The moment Amit Raj Chopra saw the email confirmation of a job interview, the first thing that came to mind was, What will I wear? It was going to be his first Zoom job interview. It was the latter part of 2020 and the 27-year-old marketing professional was determined to crack it, especially since his office was still downsizing, citing pandemic losses. “You know how marketing works, meeting people, making impressions,” says the south Delhi resident. “And this (the interview) was for a luxury brand. I had to look the part even if it was online.”
Shopping for a new outfit was not an option; he had been living with a 20% salary cut since June 2020. On a friend’s suggestion, Chopra decided to try out a rental platform online. “A white Gucci shirt, Tom Ford pants—all in ₹2,000 for a day. That was my first-ever confidence-boosting outfit,” laughs Chopra, who is a keen follower of fashion trends. He completed the look with his own yellow Crocs.
“The interviewer couldn’t see my entire look but it gave me so much confidence. It was cheap, didn’t crowd my cupboard. And there was no pressure of not repeating the outfit,” he adds. “Plus, renting clothes is good for the environment. I even later clicked (some pictures) for the Gram (Instagram).”
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Like Chopra, social media-obsessed Indian shoppers, especially millennials and Gen Z, are finding transformational bliss in rented or preloved clothes. After all, when you have the option of renting something vintage, branded, or a garment/accessory stylish enough to suit the mood or occasion, why buy it? There’s certainly less guilt, it costs much less, and a save-the-environment emotion, however ephemeral, is satisfying.
The pandemic has certainly forced a conversation on sustainability in fashion. It’s too early to say if this will lead to defining change but growth in the field of apparel rental and its sister, fashion resale, is not just back on track but seems to be growing exponentially. Two years ago, the global online clothing rental market, driven primarily by the US and UK, was $1.26 billion (around ₹92 billion), according to data from the firm ResearchAndMarkets.com. It took a hit last year but is on the rebound. In May, the head of Rent the Runway, a pioneer in the rental space, told The New York Times it had seen a 92% increase in active subscribers and “the number of customers was on track to outpace 2019 levels by the end of the year”.
India is taking its own baby steps. So while there is no data to chart the growth nationally, there is a steady increase in the number of players and their growing client lists reflect that Indians are shedding any hesitancy they may have had about wearing used clothes.
Two-year-old Flyrobe, which has an online and retail presence across the country, has seen its average order size rise from ₹2,500 to ₹5,500 since the end of the first lockdown last year. Mumbai’s Beg Borrow Steal, which turns three in October and has clients like actors Dimple Kapadia and Ali Fazal, is steadily moving towards its pre-covid revenue of ₹5 lakh a month. Ziniosa, which, like Beg Borrow Steal, rents and sells preloved luxury handbags, garments, shoes, belts and sunglasses, is seeing sales “never like before”. Saritoria, an e-store that sells preloved Indian couture, has gained over 100 clients in places such as Norway, , Australia and the UAE since its launch a little over two months ago. Poshmark, the resale marketplace that went public this year, is heading to India later this month.
“Covid-19 has taught us all that we use only 30-40% of our closet regularly; the other part is just lying there, collecting dust,” says Ziniosa’s co-founder Ashri Jaiswal. “Millennials and Gen Zers have started taking pride in openly accepting that they prefer to rent and re-wear rather than buying something new. They are no longer closeted customers; they like to talk to their family and friends about how renting is smart and helps them save money. It’s the new cool thing to do.”
Everything is used once these days, adds stylist Pranav Sood, who founded Beg Borrow Steal with fellow stylist Krisna Kutty. “Instagram has made everything like that. You wear clothes once and put them on Instagram. Get likes and move on to the next. In such cases, renting makes sense.”
One big reason for the increased attraction of rental or preloved is, of course, cost. It’s a good saving for brands too. A recent Bain & Company report says rental could make up 10% of the revenue for luxury brands. Small wonder then that brands like Miu Miu, Gucci and Levi’s are looking at the secondhand market with keen interest. As Flyrobe’s chief executive, Aanchal Saini, says: “People have lost their jobs, and pay cuts have happened. Wherever a person can save, they tend to choose such options.”
That was, in fact, why Bengaluru-based Shweta B. decided to rent her wedding outfit. She first heard of the concept from Japanese expatriates. “It’s a very common thing in Japan for brides and grooms to hire their wedding outfits. And I realised buying something new for myself was too expensive; it’s not value for money. Brides don’t repeat their outfits anyway,” says Shweta, who got married in November. After considerable online research, she made her first rental purchase—a heavily embellished lehenga with zari work. Since this was the first time she was going in for rented wear, she wanted to be sure about it.“I visited the store in Jayanagar several times," she says. “Both my husband and I ended up renting from there.”
Most rental stores and platforms are reporting a greater demand for bridal outfits today. Flyrobe has seen a 20% hike in revenue from wedding wear. “There has been tremendous traction in the customer to customer (C2C) model, with users giving out as new as 10-day-old designer products out for rentals to make money off their closet,” says Saini. “Consumers don’t want to let go of any chance to make or save money.” The cost of damage, if any, is cut from the deposit.
Beg Borrow Steal’s Sood has, meanwhile, seen more clients looking for outfits to wear to parties, interviews and film or social media shoots. Saritoria’s co-founder, Shehlina Soomro, is overwhelmed by the number of people who are opening up to the idea of putting their clothes for sale. The brand, which offers preloved couture, gives 80% of the transaction amount to the original owner. The price is one-third or one-fourth of the original price, depending on the garment’s condition, fabric and design.
“I think the Indian consumer has become more mature in the past one-two years,” Soomro says over a WhatsApp call from London. “They realise that instead of a garment gathering dust in their cupboard, they can give it to someone else. You save space, money. And, of course, the environment.”
Renting or buying preloved clothes suggests an eco-friendly lifestyle but it does have some environmental impact. Dry cleaning and shipping are chief areas of concern, for instance. But Shipra Agarwal, who works at Skrap, an environmental sustainability firm that helps businesses and brands adopt sustainable practices and zero-waste solutions, says such costs can be offset easily by the resources required to manufacture a new garment. “The fashion industry has an impact we don’t really see,” she says, adding that while simply using what you already have continues to be the best option, renting is not a bad option for occasion-wear. “I think it is a great way not to clutter my wardrobe more.”
This is what continues to draw Chopra to the concept. He couldn’t crack his first job interview. During the second job interview, for which he wore a rented Prada shirt ( ₹1,500), he knew he had made it. “I care for the environment for sure. But by renting, you are also showing respect for clothes, trends, styles…,” he says. “And they make for great photos.”