The idea of renting movies, cars, party tents, cooking and banquet equipment has become a common practice in the world of recreation and convenience of the 21st century. Now, this concept has transcended into the world of fashion.
Stephanie Johnson, who does marketing and branding at Gwynnie Bee, a monthly subscription clothing service, based out of Long Island City, N.Y., said that since the recession, people have paid closer attention to their budgets, but at the same time, did not want to give up luxury, quality and comfort. Clothing can be costly, and renting clothes can fulfill this need for balancing luxury, originality and frugality.
"In general, since the recession, people have been more open to the idea of a sharing things that you would normally own," Johnson said.
Photos special to the Tribune Chronicle
These photos provided by Rent the Runway show some of the dresses women can rent for special occasions.
Tiffany Ullian, senior vice president of merchandising and creative for Bag Borrow or Steal, an online service where users can rent designer handbags, jewelry and accessories, said that there is a significant shift from owning clothing to renting clothing. She said that renting clothes is continuing to gain momentum.
"The economic circumstances in 2009 created a mind shift, where consumers began to rethink the value relationship with the things they were purchasing," Ullian said. "People started questioning 'How much and am I really going to use this? It is worth the cost?' Fashion, especially trendy fashion, is a perfect circumstance, where access when you want it, seems smarter, since what is hot today is not always hot tomorrow. I view this as the new 'Fast Fashion'. Have it when you want it. Move on when you're done."
"Clothing seems to be a bit of a late bloomer in the rental space," Johnson said. "This is probably for a number of reasons: clothes aren't as durable as cars or as easy to replace and duplicate as videos. However, renting clothing has become so popular because it's such a vital element of personal expression."
Ullian said that Bag Borrow or Steal was founded by two brothers in 2004 when they noticed that their wives were swapping handbags.
"Our company pioneered the fashion rental model. Bag Borrow or Steal became a household name in 2008, when it was featured in the blockbuster movie 'Sex & the City.' Today, we are still the leader in the handbag rental market." Ullian said.
Jennifer Fleiss is co-founder and head of business development at Rent the Runway, a New York City-based e-commerce business, which allows women to rent designer accessories and dresses.
"Our customers see Rent the Runway as a way to experiment with fashion and step out of their comfort zones without the commitment of keeping a dress that they know they will only wear once or twice," Fleiss said.
Rent the Runway's designer clothes are meant to be rented for special occasions.
"Women are renting our dresses for everything from date night to a cocktail party to a red carpet event," Fleiss said.
Rent the Runway is easy for users and allows them to choose their ideal style of wardrobe from more than 160 designers.
"We started Rent the Runway with the goal of democratizing fashion and providing women everywhere with access to designer dresses and accessories to make them feel their most beautiful and self-confident," Fleiss said. "We send your chosen dress in two sizes to ensure a perfect fit, but if it still doesn't work, you can call us and return the items within 24 hours for full credit."
Johnson said that Gwynnie Bee's styles range from casual weekend wear to semi-formal dresses.
"We aim to be the most exciting and expressive part of your wardrobe, so our collection is chock full of items that you'll likely want to wear a couple of times and return," Johnson said. "We encourage that constant refreshment, experimentation and discovery. It's more fun than always wearing staple pieces."
Sometimes when you try on an outfit, you discover that this wardrobe is ideal for you and sometimes you discover that it's not your cup of tea. Gwynnie Bee's services are flexible for each customer.
"As long as someone is a subscriber, they can keep items for as long as they like. Normally, our members who are on a three garments-at-a-time plan, wear a garment or two once or twice and return them pretty quickly, but hold onto a piece they love for longer. It's really up to you and how you want to keep your closet rotating," Johnson said.
"The most popular plans for us are the three and five garments-at-a-time plans. The beauty of the service though, is that while you only have three or five garments out at a time, you actually can see as many as 15-20 different pieces in the month, all that you have chosen from our collection of thousands," Johnson said.
Gwynnie Bee was founded by Christine Hunsicker. A simple idea from Hunsicker's childhood inspired her to start a clothing rental company which stands for stylistic freedom.
"Christine's family didn't have a lot of money, and her aunt, a seamstress, made clothes for both Christine and her cousin," Johnson said. "The two would then swap outfits, and then at end of each week, they consign the outfits to get new fabric. The girls enjoyed the fun of frequently exchanging their clothes, and the confidence that comes with their perfectly fit custom clothes. Christine wanted to find a way to recreate this feeling of freedom from sizes and prices along with the excitement of being able to express oneself and share the feeling of personal empowerment with other women."