Fashion Only When You Need It: Towards A Rentable Wardrobe

People of a certain age might remember a certain phrase used to encourage kids to think about what they consume and take care of waste: reuse, reduce, recycle. In recent years, the fashion industry has started conversations and taken some action towards doing the latter two in that list. There has been an increased focus on the environmental impact of manufacturing has as well a number of brands creating items that can easily be recycled. But what about the first one, reusing? Customers do it all the time, but what would it look like for the fashion industry to embrace it? We already have two companies embracing the idea of rentable fashion: Rent the Runway and Le Tote.

Renting has a bit of a poor reputation. You think of the nearly bankrupt Blockbuster. You think of it as that thing you have to pay toa landlord. Renting really doesn’t gel with the idea of high fashion. However, one of the open secrets of celebrity fashion is that a lot of the clothes worn on red carpets are borrowed from a designer or brand, worn only for the event. Why shouldn’t your everyday consumer have the same luxury?

Rent the Runway recognizes that not just celebrities need items for special occasions. They also understand that it makes less sense for an average consumer to spend money on an item that they are only going to wear once.

What makes the brand work is that the company is able to communicate both ideas behind the brand into on central idea from in it’s marketing, branding and even the company name. The business model and pricing provide access  to people who might not normally wear designer items, while the marketing reinforces how high-end the items are.


Where Rent the Runway leans towards occasion-based styling, Le Tote is ready to add items to a customers everyday wardrobe.

Rakesh Tondon on FIYB

Fashion Is Your Business spoke to Rakesh Tondon, Co-Founder and CEO of Le Tote, at on location at the 2016 SHOPTALK retail and ecommerce event in Las Vegas. Le Tote is a fashion subscription service that sends customers clothes based off sizing and a style profile. On the podcast they discuss the logistics of the service, garment durability, possibly having a physical store and more.

Le Tote’s marketing is geared towards the selling points discovery and ease. Their customer wants to discover new brands and styles but doesn’t always want to shop or have the time to shop. Le Tote brings new stuff to them, the customer wears and rates them, refining the selection each time. The cherry on top is that Le Tote takes care of doing the laundry and even donates items towards the later end of their lifecycle.


The major hurdle that both these companies have to face is convincing customers that don’t need to own every piece of clothing that they will wear. The fashion industry at large has spent years telling people that they need to own the latest trends. Now, that tasks seems more contradictory, expensive and a bit wasteful in the current environment and economy. Rent the Runway and Le Tote in a way are ‘saying’: “Hey, you can’t do both without being super-rich. So don’t. Stay trendy by renting clothes and save money in the process.”

Is the future going to have closets with next to nothing in them because everyone’s renting clothes? Probably not. People are always going to have clothing that they have an emotional attachment to and it also makes sense to have a core wardrobe. But, due to economics, real estate and environmental consciousness, closets might be getting a bit smaller and rentable fashion might become more popular. Rent the Runway, Le Tote and others have figured out how to be the Netflix of clothes and are the first ones taking advantage of a changing landscape.


Alex Tunney

Alex is Managing Editor of Open Source Fashion. His work has appeared in The Billfold, Lambda Literary, The Inquisitive Eater and The Ink and Code. Alex earned his MFA in Creative Writing from The New School.