As Ralph Lauren launches a new rental model, we may see a future where renting clothes is as commonplace as renting cars.

By Juno Kelly.

Widespread criticism of the fashion industry’s unsustainable practices–from fast fashion, textile waste, and sweatshops to designers discarding unsold clothing–has led to a more conscious wave of consumers for whom sustainability is the baseline. One sustainable shopping trend that’s garnering traction is clothing rentals, which have penetrated the global market over the last half decade and are predicted to be worth up to $1.96 billion worldwide by 2023. Companies including Front Row, On Loan, and By Rotation offer the service, while the first-ever menswear rental service MyWardrobeHQ launched in the U.K. last week.

Today, American fashion juggernaut Ralph Lauren became the first luxury brand to (according to their press release) “pioneer a fully articulated rental model as a response to society’s “increasingly digitally-based retail landscape.” The service will enable customers to purchase a monthly subscription and select the items they wish to rent from the Lauren Ralph Lauren line before returning them to choose new items or buying them at a discounted price.

According to David Lauren, the brand’s Chief Innovation and Branding Officer, The Lauren Look will allow the brand to “explore an entirely new model tapping into the growing focus on the sharing economy and revolutionizing how we look at fashion consumption.” Once the clothes “have reached the rental cap,” Ralph Lauren plans to donate them to non-profit Delivering Good, which will use them to clothe those experiencing poverty in the U.S.

Vintage shopping and re-wearing clothes more than once have already been deemed “cool,” and shopping from sustainable brands have all become moralistic lifestyle choices for the modern (often financially comfortable) consumer. The theory behind rentals therefore makes sense: if social media has created a world where we don’t want to wear the same thing twice, yet are battling an increasingly ominous climate crisis, renting the clothes instead kills two birds with one stone: customers have a constantly rotating wardrobe, less textile waste ends up in landfill.

Ralph Lauren’s rental venture comes amidst other high end brands launching projects in the hope of earning sustainability credentials. Luxury umbrella company Kering, which owns the likes of Gucci, Balenciaga, and Alexander McQueen, has just purchased a 5 percent stake in Vestiaire Collective, after recognizing the brand’s revenue potential following its recent partnership with Alexander McQueen, which allows McQueen customers to sell their pieces to the vintage reseller for store credit. Luxury brands are evidently looking to get in on the re-sale, rental action, thriving industries that–until now–made profits from their clothing without giving them a piece of the pie.

If Ralph Lauren’s venture catches on, and other high-end brands flock to the rental market, could we see a future where renting clothes is as commonplace as renting cars? The climate likely hopes so.

Image credit: Ralph Lauren