With numerous high-street retailers announcing that they'll be going into administration this week, it’s clear that consumer shopping habits have changed. While some may argue that Coronavirus is to blame, figures from retail analyst Springboard show that the number of people visiting the high-street has dropped by 20.5% over the past decade. Online shopping may have (unsurprisingly) spiked during lockdown, but the BBC stated that it only accounted for 20% of all shopping as of January 2020, proving that this pandemic was only a catalyst for an outdated retail model rather than the problem itself.

But how can this be when we still have a market that is constantly churning out new products that are being brought, even if it is at a slower, and less regular pace? Well, within the fashion market a rental industry has popularised itself as an environmentally sustainable answer of continuing the market’s monetary flow without producing more. As Leonie Hutch put it earlier this year, “It is a move away from trend-driven low-priced fast-fashion, to a model where customers can still experience the thrill of ~a new thing~, but without the commitment (and shame) of having that thing somewhere in the back of their wardrobes,” and retailers were fast to get on board with the new trend, as 2020 saw a collaboration between Selfridges and HURR and Liberty London with My Wardrobe HQ. The pre-Coronavirus world was definitely in favour of pioneering rental, but as the pandemic did with every business, it put some bumps in the journey.

HURR is a marketplace for members to list their unworn garments for rent at whatever price and time length they desire, as well as rent other clothes from other members. For the consumer, this makes a cheaper and more sustainable way of attaining new clothes for one-off occasions, and for the renters, a way of shedding that guilt for having only worn a piece of clothing once. But this business model warrants that there are events to go to, which lockdown quickly dispelled. “The demand side of our platform was impacted, for the simple reason of people not having events to go to,” says Victoria Prew, CEO and Co-Founder of HURR, as she explains the difficulties brought on by the pandemic. “We've focused our time on building market-leading supply and incentivising users to list their wardrobe during this time.” And while there may be no events to go to that would justify renting an outfit, we do have an unwanted amount of free time to deep dive into our wardrobes and evaluate what we wear regularly and what we don’t. “For the past few weeks, we’ve financially incentivised people to list their wardrobes, where if you list three items you’re given £15 credit, and if you list five verified items you’re given £20 credit,” shares Prew. “This has been an incredibly effective strategy for us as a business.” All the more reason to get decluttering.

HURR CEO and Co-Founder, Victoria Prew

It’s not only clothes that are in demand for renting. COCOON launched in 2019 as a subscription service for bag lovers, where you pay £99 a month to have access to an unlimited number of designer handbags. They also recently launched COCOON Refresh, where members can directly sell their unloved treasures for cash or credit. “This new initiative allows us to take the next step in our mission to be the circular solution for bag enthusiasts,” explains Ceanne Fernandes-Wong, Co-founder and CEO of COCOON. “Incorporating circular thinking into our supply – how we source the best brands and styles to build the COCOON collection – has always been part of our long-term vision.” Lockdown has also been problematic for them – who needs an expensive handbag when you’re not going to be using it? “It goes without saying that the pandemic has affected bag needs for the time being – we’ve accommodated our members’ shifting priorities and have been as flexible as possible,” says Fernandes-Wong, but goes on to share how the service is regaining desirability as we edge closer to the end of lockdown. “With the initial shock of the crisis having worn off, members are still looking to inject some beauty into their lives in the form of a handbag (even if it is to go on their shopping run). One member recently shared that she chose a specific Loewe bag because it matched the seat on her new bicycle, which she bought now because she's staying local and not commuting across London to work every day.” 

For both cyclical fashion pioneers, they both commend that despite how initially damaging the pandemic has been for their business, there is good to come out of this. For Fernades-Wong, “Consumers have had time to reflect and rethink their wardrobe needs; and will likely make more conscious, considered purchases.” In Prew’s eyes, Coronavirus be even more damming for the negative side of the industry, “The pushback against fast fashion will continue to gain momentum once rules are relaxed, and HURR will become an even more attractive proposition for the millions of people looking to shop smarter and more sustainably.” While we may see less seasonal fashion and brands on our high-street, the pandemic may have sped up the demand for more sustainable choices, which will hopefully be filtered and accessible for all.

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