Urban Outfitters has become the latest company to launch a rental subscription service for clothing in a move aimed at solving the paradox of millennials' quest for constant fashion newness alongside the desire for a more sustainable lifestyle.

Nuuly is a women's apparel, monthly subscription rental service offering Urban Outfitters own brands, third-party labels and one-of-a-kind vintage pieces for rent via a custom-built, digital platform.  

Subscribers will select their styles each month, wear them as often as they like, before swapping into new styles next month with the option to purchase any item they are renting. Subscriptions will cost US$88 for one, six-item box per month, offering subscribers on average over $800 worth of initial retail value per box, for a tenth of the price.

"Since our founding in 1970, our company philosophy has been to give our customers the creative, compelling shopping experience they desire," said Richard Hayne, CEO and chairman of Urban Outfitters Inc. "Nuuly is the next step in that mission, and with it, we set out to be the subscription fashion leader by offering an unmatched curation of aspirational brands, coupled with extraordinary value."

The platform will stock more than 1,000 styles at launch, with plans to add over 100 new styles a week and triple style count by year's end. The assortment will span lifestyle categories, offering everything from premium denim and everyday dresses to seasonal outerwear and vintage pieces, with options in sizes 00-26, including "substantial" selections of petite and plus-size apparel. 

A sampling of the initial assortment includes:

  • A broad offering of Urban Outfitters' own brands: Anthropologie, Free People and Urban Outfitters
  • A curated selection of hundreds of rare vintage items
  • Fashion and streetwear offerings from global athletic brands: Reebok, Fila and Champion
  • Denim brands: Levi's, Wrangler, DL1961, Paige, AYR, Citizens of Humanity, One Teaspoon and AGOLDE
  • A curated - yet expansive - assortment from hundreds of contemporary brands and designer labels including: Universal Standard, Naadam, LoveShackFancy, Chufy, Gal Meets Glam, Ronny Kobo & Anna Sui

Urban Outfitters says a dedicated team of engineers, product managers, and data scientists are developing the "complex technology" needed to power all aspects of the user experience, with a focus on data driving many aspects of the business. A dedicated warehouse and fulfilment centre outside of Philadelphia houses "state-of-the-art" laundry equipment operated by what the retailer called "veteran laundry technicians".  

Over the years, Urban Outfitters says it has observed several trends impacting consumer's shopping behaviours. Interest in sharing-economy platforms and recurring subscription relationships has grown across industries, while in apparel, the millennial consumer, in particular, is seeking out platforms that provide novelty, variety and breadth, while also supporting sustainability. 

"Nuuly seeks to further these shifting behaviours by giving subscribers access to a wide assortment of current fashion at a substantially lower cost-per-wear than retail, solving the paradox of a millennial's quest for constant fashion newness alongside the desire for a more sustainable lifestyle," the retailer says.

The move sees Urban Outfitters respond to a growing need for new business models, particularly in line with the belief that today's consumer is looking to live more sustainably and is more concerned with owning less. 

Several businesses have moved to a subscription model in recent years including Under Armour and Old Navy, which launched a kids' subscription service in 2017. Rent the Runway, a subscription service that launched in 2009, provides designer dress and accessory rentals at a monthly fee of US$99, while, more recently, American Eagle Outfitters (AEO) launched AE Style drop, a rental subscription service for clothing, in February of this year.

"Urban Outfitters enters the rental landscape with many strategic advantages," said Nuuly president and Urban Outfitters chief digital officer David Hayne. "We bring our distinctive brands and their proprietary assortments, millions of existing customer relationships with rich preference histories, long-standing brand partnerships, a broad point-of-sale distribution network, as well as deep, operational know-how and investable capital. When paired with our proven ability to develop creative lifestyle brands, we believe Nuuly is uniquely positioned to deliver the dynamic subscription rental experience the modern customer desires".

Customers can join a waitlist at www.Nuuly.com to be notified for summer 2019 launch.

Last week, a new report exploring the financial viability of circular business models in the fashion industry - including rental - found they could drive a higher margin per garment compared to the current linear 'take-make-waste' process. 

While in an interview with just-style recently, the head of circular fashion at the C&A Foundation, Douwe Jan Joustra, explained how retailers need to adopt new business models, transitioning into "service providers" where fashion will be offered as a service for customers, not consumers.