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Fashion takes over sharing economy: Clothing rentals gain popularity in Singapore

Since 2015, a number of clothing rental services have sprung up in Singapore’s retail scene.

Singaporeans are warming up to the slow fashion movement with the increasing procurement of sustainably-made apparel, a consumption practice that used to be foreign amongst local shoppers.

A study by Nielsen found that about 80% of Singaporeans are willing to pay premium prices for products that are sustainably produced, and made using environmentally friendly materials. Furthermore, the Climate Change Public Perception Survey 2019 revealed that four in five of those surveyed were prepared to play a role towards a low-carbon Singapore, even if it meant bearing some additional costs and inconvenience as consumers.

The peer-to-peer based activity of the sharing economy has long been commoditized for lodging and transport services, but remains a far-fetched concept for the industry of fashion retail.

However, a Knight Frank report cited that conscious consumerism will be one of the top retail trends in 2020, to which Knight Frank noted will give rise to the popularity of clothing rental providers.

Singapore-grown fashion rental startup Style Theory, which launched operations in 2016, started the services grounded on the same principle that consumers have grown responsive to a sharing economy.

“Since consumers are already accustomed to sharing rides and homes with strangers thanks to the rise of services like Grab and Airbnb, this got us thinking about giving people the opportunity to access an infinite wardrobe stored in the cloud in a financially and environmentally sustainable manner,” A Style Theory spokesperson told Singapore Business Review in an exclusive statement.

Whereas clothing rentals only used to refer to special and occasional wear such as formal wear and costume ensemble, the new rental framework amongst fashion rental stores now include basic wear.

Style Theory offers over 300 pieces of apparel and accessories for rental that range from bridal to workwear, as well as a bag consignment scheme where individuals can lend their bags and receive a share of the fee.

Other clothing rental services that have sprung up in Singapore’s retail scene, include stores such asCovetella, Madthreads, and Fabaholics, with Covetella being founded in 2015, and both Madthreads and Fabaholics starting operations in 2018.

All stores operate on the same rental subscription model. For example, at Style Theory, three different price points correspond to a specific subscription offer allowing customers to rent a specific number of pieces within a timeframe of either a week, a month, or for an unlimited time.

The island has also seen several offline and online peer-to-peer secondhand fashion destinations and platforms, such as Reebonz, Refash, and Style Tribute all adding to the circular economy in fashion retail, according to data from Euromonitor.

Euromonitor’s research consultant Radhika Singal said that the rise of alternate retail business models is a natural outcome of the rising slow fashion movement and the increasing awareness of both consumers and business owners on sustainable zero waste lifestyle.

Should more stores adopt the rental subscription model, Fitch Solutions’ consumer and retail analyst Taohai Lin forecasts a mix of positive, and negative outcomes for certain industries such as mall occupancies and dry cleaning services.

Lin noted that mall occupancy may drop, given that these subscription businesses require fewer physical stores compared to conventional retail.

Meanwhile, demand for warehousing, dry cleaning and delivery services will increase, since such business model relies on shuffling clothing between the customer, the dry cleaner and their warehouse.

Sharing may also unlock latent demand and increase total demand for luxury or fast fashion brands, as they may be now able to tap on new unfulfilled demand from new customers who would not have wanted to buy clothing before the possibility of rental, added Lin.

Fast fashion behemoth H&M has already added a conscious collection which is widely available at Singapore stores. It has also recently launched a sustainable sportswear collection in collaboration with Australian company PE Nation.

Local departmental stores can’t choose to overlook the wave too with Takashimaya department store launching its first “Love the Earth” festival in 2019 - a month-long Earth day annual event to provide customers with an eco-conscious shopping experience, noted Lin.

Clothing rentals aside, are established stores ready to jump in on offering sustainably-made apparel in general?

Ready-to-wear brand In Good Company’s spokesperson Sharon Wong told Singapore Business Review that they don’t see adding sustainable apparel in the near future, citing supply chain, inventory, and logistics as top concerns.

“Production of Eco-conscious and sustainable apparel requires an entirely different supply chain of logistics, material and production. We do what we can in small and increasing ways that are possible for us at present, anything less will just be green washing,” a In Good Company’s spokesperson said.

Fashion brand Gin Lee Studio shared that in their efforts to support sustainable production, the creation process for their clothes undergoes many laboured iterations to produce as little waste as possible.

“We develop our designs from scratch, rather than using the mass market method of buying samples and copying to speed up development,” Gin Lee Studio stated.

“Once a style is considered, we put it through rounds of performance tests before cutting up our fabrics. As for production, quantity is kept at a minimum to prevent excess inventory so pre-orders are available to alleviate sudden demand,” the store added.

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