The sharing economy (alternately also called the “collaborative” or “access” economy) refers to the activity of many individual sharing goods and services, as well as to the software platforms that make this practice possible (Hamari et al., 2015)– think Lyft and carpooling, or Appetit and food-sharing. One industry that is only now starting to get on board? Fashion.
While sharing economy platforms often emerge as alternative business models that co-exist with traditional channels, at times they become popular enough to go from a simple alternative to a serious disruption that steals market share and revenue from conventional businesses – such as AirBnB’s growing popularity as a substitute for hotels, or Uber’s detrimental impact on taxi services.
The most popular access business model – collaborative consumption – can serve as an alternative to ownership regarding items which an individual plans to get limited use out of. Many types of fashion goods are characterised by high prices, but relatively low usage – two key traits shared by goods that have proven popular for implementing collaborative consumption.
And while access business models have not taken off in the fashion industry as quickly as in other areas, with only 2% of US shoppers currently having rented clothing (Pike, 2016), the area is projected to become increasingly influential – and to have a particularly profound impact on fast fashion, with more and more consumers choosing to rent higher quality trendy/special occasion items instead of purchasing them at cheaper stores.
Figure 1. Access business models in the fashion industry
Rent the Runway is the most popular example of a rental model with 6 million subscribers as of October 2016. It bypasses the typically peer-to-peer nature of collaborative consumption, and instead offers consumers the chance to rent expensive designer goods for 10% of retail value.
The company has been particularly successful not only because it allows users to bypass paying full-price for an item they might only wear once, but also because it combines this with the opportunity to rent aspirational items that most would otherwise not be able to afford – and all in a hassle-free manner, with cleaning, back-up sizes and liability insurance all handled by the company.
Perhaps taking inspiration from similar services like Amazon Prime, the company has recently introduced a membership plan that allows users to order unlimited items for a monthly flat rate, and it has also added reviews to help users pick the most successful items (Pearson, 2016).
While a promising concept, many peer-to-peer clothing rentals such as Rentez-Vous and StyleLend have run into logistical issues that have made sustaining business growth a difficult ordeal.
Renting out clothing is fundamentally different than renting out apartments or cars. How can sizing differences be handled? Who is responsible for shipping items? Should renters, owners or the company handle the dry-cleaning? Who is liable if an item is damaged or not returned on time?
If a company is not able to make clear arrangements for these issues without inflating costs for item renters, owners and the business, problems are bound to arise.
Hamari, J., Sjoklint, M., & Ukkonen, A. (2015). The sharing economy: why people participate in collaborative consumption. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 67 (9), 2047-2059.
Pearson, B. (2016). Where is the Uber of fashion? Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/bryanpearson/2016/09/20/where-is-the-uber-of-retail/#4936655c575f
Pike, H. (2016). Will the “sharing economy” work for fashion? Business of Fashion. Retrieved from https://www.businessoffashion.com/articles/fashion-tech/will-the-sharing-economy-work-for-fashion-rent-the-runway-rental