Fashion rental, and eCommerce subscription models, are becoming more common, but the challenge is finding a sustainable fashion rental model. Frequent dry-cleaning increased shipping, and a variable product lifespan, create some question marks about whether renting is more sustainable.
In a recent article, Sustainability of Rental Fashion: eCommerce Subscription Models, we highlighted that although fashion rental shows promise, there are still many unknowns and questions to tackle.
Enter Hack Your Closet, a Swedish clothing rental service, with a firm eye on addressing these questions and creating a sustainable fashion rental model. We spoke to Mikaela Larsell Ayesa, one of the founders and Head of Operations at Hack Your Closet, to get further insight into their sustainable fashion rental model.
Can you explain the concept of hack your closet? What made you start this business?
Hack Your Closet is a subscription service that provides an easy way to adopt secondhand and rescued clothes and reduce your closet footprint. For 26 € per month, our customers get four hand-picked items sent to their door, selected based on their style and size profile. They can wear clothes for as long as they like before they return the garments to us. We inspect, wash and store all items before we send them out to another ‘Closet Hacker’.
All the clothes of Hack Your Closet are rescued: they are taken out of the waste stream. We collaborate with charity organizations and secondhand stores, but also with brands to reduce their overstocks.
Hack Your Closet prolongs the life of already worn clothes with another 2-3 years by rotating them between the customers.Mikaela Ayesa, Head of Operations, Hack Your Closet
My co-founder Lisa got the idea: The service is the result of many years working with the resale market. I originally founded a marketplace for professional antique/vintage stores. This journey allowed me to do some extensive research on the waste stream and the resale market from supply to distribution but also from the consumer’s perspective. It was clear to me that even though secondhand is growing, the experience around it is still limiting its full potential. After all, for most people buying secondhand, it’s still scary. It takes a particular skill to browse items and find the right fit and design. I thought that I should find a way to share that knowledge that I have been developing since a young age, showing that because trends come and go, we can use pre-loved and leftovers and still feel empowered by the clothes that we wear. Also, my years at Spotify and Outfittery GmbH (biggest curated shopping experience for men in Europe with over 1 million customers) brought a lot of experience with execution.
How do you differentiate yourself as a sustainable fashion rental model in the growing fashion rental market?
We differentiate ourselves in many ways from the rest of the fashion rental services:
- We do not contribute to the new production of clothes and instead only handle clothes that we rescue from the waste stream or end-of-life stage.
- We do not position ourselves as a fashion rental service; we are an everyday clothing service. If you are looking to wear the latest trends, we are not the service for you. We want to provide a whole experience of getting dressed and styled by personal stylists with items that you can wear today, or in 3 years.
- Many fashion rental services allow customers to choose clothes that they want to rent themselves. We want to free you from the time that it takes to browse items or to go shopping for items. We do everything, from buying, washing, styling and sending the clothes to you.
We do not contribute to the new production of clothes and instead only handle clothes that we rescue from the waste stream or end-of-life stage.Mikaela Ayesa, Head of Operations, Hack Your Closet
How do you feel rental fashion can help the fashion industry become more sustainable?
Clothing rental can help to prolong the use phase of clothes and also make it more efficient as the clothing item will, for sure be used more times than if one person bought it. We also hope that, when renting clothes each month, you will buy fewer clothes that get stuck in your wardrobe – It’s a more sustainable way of updating your closet.
Ellen MacArthur Foundation did a graph on how sales of fashion have increased while the utilization of items has decreased. If we can prolong the utilization phase, fewer clothes have to be produced. Clothing rental services also come with a lot of positive after-effects: the brands need to focus more on quality than quantity to be able to circulate the clothes for a long time. It has to be timeless designs and not a new collection every week.
Clothing rental services obligate the companies to keep their ownership of the clothes (if they don’t have the option that you can buy the items). This means that, when an item can no longer be circulated, the companies are responsible for discarding it responsibly: recycling fibres, remaking textiles into something else, repairing, etc.
This part is crucial, and until today it has been the responsibility of the customer – which means that the clothes can end up anywhere. At Hack Your Closet, we want to collaborate with companies like re:newcell that recycles natural textiles. We also have our seamstress who repairs damage clothes and remakes textiles into something new and fun.
What are the biggest challenges with creating a sustainable fashion rental model?
The biggest challenges for clothing rental services when it comes to sustainability are transportation, packaging, washing and changing the mentality of its customers.
Transportation: we transport the clothes back and forth, not only one way. It’s still more sustainable than if all of our customers would take the car to a shop and buy a few items of clothing, as we transport many boxes in the same vehicle to customers that live nearby each other. BUT it can always be better. We are working with partners that have fossil-free vehicles like electric cars and bikes, but it only works in cities and not in the whole country. We have also made sure only to ship our boxes on one specific day, and not every day.
Packaging: If the packaging can be used for both the transportation back and forth, that’s good. If the packaging can then be used again or be recycled responsibly, that’s great. We have done an LCA calculation to compare the impact of either using reusable packaging (made of recycled PET) that can be used up to 20 cycles or using cardboard boxes that can be applied back and forth for two cycles. The result was the same if we use the cardboard boxes one time back and forth – but it was half the impact if we could use the cardboard boxes twice. Therefore, we ordered cardboard boxes (without any bleach) that are a bit stronger so that we can use the boxes for at least two cycles (2 different customers back and forth) to minimize the environmental impact. We then recycle the boxes.
Washing: We have to wash the clothes in between every rotation, and that is probably more than an average person would wash their clothes. Also, when washing clothes made out of synthetic material such as polyester, micro-plastics will be washed out in the water and end up in our oceans. It’s therefore essential to wash with responsible detergents that are not too strong and invest in washing machines that don’t use more water than necessary. It’s also important to focus on clothes with natural materials. It’s a thin line though because polyester is a very durable material that makes it possible to circulate the items for a very long time. It’s also necessary to wash every item in between every rotation because of care for health.
Changing the mentality of the customer: At Hack Your Closet, we try to educate our customers about style, secondhand clothes and the idea that someone else has worn the items before. We try to take away the idea that being fashionable means wearing the latest trends, and we focus more on how to style every item that you get in your box for it to feel like YOU. Being stylish is being able to style every item. It’s also essential to educate the customers about how to treat their clothes and what it means to be part of our community – driving change towards a sustainable clothing industry.
What are the main areas where you can see future improvement for sustainability in rental fashion? And what are the plans for Hack Your Closet
I think that the above challenges are the main areas of improvement, but also be careful not to make this “I must-have new items all the time” mentality worse. To rent out current collections for brands so that they can find new income sources and produce more clothes is not a sustainable way to do it.
Hack Your Closet’s plans for improvement has to do with building up more education around sustainability and styling to our community of people who share the same closet. Our plans are also to increase the percentage of fossil-free deliveries and to grow with local hubs around Europe.
More generally, how do you feel the fashion industry can best approach the environmental impact it has?
I feel like the fashion industry needs to rethink its business-as-usual strategy: go from a linear business model (take-make-use-dispose) to a circular business model where the primary goal is to design out waste.
A good approach for the well-known large enterprises in the fashion industry could be to collaborate with and embrace smaller initiatives, startups, and projects that can help them close the loop.
A circular business model involves many stakeholders from different niches and industries, and they all need to collaborate for it to work. If stakeholders throughout the loop start to talk, they will realize that many fundamental things need to change for the loop to be closed.
For examples such as material choice (recyclable & natural) for the textiles or the quality of garments to prolong the use phase or even the marketing of the fashion industry: how can they work together to educate the consumer on consumption patterns and care for textiles?
7. As an eCommerce business with subscription revenue, does this offer any challenges?
Subscription services need to continually keep their subscribers interested and engaged in what you do; otherwise, you will lose them.
If you manage to create compelling content and engage them in something that will give them a purpose to stay with you for a long time, you can succeed in creating an even higher revenue than a BAU can. But this is also the most exciting part of having a subscription service – you have to create something more significant than the materialistic stuff you sell or the service in itself that you offer.
Other challenges that come with being an eCommerce with a subscription revenue is the logistics behind the operations. It’s very complicated, and you have to be creative in the way you do things. Also, the company often stays the owner of the physical products that they circulate or that they offer to you as a service and the companies must know what to do with the physical goods at its end of life, so it doesn’t end up as waste.
Further details can be found on the Hack Your Closet website.
Further Reading: Sustainability of Rental Fashion: eCommerce Subscription Models. Read More