A woman looks at clothes at Rent the Runway, an online subscription service for designer dresses and accessories in New York. Photograph: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters
A study has revealed that renting clothes, long touted as one of the “answers” to fashion’s sustainability crisis, is worse for the planet than throwing them away.
The study, published by the Finnish scientific journal Environmental Research Letters assessed the environmental impact of five different ways of owning and disposing of clothing, including renting, resale and recycling.
It found that renting clothes had the highest climate impact of all. The hidden environmental cost was found to be delivery and packaging costs. Renting involves a large amount of transportation, taking the clothes back and forth between the warehouse and the renter. Dry cleaning is also harmful to the environment.
A quality controller working at Rent the Runway’s ‘dream fulfilment centre’ in New Jersey. Photograph: Andrew Kelly/Reuters
Renting clothes has been thought of the sustainable and frugal alternative to fast fashion, popularised by companies such as Rent the Runway and public figures like Carrie Symonds, who rented her wedding dress and her outfits for the G7 conference. Gwyneth Paltrow is on the Rent the Runway board and Ralph Lauren has announced a rental range.
服装租赁曾被认为是替代快时尚的可持续又省钱的选择，在租衣平台Rent the Runway和凯莉·西蒙兹等公众人物的推广下走近了百姓的生活。凯莉·西蒙兹曾穿着租来的衣服举行婚礼和出席七国集团峰会。明星格温妮丝·帕特洛是Rent the Runway的董事之一，时装品牌拉夫劳伦也宣布推出租衣服务。
The growing sector, which according to GlobalData is going to be worth 2.3bn by 2029, has been touted as a possible solution to fashion’s environmental crisis. A report by the World Economic Forum this year suggested that the industry generates 5% of global emissions.
The study found many rental brands misuse the term “circular economy” – the system where clothes are passed from person to person before being recycled – as a form of greenwashing.
Ralph Lauren has said it will produce a range of clothes for rent. Photograph: Mario Anzuoni/Reuters
"Only regulation will solve that problem. No company, in any industry, will volunteer to take a loss for the sake of the planet. They’ll do so when it’s the law. The biggest obstacle is greed,” said Dana Thomas, author of Fashionopolis.
The new study suggests that if rental companies change their logistics to make them more climate friendly, renting would, environmentally, be on a level with reselling. It also found that the most sustainable way to consume fashion is to buy fewer items and to wear them for as long as possible. “You want to be sustainable? Buy less, buy better,” Thomas said.