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Why ‘I’ve rented my dress’ could soon be the most fashionable thing to say

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When planning her outfit for an upcoming awards ceremony, Lily Murphy was wary of two things – how much she spent on clothes and the impact on the environment. The solution was to rent a dress from someone who had the style and fit she wanted.

“I have become really aware of my over-consumption of fashion over the years,” says the 26-year-old PR manager. “I have also become aware of how much money I have spent on clothes, and how frequently I wear a new outfit and then lose interest in ever wearing it again. I think this is typical of young women, especially when you buy something with one event in mind.”

Using an app called Hurr, Murphy rented a dress by London-based designers Rixo to attend her black tie event, paying just under £65 to borrow it for four days.

Renting fashion online is not a new thing – Marks & Spencer last week made a range of womenswear available for rent – but her outfit came from the wardrobe of another woman.

As a younger generation of consumers takes a more sustainable approach to what it wears and also demands to have fresh looks for its social media posts, networks that link buyers and sellers have emerged.

Lily Murphy, PR manager from London, wearing the Rixo dress she rented for a black tie event.

By Rotation, a London-based company, was started in 2019 by Eshita Kabra, who was concerned about the high levels of textile waste she saw during her honeymoon in her native India. Kabra says most of her users are millennials and from “generation Z” – that is, the under-40s.

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Users can borrow or lend designer dresses and bags by the day, with the option of the item either being posted or collected. Loans are usually for between three and four days – to take into account the time needed to post the item back. Each side pays a 15% fee and there is an optional fee for cleaning set by the lender.

In one example, a designer dress is listed for rental at £10 a day – £30 for three days – with a £10 cleaning fee, plus the 15% fee for the company which comes to £6, bringing the bill to £46. Dresses can be rented for one day, but the company recommends lenders set three as the minimum, with the dress received on the first day, and returned on the third.

Hurr, which Murphy used, operates in a similar way. Pieces have to be less than two years old and in “excellent condition” according to the company. An algorithm calculates the suggested rental fee, based on the retail price of the piece, and the fees are 15% for both sides. Murphy’s bill for four days’ rental was broken down into £34.30 for the clothes, a service fee of £5.15, a dry-cleaning charge of £10, shipping of £10 and a damage protection fee of £5, which is optional.

Bought new, the dress would have cost £270, and Murphy says she may not have worn it more than once.

If something is damaged, owners can bill the borrower on By Rotation. If they refuse to pay, the borrower’s details can be handed over to the lender for them to pursue the matter in the small claims court, although this has not happened yet, Kabra says.

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Hurr founder Victoria Prew says borrowers are asked to pay the market value if an item is damaged beyond repair.

As well as wanting to reduce their carbon footprint, young consumers often want to wear something new to an event – and to update their social media feed

. “They don’t just think about the days they are wearing the clothes – they think about the Instagram photo and the moment that will last forever,” says one industry figure who works in venture capital.

“She wants the photo in that dress that will stay on her Instagram, and will forever stay in her feed. People are investing for that.”

‘I have become really aware of how much money I have spent on clothes and how frequently I wear a new outfit and then lose interest’Lily Murphy

What you won’t find on the new generation of lending apps are high-street brands such as Zara and H&M, where shoppers can buy pieces for the same amount they would pay to rent a high-end piece.

They are, however, to be found on an app called Nuw. Aisling Byrne set it up to try and tackle the problem of vast amounts of waste in the fashion industry, which often end up in the developing world.

In what is described as an “online swap shop”, users can upload pictures of their clothes – designer or high street – and earn coins, which can then be exchanged for items that other users put up.

The coins are received when the item is uploaded to the site, with a high street brand earning a silver coin and a designer piece getting a gold coin, which can then be traded. The person receiving the piece pays a 99p fee and postage.

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Although there are designer clothes on the site, all of the top 10 sources of items are high street stores, says Byrne.

Renting would not work for casual, cheaper clothes, she says, nor would selling them secondhand as they are already so cheap in the shops. But by taking away the choice of having to put a price on the clothes, there is now a far more efficient way to circulate them to avoid landfill.

“These clothes are still valuable, they are in perfectly good condition and people want them, but they won’t buy them secondhand at the same price as they are sold firsthand,” she says. Some 22,000 items have been exchanged over the last year.