Researchers at Washington State University (WSU) surveyed 362 adults born between 1997 and 2002 from across the US as part of the study into apparel rental and found respondents were still interested in being fashionable, but do not need to own a product.
Apparel rental, also known as collaborative apparel consumption, extends the life of an article of clothing because people don’t throw it away after wearing it a few times.
“The idea is growing more popular, especially among Gen Z consumers,” said Ting Chi, the corresponding author on the paper and chair of WSU’s Department of Apparel, Merchandising, Design, and Textiles. “They are very interested in sustainable consumerism, care about the environment, and are willing to make changes to help the planet.
“They’re more focused on usage. That increases a product’s lifecycle if it is worn by different people. It also reduces waste while still meeting consumer needs for variety.”
The study, which was published in the journal ‘Sustainability’, identified several factors that made clothing rental acceptable to Gen Z adults. The most important, according to Chi, is the perceived effectiveness of making a difference. If consumers feel their effort will have an impact, they’re more likely to accept a change.
Another factor was the focus on usage, not ownership.
“They would get newer products more frequently than if they own an item,” Chi said. “The desire to get more new articles of clothing made it more likely that they would try rental services.”
The idea of renting clothing is not new, people have been renting formal wear for decades, but expanding into more daily situations is a major change for consumers.
“That’s why we started by talking with Gen Z,” Chi explained. “They’re more willing to adapt to changes, and doing so to help the environment makes it even more appealing.”
In 2018, which is the most up-to-date statistics available, consumers sent over 17m tonnes of textiles to landfill in the US, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. That marks an increase from around 13m tonnes in 2009 and 9.4m tons in 2000.
“We’re wasting too many textiles,” Chi noted. “Americans are buying an average of 67 clothing items every year, but how many do we really need? They’re inexpensive but cause real environmental damage. We need to make an individual effort to help the environment and one way to help is bringing in a sharing economy.”
Chi and his co‑authors plan to continue their research by surveying other generations to gauge their interest in rental apparel.
A number of apparel retailers and brands have launched apparel rental and rental subscription offers in recent months. Most recently, LK Bennett unveiled an unlimited subscription clothing rental service exclusively for women that allows UK customers to rent some of the brand’s most popular pieces from its ready-to-wear collections.
Earlier this year, Ralph Lauren launched its first subscription apparel rental initiative in a move that allows the US fashion company to tap into the growing focus on the sharing economy.
A study published last month, however, suggests purchasing new clothes is a more sustainable option than renting and dry cleaning existing ones.