Is fashion rental actually sustainable? Are there ways to make it more sustainable? This episode is a deep dive into the various elements of the fashion rental system.
In this episode, I’ll also interview Eshita Kabra-Davies, the founder and CEO of the world’s first social fashion rental app, By Rotation.
Eshita is sharing:
- How By Rotation’s peer-to-peer rental model works,
- How peer-to-peer sharing models can be more sustainable than an inventory-based renting model,
- And her perspectives on that viral study that inspired those “throwing away your clothes is greener than renting them” headlines.
- The Finnish Study Evaluating Five Types of Clothing Ownership and End-of-Life Scenarios
- One of those viral articles: Renting clothes is ‘less green than throwing them away’
- Lily’s YouTube Video: Rental Isn’t as Sustainable As We Think It Is… Or is it?
- Rent the Runway’s Filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission
- How Sustainable is Renting Your Clothes, Really?
- Inside Rent the Runway’s Secret Dry Cleaning Empire
CONNECT WITH ESHITA AND BY ROTATION
Tune in to this episode of the Conscious Style Podcast below, or on your favorite podcast app.
The transcript of this episode of the Conscious Style Podcast is below.
Hello everyone! As you may know, this season of the podcast is all about circularity and rental is something that comes up a lot when discussing circular fashion.
So I decided to dedicate an entire episode of this season to talking about rental and evaluating its sustainability.
If you need a bit of background before we get into the nitty-gritty of rental, you can go to episode 16, What is Circular Fashion?
Alright so in this episode, I’m going to talk about the typical fashion rental model and share some of my research that will help us evaluate the sustainability of the system.
And then, I will provide some ideas for how we can make rental more sustainable. Finally, we will get into my interview with Eshita Kabra, founder of By Rotation, a peer-to-peer fashion rental app.
So, itt’s a bit of a different format here, but I hope you enjoy it. If you do, let me know, send me a DM on Instagram, and I’ll do more like this.
And of course, make sure to hit subscribe or follow if you’re not already subscribed to the podcast so that you don’t miss future content like this.
Okay so, rental is promoted as a “circular” solution to get clothes for one-off occasions that you don’t plan on wearing again or getting your fashion fix without buying new stuff all of the time.
But there have been concerns raised about rental, especially in recent months after those viral articles following a study published in Environmental Research Letters. You may have seen some of those headlines, like that throwing your clothes away is more green than renting them or that renting is worse for the planet than just throwing your clothes away.
So obviously, throwing away your clothes is not a green choice no matter how you slice it and those were very oversimplified statements.
We’ll be talking more about the details of that study later in this episode but previous Conscious Style Podcast guest Lily of Imperfect Idealist did a really great deep dive into this study on her YouTube channel.
Lily talks about exactly what this study was testing for and what they were not testing for like water or toxic chemicals, and also some of the limitations of this study. For example, the study tested a pair of jeans, which is not a commonly rented out item and the study may have looked very different if they tested a different piece.
But misleading headlines and a potentially confusing study aside, there are legitimate concerns about the typical inventory-based fashion rental system.
Let’s look at Rent the Runway as an example, since this is the largest fashion rental company in the U.S. and they are preparing to go public on the stock market soon so they’ve published a lot of data that we don’t have from other similar companies.
Rent the Runway has an inventory-based model. So essentially, they purchase a bunch of clothes and rent them out from their warehouses.
Before I go any further here, we can see that this in of itself is maybe not ideal, right?
This company is purchasing new clothes, demanding the production of brand new stuff to rent out.
According to company data, Rent the Runway spent $117.7 million US dollars on purchasing rental products in 2019. And they purchased these from about 750 brand partners they say.
It’s hard to determine how many products that would be. But even if each piece averaged at $500 — which I think is a very generous, high estimate looking at Rent the Runway’s online selection, which features many pieces around the $200-$300 range — that would be 235,000 pieces in one year that they purchased.
If the average item purchase price is lower, which I think it most likely is, this number of pieces could be significantly higher.
So this rental company is creating significant demand for new products. Of course, the question is here: are these fewer pieces than what would be created if every renter bought the garments themselves?
Of course, this is a difficult question to answer for sure because it’s hypothetical. And we don’t know for sure how many times a rented garment is worn.
However, I did find a Fast Company article from 2014, that reported that a Rent the Runway dress gets delivered 30 times on average. So that would hit the hashtag 30 wears criteria.
But for slow fashion advocates, sustainable fashion lovers, this doesn’t sound like a lot of wears. Unfortunately, this is actually more than the average number of times a garment is worn though.
People buy 68 garments per year on average as Aja Barber shared with us in the last episode. And a small 2015 study done by the British charity Barnado’s found that on average, a garment is worn just 7 times before it gets discarded.
Research by the same charity in 2018 found that Brits were expected to buy about 50 million throwaway summer outfits that they expected would be worn just once.
So we know that this ‘wear once’ culture exists, especially because of social media and this fear of outfit repeating.
And, if rental services are getting these customers who are accustomed to just wearing something a few times or *cringe* just one time, then a rented piece may actually be getting more wears than if that person bought the piece and threw it away.
But if someone is going to wear a piece more than 30 times, then renting may lead to fewer wears on average potentially.
My takeaway here is that renting normal everyday clothes and basics is not going to be a sustainable choice if you’re used to actually wearing your clothes a lot.
But, it may be a more eco-minded option if you are just going to wear something just once or a couple of times, like for a special occasion.
I’m thinking about high school dances for example, especially. Like how many prom dresses or homecoming dresses are worn just once?
It’s actually king of scary to think about that. I did purchase some dresses secondhand from friends or I borrowed for my high school dances, but I think a rental service would have made that process much easier and also probably less expensive overall.
So back to Rent the Runway. I want to also share some data that the company shared about their subscribers.
They reported in their registration statement filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission — so essentially this huge 300-page document they’ve submitted in order to go public — they say, quote:
“Our subscribers consistently indicate that they purchase less new clothing because of our business; as of June 2021, 89% of our subscribers said they buy fewer clothes than they used to prior to joining RTR, with close to one-third of our subscribers saying they buy six to over 20 fewer items of clothing per month since signing up for RTR.”
So wow if people are buying up to 20 fewer items of clothing per month, RTR — or Rent the Runway — is definitely attracting some of this hyper-consuming populace in their subscriber base.
Which maybe this is a good thing if you look at it from a certain angle because if people were only going to wear something once or twice anyway, at least the garments would be getting more wears.
And it’s also maybe a concerning thing since RTR is sort of encouraging a continuation of this need for constant newness. I don’t know, depends on how you look at it.
But RTR claims that their service has displaced 1.3 million garments since 2010. In other words, they say that their service has helped avoid the production of 1.3 million pieces in the past decade or so.
This number is interesting and possibly encouraging. But as we touched on before, it is a bit difficult to prove since it’s kind of hypothetical.
But with that said, let’s just say that a garment IS getting more wears in a rental system, which if we’re looking at averages, it probably is.
While that’s a step in the right direction for sure, I do think that if rental is going to be truly sustainable, we’re going to need to get to more than 30 wears total.
And as recent filings show, Rent the Runway actually needs to get more wears out of their inventory to be financially sustainable (i.e. profitable) too. Because RTR needs to get a certain amount of revenue in the form of rentals to make up for the cost of the garment that they invested in.
So let’s say that they spent $200 for a dress and they charge $20 for a rental. They need to rent that dress out 10 times just to break even. But they also need to pay their workers, pay for their warehouses, so they’re going to need to rent the garment out more than that. And then even more than that again to be profitable.
So there definitely is the motivation there for rental companies to get as many wears as possible out of a garment. And if a company is not able to rent out a garment enough times to make up for the investment in that piece and to cover the overhead costs, then that company is losing money.
I find it really interesting to look at the motivations here and I do think that this rental model could potentially have the right motivations because they want to get the maximum number of uses out of a garment.
So, it’s complicated. I would say that rental is probably a better option than constantly buying throwaway fashion that will be worn just a few times, but that is a very low bar.
One good sign I do see is that when browsing through Rent the Runway, I saw that they are offering their pre-loved or pre-rented pieces for sale.
So you can purchase secondhand garments through them, which could be a way to get some more wears out of those rented garments, depending on how people wear those secondhand pieces.
I guess my biggest concern with Rent the Runway and other similar businesses is the subscription model aspect or the subscription option, where you kind of get hooked to this constant stream of new clothes coming in your door, in your closet every week or month.
While I have never rented formally from a company, I have borrowed and I can definitely see the benefit of that for special occasions, like proms, weddings, fancy dinners, holidays, or for vacations, photoshoots, and that sort of thing.
And also, for longer-term rentals, it could make sense for something like pregnancy or growing children.
But when it becomes like oh you have 16 items that you can rent this month — which is actually a plan that Rent The Runway offers — it doesn’t actually fix this fast fashion mindset.
It actually perpetuates it, because you feel like you even HAVE to get that many items to get your money’s worth because you already paid for that month’s subscription.
And you don’t maybe have that guilt associated with it because it’s more affordable and is perceived as a more eco-friendly way to get new stuff all of the time.
So, I think we need to get more data, and more surveys from unbiased sources on if rental is really decreasing consumption, and then we can have a more holistic view on this.
But my opinion here is that rental can be a great option for special events or specific life situations, not so much if you’re getting 16 new items shipped to your home every month. That would be 192 items a year.
But playing devil’s advocate to myself here, I might say: but Elizabeth, those aren’t really totally new garments. They may have been already worn, and they probably will be worn again. That’s great. That’s circular.
Well, to that I’d say… we have to consider the rest of the supply chain. It’s more than the clothes themselves, we also have to think about dry cleaning, packaging materials, and shipping emissions. There’s more to the story than just the garment itself.
So first let’s talk about shipping.
As Elizabeth Cline explains in an article in Elle, titled “How Sustainable is Renting Your Clothes Really?” logistics are a major factor to consider.
As Cline points out, transportation is the number one source of CO2 emissions in the US right now and getting more and more deliveries to our doorsteps is a big driver of this.
As Cline points out, “A quarter of this footprint comes from trucks doing ‘last-mile deliveries'”. In other words “taking packages ordered online from a warehouse to your front door.”
And that’s the point of the supply chain that is done over and over again for rental companies. So the product has been produced and shipped to the rental company’s warehouse in an inventory-based model.
And then they ship it from their warehouse to people’s doorsteps again and again. And people ship it back from their homes and their apartments to the warehouse.
While exact emissions are going to vary by distance and shipping method (air freight is going to have higher emissions for example, and shipment by electric truck is going to have lower emissions), the emissions from these last-mile deliveries are going to be significant for rental.
There are ways to mitigate some of this impact, such as with electric transportation vehicles, using bike deliveries, and so on.
Or as we’ll talk about with Eshita, in a more sharing-based model for rental, you could also meet up with someone in the same city. You could walk, bike, or take public transportation to meet up and borrow a piece.
Going back to our Rent the Runway example, the company says that they “currently rely on several third-party national and regional shipping vendors.”
There isn’t much at all they say about their sustainability efforts. They don’t even say which shipping vendors they use.
In their registration statement document, they say that they aim to deliver orders within two business days, or for areas near fulfillment centers, that can be one day. So again not a ton of detail, but they definitely prioritize fast shipping with no word on the ecological impact.
So that’s definitely something to look for when trying to find a more sustainable rental company. They should be talking about the shipping, because that’s going to be a major source of emissions in a rental model. They are getting more uses out of those garments, but the shipping part is huge when it comes to rental.
So we really have to be looking for how they’re considering carbon neutral shipping: maybe electric vehicles, as a last resort, carbon offsets. And of course, biking, public transportation, meet-ups… that’s going to be really ideal.
So let’s talk more about the fulfillment centers.
That’s another part of the supply chain emissions that we have to think about and an element that I think gets left out of the conversation because it’s not really something as a consumer that you think a lot about. But these are massive buildings.
Rent the Runway has two fulfillment centers which total 540,000 square feet combined. If this is difficult to picture, RTR says that these fulfillment centers have the capacity to hold 2 million garments and accessories.
So if you can picture 2 million garments hanging across multiple floors of a building, that’s how big these fulfillment centers are, combined.
While Rent the Runway doesn’t report on energy use or emissions of these fulfillment centers, we do know this:
Construction and buildings account for 36% of global final energy use and nearly 40% of energy-related CO2 emissions, according to the United Nations Environment Program.
And fossil fuel use attributed to residential and commercial buildings make up about 29% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
So, if a rental company wants to advertise sustainability, I think they need to be talking about their fulfillment centers as well as the shipping.
Do they build their fulfillment centers out existing buildings or are they constructing brand new buildings to house all of these clothes? What kinds of energy efficiency efforts do they have in place? What energy sources do they use? Are these fulfillment centers powered by fossil fuels or do they source wind or solar energy?
And this points to a huge benefit for peer-to-peer rental. The fulfillment centers are our closets and our homes or apartments, which we are already renting out, or we already purchased — they already exist.
So the sharing model, the peer-to-peer rental model avoids the need to create dedicated fulfillment centers to house the inventory.
So that’s definitely another big way that rental can be more sustainable is focusing on the closet sharing method rather than having a middleman and having that fulfillment center in between.
The next element to consider is packaging.
Again, this is going to vary on a number of factors. Does the rental company use reusable packaging, recycled packaging, recyclable, compostable, and so on. These are all questions to ask and things to consider when evaluating the sustainability of a rental program.
As Elizabeth Cline talks about in that same article in Elle, rentals from inventory-based companies often arrive like new items, in lots of plastic packaging, tissue paper, in cardboard boxes, or polymailers, which are not always recycled. Or maybe not even recyclable.
Going back to our Rent the Runway case study, I have seen from other people’s Instagram stories, that RTR does use reusable garment bags, but has thin plastic bags inside of those reusable garment bags.
When it comes to making rental more sustainable from a packaging lens, utilizing all reusable packaging is going to be an ideal situation here or using recycled packaging. Or, with a peer-to-peer meet-up situation could avoid packaging entirely.
Moving on to another huge aspect to consider with clothing rental…
Interestingly, a 2014 Fast Company article pointed out that Rent the Runway was — and presumably is still in 2021 — the largest single dry cleaner in the country. So dry cleaning is a major part of the operations of an inventory-based fashion rental company.
“Our responsible cleaning processes, focused on both wet- and dry- cleaning, use biodegradable detergents that are free from added fragrances.” And “We do not use (and never have used) any halogenated solvents such as Perchloroethylene (PERC).”
Real quick let’s talk about PERC and why it’s so important to avoid it.
Many dry cleaning services use this solvent, but according to the Environmental Protection Agency in the US, PERC has been linked to kidney dysfunction, impaired cognitive and motor neurobehavioral performance, impairment of coordination, dizziness, unconsciousness, and several types of cancer. In fact, the EPA has classified it as “likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”
So definitely we want to see rental companies avoiding that solvent in their cleaning process.. Okay back to Rent the Runway here.
They also say that: “After going through our thorough cleaning processes, most pieces pass through a steam tunnel between 248°F and 302°F.”
So in short, seems like they are paying attention to not using toxic chemicals, at least the most toxic chemicals used in dry cleaning. There is not a lot of information on energy use or water use.
With a rental model where people are sharing clothes, it does make sense that they want to use high temperatures, although it isn’t the most eco-friendly. I’m not sure if that’s something that is avoidable if we want to ensure people are comfortable with sharing clothes. But that’s why looking at energy sources and efficiency is good information to have.
Rent the Runway also says that they use those poly bags to protect their garments and that they can be sent back to them for recycling.
They partner with a company that recycles these into building materials. And RTR also syas they also reuse hangers. I would be interested in getting exact numbers on those initiatives to see just how effective they are. I’d like to see what percentage of bags are recycled, what percentage of hangers are reused, but it is good to see that those are options that they have because I know a lot of dry cleaners don’t offer that.
When it comes to cleaning in peer-to-peer models, that’s going to vary by the person, but the apps usually offer guidance for their renters or the people renting out.
So, I think it’s important for those clothing sharing apps to suggest green dry cleaning methods and other eco-minded cleaning processes. Maybe they have a partnership with a green dry cleaner or they offer very specific tips for eco-minded cleaning.
If you’re renting out and it’s not specified, it’s worth asking which cleaning methods they use and if there are potentially toxic chemicals used in that process, especially if you have allergies or are sensitive to harsh chemicals.
But in general I think that’s a great thing to ask, because maybe that person didn’t think about it before and you’re sort of encouraging them to look into safer, greener dry cleaners.
I think that the impact of cleaning the clothes points to an area where renting a garment for longer — so let’s say renting it for 3 occassions instead of just renting for 1 occasion, or renting for 3 months instead of just 3 days, can minimize the impact.
Because you’re not going to need to wash a garment as often when you are the one wearing it over and over again versus if you are sharing it.
Food for thought: longer rentals are maybe more eco-friendly for a number of reasons, including the cleaning process.
Finally, let’s talk about the garments themselves.
So, the sustainability proposition behind rental is that clothes are getting more wears, which is great no matter where the clothes are from.
But that garment or accessory still did get produced in the first place and that has an impact on people, planet, and potentially animals as well.
Considering this, I think it’s great if an inventory-based rental company works to source from more sustainable and ethical brands for their stock.
I don’t know of any fashion rental services dedicated entirely to sustainable and ethical fashion, but I will definitely add them to the show notes if I ever come across any!
In the meantime, we can ask rental companies to carry sustainable brands and also we can rent out from any sustainable brands we see on a rental company’s platform.
And this also goes for the peer-to-peer rental as well — choosing pieces from conscious brands when possible. Because this shows that there is a demand for renting out from that label.
And hopefully encourages the renters — whether they be individuals or companies — to purchase from those brands in the future since they know that they have a lot of value in the market.
I feel like this is another element of rental that isn’t talked about a lot. The first time I saw or heard this talked about was Lily’s YouTube video that I referenced earlier in this episode. Hopefully this will be more of a conversation
If rental companies are advertising sustainability, we should also be asking them: do you source from sustainable brands? how much of your stock is sourced from more conscious labels? Thinks like that!
So lots to consider here and I hope that this got your wheels turning. This wasn’t an end-all-be-all evaluation of fashion rental.
But the goal was to provide some background on rental and the various elements to consider from a sustainability lens so that we are thinking about these things and pushing for progress.
I think that rental is here to stay: there’s a market for it, people want it, t there are companies that exist to provide this service, and maybe even instances where people need to rent stuff.
Rather than having a conversation of should rental exist or not? Or is rental sustainable, assuming that all rental models are the same.
I think it’s more effective to have a conversation of how can we make this model as sustainable as possible?
Given that it does exist, has a purpose, has a use… how can we make that as responsible as possible?
So that leads me to the next portion of this episode…
Which is an interview with Eshita Kabra, the founder, and CEO of By Rotation.
Eshita is going to tell us how By Rotation’s peer-to-peer rental model works, how sharing is more sustainable than an inventory-based renting model, and her perspective on that viral study we talked about before.
The transcript of this episode is in the show notes over on consciouslifeandstyle.com. In those show notes, you’ll also find links to connect with Eshita and By Rotation, as well as the links mentioned earlier.
Alright, now let’s get to the interview! Eshita is starting us off here with a bit about her journey to founding By Rotation.
ESHITA: Yeah, I came up with the idea of By Rotation from the very first real problem.
I wanted to wear a new designer fashion for a holiday. So I was going on my honeymoon.
And I thought it’d be so cool if I could borrow clothes from the women on the Instagram square. Because a lot of times we see a lot of these women — not just influencers — but also just regular women not repeating outfits, wearing outfits just for a photo.
So the idea of renting, borrowing fashion came into my mind. And I made an extension of it, which was the sharing economy.
So really getting women to rent clothes from each other. So sharing what they already own, thereby saving the planet one rental at a time, saving money, making money, and also becoming friends along the way.
And that’s why the app is the world’s first social fashion rental app.
Because essentially, it’s been developed to become a kind of Instagram. So you can follow people who have the same size as you, the same style as you and have an extension of your own wardrobe.
ELIZABETH: Yeah. And I definitely interview to get more into that community aspect of By Rotation later in this conversation.
But first, my question for you is: when you were creating By Rotation, at that point, there were other fashion rental companies out there.
So why did you decide to still create By Rotation, what sets By Rotation apart? What makes you different?
I think it became very evident to me when I trialed a really famous Rent the Runway in the US that it was very much an inventory focused business.
Very logistics heavy and really all about convenience and wearing designer clothes for cheaper, as opposed to having any sort of relationship about the things that we’re wearing on our bodies, and actually relationships with the women that we’re sharing our clothes with.
So I wanted to make sure that By Rotation was all about using what you already own, again, sharing economy as opposed to the fashion industry or retail or e-commerce.
We’re a brand we’re more of a community.
That’s what I always say. And consequently, we’ve got way more users on our app than say a lot of these rental players who’ve been around for very long when it comes to their subscribers.
We also have over 15,000 listings on the app already just shy of two years. And these listings are worth over 6 million pounds in retail value, and none of them belong to anyone.
It’s not a company that owns them. It’s just the value of the items that are in people’s wardrobes.
And it turns out on average, we all have 57 items in our wardrobe 30% of which we only wear. I would argue I have way more items that I own, and that I wear probably 15% of them.
So it just makes a lot of sense to use what you already own. Fashion is one of the most polluting industries in the world.
Why have a company that’s all about buying stock and lending it out just for the yield on it?
Why not just get people to use what they already own?
So I feel very passionate about that. And I think a lot of rental players have taken the shortcut, which is to buy stock and rent it out. But for us, it’s about building a community.
And that’s something that is very, very difficult to emulate. It takes time to build that.
ELIZABETH: Absolutely. Yeah.
And when talking about rental and sustainability, we have to talk about that study on rental that went a bit viral.
So for some background for listeners, there was a study published by the Finnish scientific journal Environmental Research Letters that assessed the environmental impact of five different approaches to owning and discarding clothing.
Which were reducing, reusing, recycling, sharing — or renting — and traditional ownership.
And according to this study, based on their assumptions, the researchers found that traditional ownership had less of a carbon footprint than rental models.
And the angle that many media outlets took with this was a bit misleading, I would say, and click-baity.
There were headlines saying that it’s more green to throw away your clothes than to rent them.
So Eshita, could you tell us your perspective on this study and the assumptions that were made in this analysis?
Yeah, I mean, I think that was probably in early July. And it was a very appalling study, which only considered a model which is very inventory focused.
It was also talking about brands who were to create items just to rent them out. And also had some ridiculous assumptions like you would take a car, specifically just, to rent the item.
And then to return it back take a two-way car journey.
And it didn’t think about the sharing economy at all.
There was no… there seemed to be only one sort of fashion rental business model, according to them, which was brands producing just to rent out. No mention whatsoever or peer to peer.
And I think that was really surprising. How can it be much more sustainable to buy a new piece of especially fast fashion, throw it away? Versus sharing with each other?
So yeah, I think it was a very, as you said, clickbaity.
You know there were a lot of clickbait articles that came out of that so-called research study.
And I think even the writers of that piece, have stated that it was a very specific, I think, Finnish rental company that they had looked at.
And they acknowledged that it didn’t cover many of the different types of renting models.
But yeah, it’s a shame. But yeah, I think I’ve recorded a really great podcast with the BBC, on this particular study as well.
ELIZABETH: Yeah, we’ll have to check that out. I’ll link that in the show notes — I’d love to listen to that.
So one of the assumptions that the study made was the logistics of fashion rental, which would consider the transportation and the dry cleaning aspects.
But of course, many of these things can vary by company, and the peer-to-peer-based model that’s more focused on sharing rather than having inventory is quite different.
So how do you think that a peer-to-peer model can be more sustainable than an inventory-based model with the logistics of it?
ESHITA: It’s very simple.
It’s actually the items that you already own in your wardrobe and getting more wear out of it.
There’s an optimum minimum number, which is 30 times and we’re getting people to get more use out of these pieces that are just hanging in their wardrobe.
So how can that not be more sustainable?
We do have partnerships with eco-friendly cleaning providers, and we’ve had partnerships with Clothes Doctor that also does eco cleaning, repairs, and also solutions.
So there’s a lot of different partnerships that we’re building out with play, people like DPD, which is a carrier service in the UK, that also does zero carbon emissions when it does its deliveries.
So there are many different ways to do it. And most of our rentals, especially in London, are actually in person and public locations.
So it’s no different from borrowing from a friend. But sometimes your friends might not be the same size as you. This is what makes it so great.
Yeah, love that, especially when it works out to meet somebody in person… even exchange it and help form that community is even stronger.
That’s really awesome.
So do you see any barriers currently with making rental or clothing sharing more sustainable?
What do you see maybe that is not directly in your control that you would like to see a shift with the broader economy to make that more sustainable?
I think we just really need to bring the concept out to the mainstream.
We need the same sort of platform that all these fast fashion companies have because they really guilt people into wanting a new outfit, and to buy their low-quality items that come at the expense of our garment workers and other people along the supply chain.
So what, peer-to-pper fashion rental communities, such as ours, really needs is this sort of platform… a global platform, and sort of awareness that you can actually share clothes with a stranger.
And that is actually much more sustainable than buying yet another new piece of clothing, even if it’s designer?
ELIZABETH: Yeah, absolutely.
Do you find that the By Rotation community comes to the app out of the desire for sustainability?
Or do you think it is primarily for other reasons, such as affordability or desire for newness, and then sustainability is sort of a secondary benefit or something they learn about later?
ESHITA: Yeah, it’s definitely that. You’re spot on. P
eople download the By Rotation app because it is competing with the price points or fast fashion.
You could either spend 40 pounds on a Zara dress that you’re worth three times in your life and then end up donating to charities, which we know 90% of this ends up in African or Asian landfills, right? Which is completely unfair, it’s basically racist.
So they can either buy a fast-fashion dress that they won’t wear again after three times and throw away.
Or they could rent something just for the weekend just for the event that they’re going to, and return it back to someone who actually owns it, and loves it and wants to continue wearing it, and lending it out to others for the same price point.
And that’s the best market that we’re really operating in.
So affordability is definitely top of mind because they want to wear something new. So it’s both things: affordability and the newness.
And I would say sustainability is something that they are becoming much more aware of, and we’re nudging them on the app.
So for example, we have this feature on the checkout screen when you’re sending a rental request, which shows you the kind of positive savings you’re making, by not buying a new item and sharing renting it instead.
So it’s sort of nudging tactics, I think, and I think, you have to be careful, because not everyone is an eco warrior, right?
And this is very important for the average consumer that’s shopping on the high street to make them realize, yeah, that buying fast fashion is really bad for the planet.
But you have to do it, in a sort of more conventional way.
So that they’ll they’ll be willing to listen to you to try it out. So we appeal, we appeal to the masses.
ELIZABETH: Right. Yeah, you can’t shame people into it.
ESHITA: Yes, exactly.
ELIZABETH: Or present a ton of complex information that just overwhelms people.
Yeah. So yeah, I love that approach.
So I’ve read and heard you talk about the community aspect of By Rotation. And of course, you referenced it earlier in this interview.
So could you tell us about how you foster community on By Rotation and what that community aspect looks like?
I mean, so basically, last night, we had an amazing community party and event to get our rotators, as we call them, in real life to celebrate our second birthday. We’re almost two years old.
And it was just so nice because women were renting each other’s clothes from the app. And they were like, oh, I’ve seen you on the app before! Oh, we’re the same size… Oh, I’m going to rent from you going, going forward.
And it was just really nice. And I think one of the things we kept hearing in the room that we were in, was that oh my god, everyone here is so nice. I was scared because I came alone. But everyone’s just so nice.
And I think given the very lonely year we’ve had with the three national lockdowns in the UK, it’s just been really nice to actually bring this digital community in real life too.
We’re actually announcing our social calendar as we call it, the By Rotation After Hours, very soon, and in the next week or so.
And we have many different activities for all the rotators on our platform, whether maybe going through drinks and nibbles last night wasn’t for you, like a party environment.
But maybe you want to come to a barre class with us. Maybe you want to come for face fitness. Maybe you want to come with us for lunch.
So we’re doing a lot of cool, different cute workshops to bring people together.
Because we do believe that, we all love fashion. That’s why we’re on By Rotation because we want to wear nice clothing in a sustainable way. But I think that’s So much more to our rotators than just fashion.
We’re not fashion obsessed. We just have great taste and great style.
But there’s so much more to us and, and that’s why we’re doing these amazing activities, and we use our platform to have conversations that go beyond fashion.
And why do you think that community and collaboration is so important for building a circular economy?
ESHITA: Well, in a very commercial sense, we are a peer-to-peer marketplace.
So I’m only as good as the people that are using my service, I have to have great lenders, I have to have great renters, I have to have very engaged users who use the app and consider renting and lending if they haven’t already done it.
So it’s extremely important that people actually partake in what we build.
I guess the other side of it, which I’ve already mentioned, is that we all have too much stuff. We’ve been overconsuming at a pace that our parents and our grandparents never did.
So it’s important for us to really include the average consumer in this problem of waste in all kinds of industries.
And if the fashion industry is not going to change, because it is very antiquated, and it is very elitist, then we as consumers can stop relying on the producers, let’s make the change ourselves.
ELIZABETH: Right. Absolutely.
And sort of continuing on this thread of elitism in fashion.
I’ve heard you talk about how inclusivity and accessibility in the By Rotation app is really important to you.
So how does BY Rotation make wearing designer fashion — which odes often does have an aura of exclusivity — how do you make it more inclusive and accessible?
ESHITA: I mean, for us, we always show user-generated content.
W’re not interested in flashy flamboyant and glossy marketing campaigns.
In fact, women love to see women who look like them with iPhone photos, being photographed wearing the rentals that they found on the platform because they can see themselves in that.
I think that’s a great way to actually win customer trust, especially because we’re such a new service, it’s a new concept altogether.
So we really kept importance on showcasing our customers, and they love it.
To the point that if you look at, the kind of Instagram tags that we’re getting, which is from our customers, not influencers or celebrities, although sometimes they do that as well.
You’ll notice that our customers have stopped tagging the brands they’re wearing — they don’t even care anymore. They’re just tagging By Rotation.
Because they’re so proud to be part of the community, and they want to be featured on our marketing channels.
I think for me, that just shows how powerful how desirable it is to be a part of the By Rotation community. That’s something that’s super hard to emulate.
ELIZABETH: Yeah, the community aspect is so strong on By Rotation.
And I don’t have access to the app being in the US at the moment, but I can see it on your social channels. It’s, it’s really clear.
So it’s awesome to see that.
ESHITA: Thank you.
And I think what’s really interesting you’ll notice is that the women are very different. Not just from the way that they look, not just the physical appearance.
But you’ll notice that they all come from very different backgrounds. Someone’s a nurse, someone’s just graduated from school. Someone’s a homemaker. It’s just, it’s a great mix of women. And I think that’s the beauty of it.
You can love each other styles, and borrow each other’s styles, even though you live in completely different worlds.
ELIZABETH: Yeah, it’s so cool.
So you are a huge advocate of the sharing economy, not only founding a business founded on enabling people to share their closets, but you’re also on the board of sharing economy UK.
Could you talk to us a bit about what your work is, like with the sharing economy UK?
ESHITA: Yeah. I mean, it’s, we’re a trade body. And we do a bit of lobbying work as well, although I’m more on the startup side of things.
So for us, it’s less about lobbying. But it’s more about, bringing in more startups that are part of the sharing economy model.
So whether that’s gig economies, whether that’s in fashion, whether that sort of in renting cars, renting holiday homes, Airbnb is also on the board with me.
And it’s just really nice because we can cross collaborate. I’m very big on collaborating with community-oriented businesses. We’ve partnered with Bumble, and we’ll be partnering with them again, we did it last festive season, we’ll do it this festive season.
We’ve partnered with Peanut before. It’s just been really, really nice to partner with other sharing economies, community-oriented businesses because
I think, I think we’ve all produced too much. Why don’t we just use what we already have?
And I think it’s great to be a part of this trade body, because a lot of the members I mean, on the commercial side of things as a founder, we’re all sort of we often on platform businesses, and we do have the sort of same kind of issues around understanding demand and supply, trust-building communities.
So it’s really great to be a part of them as a founder, as a solo founder, that sort of support is always very helpful.
ELIZABETH: Yeah, and as you pointed to, the sharing economy, definitely fits in well with a circular economy, because it allows us to get more use out of the items that have been produced.
Of course, there’s nuance there, because there are now brands producing products just to rent them out, as we talked about earlier.
So yeah, I think that’s, in my opinion, the best way to go about it is this sharing model, where it’s really making the most of what people already have, and then keeping that in the loop.
ESHITA: Totally agree.
ELIZABETH: So are there any future plans for By Rotation that we should be on the lookout for?
Do you have any plans to come to the US by chance?
ESHITA: Yeah, I mean, so future plans.
So we are app first, and that really ensures that we have a very sticky user base. But our web-based platform is coming out next month.
No, this month, because we’re already in October, I forget.
And then we also have a very cute festive pop-up store that we’re being offered, which will be great because we can have like a hub, we always call it the By Rotation common room, kind of like Harry Potter, because I love Harry Potter.
But it’s a great way to get the community into one place. And we do many different events with them, when we do have a pop-up. And in terms of expansion.
Yeah, I mean, we’re looking at expanding to Europe, first.
We do want to be a global platform with hyper-local communities.
But yeah, I think I think there’s definitely some room for expanding to the US in selected states, probably in about two-three years’ time.
ELIZABETH: We will be on the lookout for that.
So the final question I have for you that I asked to each guest is what does a better future for fashion look like to you?
ESHITA: I think we all need to buy less. We need to buy better, and we need to share — or I’ll say rotate more.
ELIZABETH: And that’s a wrap for this episode.
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