Rent or buy? What awaits the clothing rental industry in Canada

A few weeks ago Carly Soares needed a dress for a wedding and fast.

“I tried to go shopping at the mall, but noticed there was a rare collection of evening dresses,” the 30-year-old said. “It was actually very surprising. It’s always the kind of pandemic-loungewear vibe in a lot of retail stores.”

The dresses she encountered were either too casual or too expensive, so she decided to rent one from a dress rental shop, which she had never tried before.

And after a positive first experience, Soares said she would definitely do it again.

Clothing rentals have become more mainstream over the past decade with the rise of the sharing economy, but the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t been kind to these types of retailers.

However, as pandemic restrictions have been lifted, some Canadian rental companies have seen increased traffic.

While experts believe there are even more opportunities in the space, they warn that growth could be subdued as Canadians change their buying habits and priorities in an environment of high inflation and rising interest rates.

There are other challenges as well, including getting more people on board with the idea of ​​essentially sharing clothes, people’s mindsets about what kind of clothes can be reused, environmentally conscious consumers who wonder how eco-friendly fashion rental really is and inventory logistics.

“We’ve been conditioned to buy something, wear it, throw it away. Changing that to appreciate that rental opportunity is something that takes a lot of time,” said Daniel Drak, assistant professor at the Parsons School of Design.

One of the biggest, if not the biggest, clothing rental companies is US-based Rent the Runway, founded in 2009, which quickly became a hit with women who wanted access to designer clothes but didn’t want to. not spend tons of money on outfits they might wear once or twice.

In Canada, a rush of new clothing rental businesses began popping up in the years leading up to the pandemic, offering everything from special occasion wear to work wear, maternity wear and maternity wear. every day, but like many companies in the small business retail sector, getting through the past two years has been a challenge.

Canadian companies like Rent Frock Repeat, workwear rental company Dresst and Montreal’s Station Service have all ended their run in the past two years.

It’s a “very difficult” market, said Julie Kalinowski, CEO of Toronto-based The Fitzroy, which offers special occasion dress rentals at a more affordable price.

According to Drak, Gen Z will be the generation that really drives the industry forward because of their enthusiasm for reselling, whether for economic reasons, to reduce clothing waste or to find unique pieces.

He said now is the time for existing and emerging Canadian clothing rental businesses to capitalize on this popularity and incorporate resale into their business model, which some have begun to do.

According to Statista, the global resale apparel market was valued at US$14 billion last year and is expected to reach US$51 billion by 2026.

Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) assistant professor Anika Kozlowski said that making genuine efforts to reduce apparel waste and emissions from apparel production, and operating as a local business to do so, could also be a good strategy, especially given Canada’s smaller population. .

This would involve a good understanding of the community in which the business operates, using high quality Canadian made items from ethical brands, finding ways to clean and repair clothing in a way that is not harmful to the environment and avoid long -distance shipping.

It’s something Blyth Gill is working on with Vancouver-based Tradle, an online baby clothes subscription company that lets parents rent and swap clothes for every growth spurt.

“Because babies grow so quickly, the need to have and swap clothes has a very short cycle,” he said.

Tradle works with high quality local brands, avoiding fast fashion brands. And when the clothes can no longer be reused, they will not be thrown away, but recycled or decomposed.

The company launched just before the pandemic hit, which Gill said was definitely a learning experience.

“Naturally, when we didn’t know so much about COVID-19, people probably thought, ‘sharing clothes? I don’t know,'” he said.

But Gill said he’s glad that phase is now behind them and he’s excited about the next stage of the company’s growth.

Fitzroy’s Kalinowski is also quite optimistic.

“Since the last reopening, it’s been crazy, it’s been a boom, it’s probably our best sales to date. It’s been a big year for weddings, all the events have resumed, all the galas have resumed. We just had the Toronto International Film Festival, one of our busiest weeks. So it’s been really busy.”

Gabriella Iamundo, 31, uses fashion rental for special occasions, but doesn’t really see herself using it for everyday wear, sportswear or workwear, or subscribing to a service, a sentiment that TMU’s Kozlowski said is pretty common across the board.

“I first rented (special occasion clothing) probably four or five years ago, maybe a little longer than that, and it became something that I thought was good for events. “Iamundo said.

“To be honest, it’s pretty common in my circle of friends to check out (rental services) to at least see what the options are, especially before I have to go out and buy something.”

Looking further afield, Parsons’ Drak sees larger traditional brands launching their own rental segments – something US-based Urban Outfitters has done – or acquiring existing businesses in the space, which would disrupt the market.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on September 25, 2022.

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