, I did like to wander around the mall if I had a stressful day. Was that a shopping addiction? Who knows! I'm not a psychologist.
But whatever it was was not helping me save money, and it often meant I ended up with clothes I didn't even really love in the name of having something new.
With renting, I get the same satisfaction shopping gives me without the same financial hit. I'm one of Nuuly's 120,000 active subscribers, and new items are added to the platform almost every day. Whenever I get the urge to shop, I can open up the Nuuly app, scroll through what's new, and save my favorites for a future rental. That way, I'm not spending any money while still feeling like I got my shopping fix.
Con: My wardrobe feels dated now
The deal I made with myself when I started renting was that the $88 a month I'd spend on my six items from Nuuly was the only money I was allowed to spend on clothes. Over the past year, I've mostly held myself to that, outside of buying basics like white T-shirts and a new pair of jeans.
But even though Nuuly sends me six items a month, I don't always have new clothes at my disposal. There are always a few days in between when you send the old items back and get a new box, and I've pressed pause on my membership a few times over the past year when the timing didn't make sense.
And when that happens, I often find myself standing in front of my closet, totally mystified as to what to wear. Without new items coming in on a somewhat regular basis, I feel like I'm stuck with a closet full of old clothes that don't fit my lifestyle or current trends.
Pro: Renting has made me more thoughtful about quality
Perhaps the biggest endorsement for renting all my clothes is the effect it's had on my mindset.
More than ever, I see the value in stocking up on high-quality staples — items like a classic white button-down or a durable denim jacket, pieces I'll wear over and over. Maybe it's a combination of getting older and not shopping for a while, or maybe it's being exposed to higher-end brands through renting, but I find myself caring a lot more about the fabric quality and the construction than I did before.
I'm still trying not to shop these days, but when I do, I try to buy things that will last me at least 10 years, hopefully longer.
Con: Sometimes items arrive in bad shape
No matter how high-quality a garment is, it can't always withstand being worn and washed by hundreds or thousands of people.
Which means that sometimes I'll get a garment in my box that's clearly had a tough life. I've gotten a sweater with so many pulls in it I wondered if it was a stylistic choice, and a T-shirt that felt too stretched-out to wear.
It's not always a big deal to me since I have five other items to wear, and part of me is glad to see that the clothes are having a long life. But if you're particular about how you take care of your own clothes, it might be a dealbreaker.
Pro: Renting feels more sustainable than constantly buying new things
The rise of fast fashion has led us as consumers to buy more clothes and get rid of them quicker. Between 2000 and 2014, making clothes became cheaper and supply chains became more streamlined, leading to clothing production doubling. By the mid-2010s, consumers were purchasing 60% more apparel than they were 15 years earlier and keeping items roughly half as long. The rise of disposable fashion means that we're wearing garments only seven or eight times before getting rid of them, McKinsey & Company data found.
For me, this is where renting really comes in handy. Let me give you an example: I have two weddings coming up two weeks apart. One is someplace warm and has a specific dress code while the other is somewhere bound to be a little chilly. Frankly, I don't really own anything appropriate to wear to either event.
Now, rather than buy two different dresses, I can just rent them, which allows me to look appropriate for both events, feel stylish and on-trend, and not buy two separate outfits that will just hang in my closet.
Con: There's still an environmental impact
It's clear by now that the fashion industry is a major polluter, emitting more carbon than international flights and maritime shipping combined.
But it's not just the production process that has a carbon footprint — renting has its own downsides. My Nuuly order comes in a reusable bag every month, which we love to see, but it's still shipped to and from my house. The clothes are dry-cleaned each time they're sent back, which is great for the consumer but not so great for the environment.
So while I still believe that renting is a greener choice on the individual consumer level, it's not a silver bullet to the apparel industry's sustainability challenges. In fact, the only way to be truly green is to walk over to your local thrift shop — or not consume at all.
Read the original article on Business Insider