The fashion rental industry has questioned the findings of a recent high profile report that said renting clothing is “less environmentally friendly than throwing it away,” based on the environmental impact of transportation and dry cleaning.
The study, published by the Finnish journal Environmental Research Letters, assessed the environmental impact of five different ways of owning and disposing of clothes, including rental, resale and recycling.
“We believe that renting a rental needs to be scrutinized to make it as ‘green’ as possible, but we fear that encouraging people to throw away clothes will help the industry and certainly not the planet,” says Tamsin Chislett, CEO and co-founder of the rental business Onloan.
The assumptions of the study on the subject of transport, which are based on a Finnish company, do not reflect the reality of the UK rental market, according to Chislett. The study was based on every rented item that was picked up by a car trip. Companies like Onloan and Hirestreet ship clothing items through the mail, while My Wardrobe HQ uses bike couriers and electric vans. There are also brick and mortar stores that allow customers to choose pieces on foot, including HURR at Selfridges and My Wardrobe at Harrods.
Transportation was a key area of investigation in the study, which found that given “the use of rental services, customers are likely to be mobile, and when they do so on a large scale,” clothing rental is likely to have a greater global warming potential than reselling or recycling .
The study also highlighted the environmental damage caused by dry cleaning. However, Onloan and My Wardrobe state that they use wet cleaning and liquid CO2 cleaning to avoid the environmental impact of dry cleaning.
Alice Wilby, Sustainable Fashion Consultant, says the “size and intent” of each rental company is key to minimizing the impact. She warns against comparing smaller rental companies that use sustainable practices with the big brands that are now taking over the rental.
The Wrap charity estimates that around £ 140m worth of used clothing is dumped in the UK every year, while the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in a 2017 report estimated that more than half of fast fashion items were found in less than be disposed of for a year.
According to Isabella West of Hirestreet, a party clothing rental service, some of their items have been worn more than 40 times, with some styles being fully booked every weekend between now and September. My Wardrobe HQ claims they can extend the life of a garment by up to 15 times.
Extending the life of clothing by an additional nine months will reduce its carbon, water and waste footprint by around 20-30% each and lower the cost of resources used in the delivery, laundry and disposal of clothing, according to Global Fashion. by 20% Agenda and Report from the Boston Consulting Group.
Wilby admits that keeping clothes around is not enough. “Most of the rental clothing is not made from sustainable materials and is not ethically produced. It’s not really circular either, because we still don’t have full-scale fabric-to-fabric recycling facilities for all the different types and blends of fabrics that we manufacture and rent. ”She questions what happens to rental clothing at the end of its life and wishes “The rent is integrated into a circular system of regenerative agriculture and floor-to-floor clothing production and justice for farmers and producers”.
“There’s just no alternative to buying less, buying ethically produced, and getting the best care,” says Wilby. “Even if rental clothing is transported with an electric van and cleaned with little stress, these items of clothing are traveled more often and washed more often than anything that the customer owns privately. Renting as a means of slowing customer consumption and industrial production is a great solution, but it needs to be part of a system overhaul. “