Everybody loves a side hustle. Look at your wardrobe and there is probably hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds worth of merchandise not earning its keep. It’s just hanging there, not being worn or potentially earning you money. Enter the peer-to-peer rental scheme.
It’s tempting. Under the guise of being better for the environment, women are hiring out their wardrobes for a fee. The companies facilitating this are earning a commission from each hire. The business model makes sense. There’s no initial outlay and money tied up in stock for the businesses and much like other service companies - Uber, Airbnb, eBay - the majority of work is done by the individuals, while they cream off the commission. Sounds easy.
Left - MYWARDROBE HQ - CHANEL - Perfume Bottle Clutch - FROM £147 / DAY (RRP £15,000)
But, is this nascent industry working for lenders - those hiring their clothes out - and is it sustainable enough for this sector to scale? This business is only as good as its lenders and the product they can offer at a price which is attractive to others. Companies, such as HURR Collective and MY WARDROBE HQ, need to keep these individuals engaged, encouraged and make it as seamless as possible, while being low enough to keep people hiring frequently.
The current MY WARDROBE HQ mail-outs are enticing with £325 Rixo dresses for £8, or Simone Rocha fur stoles for £23 a day. At these prices, renting finally makes sense for many. It says customers can shop womenswear clothing and accessories from the wardrobes of Arizona Muse, Poppy and Chloe Delevingne, Olivia Buckingham, Roxie Nafousi, Caroline Fleming, amongst other fashion stylists and influencers. Victoria Prew
Founded in 2018 by Sacha Newall and Tina Lake, MY WARDROBE HQ is now chaired by Jane Shepherdson, of Topshop & Whistles fame and has just opened a pop-up in London department store Liberty until 31st March 2020.
HURR Collective, founded in 2017, too has launched its first in-store wardrobe rental pop-up at Selfridges, London for six months. Available to rent for either four or eight days, the stock will rotate on a weekly basis and there will be specially curated London Fashion Week, Valentines Day and Holiday edits.
The value of unused clothing in wardrobes has been estimated at £30 billion with an estimated £140 million of clothing going to landfill annually in the UK alone. The fashion rental industry is projected to reach $1.96 billion by 2023.
Sarah Angus, Content Director, MY WARDROBE HQ, say, “Customers can choose a rental term that suits their occasion; 4, 7, 10 or 14 days, and we can extend this further if they require. We have customers that rent for each and all of these terms - the 10 day particularly suits holidays/vacations, while the 4 day rental is perfect for interviews and events such as LFW.”
“Lenders make 60% of every rental or sale. Our business model includes a resale element also which has seen renters rent something, love it, and then buy it for the difference.” she says. "Our unique business model means that we manage everything for the lender; people nowadays are time poor and don’t have the time to manage things like this, but they’re conscious of the damage fashion is doing to the planet and want to do good (and also earn some cash for it). We manage the whole service from intake, photography, storage, cleaning, delivery and returns. The lenders in return receive a monthly pay cheque, minus our commission.” she says.
“We have approximately 150 lenders and this is an almost even split between individuals and brands. We have seen such huge support for the managed service that we are offering and have some big name brands joining our platform this week which we can’t wait to share!” says Angus. “We are really discerning with the items that are available on our platform and as such screen and select individuals to ensure the items are of the best condition to rent and buy. We photograph, clean and manage all the items you see on the platform so that customers can view, rent and buy the items in a premium environment.” she says.
“We price items to rent at 10% of RRP and to sell at 30% of RRP. Some items such as Chanel and Gucci retain their value so we always confer with the lender and decide a suitable price.” says Angus. “Brands in particular are tapping into this and we have seen huge uptake with brand partners, including Coach, Mulberry, Diane von Furstenberg, Temperley, Needle & Thread, Vivienne Westwood, Perfect Moment, Beulah, Chinti and Parker, all signed to MY WARDROBE HQ.”
“Our target customer is ABC1, 28-35; she recognises the damage fashion is having on the planet and wants access to items that ensure a ‘Cinderella’ moment. These are wow pieces that would cost a lot to buy but can be experienced at a fraction of the cost.” she says.
“Rental is the future!” says Angus. “Consumers care less about ownership and want to experience rather than own material things; just look at Uber, Netflix, Spotify and Airbnb, all of whom own no stock. Designers are reducing their collections or ceasing completely - Jean Paul Gaultier famously just showed his last collection and actually up-cycled his couture collection to make a stand against the damage fashion is having on the planet.
Why buy the copycat version on the high street when you can rent it from the designer that inspired it, for the same price?” she says.
“On the HURR platform you can rent for 7, 14, 21 and 28 days. This week we launched in Selfridges where you can rent for 4 days, exclusive to the pop-up.” says Victoria Prew, CEO & Co-Founder, HURR Collective.
On the HURR Collective platform the lender makes 85% of each rental, while HURR take a 15% commission. For example, you can rent a £170 Ganni dress for £32 for 7 days.
Right - Don't lose it! The infamous Jacquemus handbag from HURR Collective
“We use data-driven insights and customer spending behavioural data to suggest prices that balance both affordability to the renter and profitability to the lender. This results in a pricing model which makes it 'worthwhile' to both parties.” says Prew. “We take a tech-first approach to pricing, by consistently analysing our pricing algorithms to optimise and balance the number of rentals, and rental income.” she says.
“The number one reason for signing up to HURR is sustainability. Our user base is largely millennial and is deeply passionate and informed about sustainable fashion and the circular economy.” says Prew. “HURR is set to scale throughout the UK this year, with international expansion on the horizon. As we don't hold stock there's no limit on the number of users, their location or the number of items that can be listed.” she says.
People wearing/sharing their clothes more has to be good for the environment if it means people are buying less, but, while these look like retail sites, with the feeling of full options, these rental websites are restricted by sizing and the volume of the items stocked. They need to keep both parties happy, particularly those individuals renting their prized pieces.
Kate, 36, from London, recently decided to rent via these rental platforms, “I have quite a few designer items that I’ve bought over the years which I rarely wear, I didn’t want to sell any of them but it seemed a waste to just have them hung in a wardrobe … plus its a great way to earn a bit of extra money ;)” she says. “I googled clothing rental sites some time ago and HURR and MY WARDROBE HQ looked the best ones.
“It was quite soon after HURR launched, I requested to register as a lender, uploaded a couple of pieces and didn’t think much more of it.” she says. “One of the girls from HURR got in touch with me a few weeks later and said they were setting up a pop-up shop and wanted some pieces they could hold in the store. I sent over the items I wanted to rent and then they helped me upload everything on to the website”, she says.
“Both websites are super easy to upload. The HURR team uploaded most of the items for me (I think they offer a service for this, I’m not sure if MY WARDROBE HQ does) so it was really convenient and the photos/descriptions are perfect as they know what renters are looking for.” says Kate.
“The items HURR are holding for the pop-up - customers try on and rent in store - HURR handle all of this I just get a confirmation and payment. They also look after cleaning.” she says. “The pieces not held in the pop-up - the renter will put in a request on the website, sometimes there is some chat via message about size / fit etc. Once I’ve accepted the request (you can choose not to lend the item). she says. “I arrange postage/delivery. When the rental period has ended the renter posts/delivers back the item and I arrange for the item to be cleaned. I think its best I handle cleaning - I can ensure its cleaned exactly as it should be.”
“If the item doesn’t fit, the renter has 24hrs to process a fit return, once returned they receive a refund minus shipping/cleaning.” she says. “HURR has been great, always on hand to help with any tech issues or questions. It’s great that they hold some of the pieces in the pop-up as I think its more likely they will be rented (especially now they have a pop up in Selfridges) - plus I don’t have to deal with the logistics of renting.” she says. “MY WARDROBE HQ - I’ve loaded pieces but none of my pieces have been rented yet so I’m not sure how smooth it runs.” she says.
“Positives - I get to make some money from items just sat in my wardrobe. I’m also keen to do my part in making the fashion industry more sustainable and I think this is one small step towards creating some change.” says Kate. “Negatives - - if something gets damaged and can’t be replaced / fixed - The HURR team advise not to rent items that have sentimental value and if you’re not comfortable renting something once a request comes in you don’t have to, so fingers crossed nothing will go wrong.”
Left - MY WARDROBE HQ - The Vampire's Wife - Velvet Tea Dress - FROM £18 / DAY (RRP £995)
“Renting with HURR has been no hassle, especially while they are holding the clothes for the pop-up and I don’t I need to do anything.” says Kate. “I’ve made enough to buy a new pair of shoes.” she says. “The pieces I have listed for rental are designer dresses/statement/party pieces. A Dolce & Gabbana sequin dress got a lot of interest over the Christmas period. I only rent clothes - not shoes or bags.” she says.
The daily rates are slightly misleading because you can’t rent anything for a single day. Both companies have a minimum of 4 days. The designer rental market, up until now, has been quite expensive and for special occasions. Too expensive and you may as well buy the item, too cheap and you can’t provide the service or convince the lenders to offer their precious items. For example, Scottish manufacturer, Begg & Co., was offering to rent a scarf for £160 for 2 weeks, last autumn. Surely, you’d buy it outright if you could afford £160 to rent a scarf? It's no longer an option on their website.
Renting is about Instagrammable, look-at-me pieces. These business models are restricted by only usually having one item, in one size, so it could be difficult to scale the business. It also needs to have a lot of ‘must-have’, desirable items to keep up the demand.
MY WARDROBE HQ’s marketing offers a £1300 Victoria Beckham dress for £22 a day, which will surely get people thinking differently about the rental market. Is there enough incentive and motivation for the lenders, we’ll have to see, but with brands joining the mix, this could be the answer for these growing companies. The designer brands will probably want to keep it on the down low to avoid it eating into retail sales, or put the 'sustainable' spin on it, but it could be a good way of making money from last season’s stock.
Will you carry on lending? “For sure”. says Kate.
BUY TheChicGeek's new book - FASHIONWANKERS - HERE
Some of Britain’s best known, mid-sized fashion brands are up for sale. French Connection, Pretty Green and Anya Hindmarch are all rumoured to be looking for new owners. Put LK Bennett into the mix, which recently when into administration, closing five stores and making 55 redundancies, and you have a slew of established British brands trying to forge the next chapter of their existence.
While Anya Hindmarch is more in the luxury pricing category, the others are all premium high-street; asking consumers to stump up more cash for their products in a mid-market squeezed between fast-fashion and ‘luxury’ brands. This is an area that has suffered the most over recent years. Hooked on sales and discounts, many of these brands operate an unsustainable retail network, flabby business model and have suffered due to the demise of the traditional department store.
Putting themselves up for sale is timely. If you’re a foreign investor, British companies have never been so cheap, due to the weakness in the pound and Brexit, but there’s also a watch and wait attitude for most of the retail market at the moment, with many companies, particular private equity, being burnt, over the last few years, and only investing in strong, bankable billion dollar brands.
Left - Anya Hindmarch bag with her quirky sticker designs, but does the brand need to make more conservative product?
French Connection has been on the block for a while now. A brand that reached its zenith in the late 90s, thanks to their provocative and attention seeking FCUK slogan, it had lost its way. It recently went into the black, thanks to an ambitious store closure programme. Recently reported, French Connection made a slim profit of £100,000 for the year to January 31, 2018, compared with a £2.1million loss the year before. Revenues edged up 0.2% to £135.3million but its same-store sales fell 6.8%. French Connection said it will continue to close stores, having shut down more than half of its sites in the past five years. Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct has a 26% stake in the business with founder Stephen Marks, who is also chairman and chief executive, owning almost 40% of it and they say talks were “ongoing” with several potential buyers.
French Connection has done the correct and drastic decision to close the majority of it stores and department store concessions. Truly international, it is not wholly reliant on the UK market, but needs to remind people of their USP and make people feel good about paying more. It needs to decide what the sustainable size of the business is.
Liam Gallagher’s menswear brand Pretty Green, which is named after a song by The Jam, has called in Moorfields Advisory to help look at options for the company. Founded in 2009, Pretty Green channels British Mod culture into branded basics, linking the brand to music heroes and a strong Made-in-England feeling for its more premium ranges. The company said that it was “not immune to the challenges currently facing the UK high street as customers migrate from purchasing in store to online.”
It currently has 14 standalone UK stores and numerous concessions within House of Fraser department stores. The brand lost £500,000 when House of Fraser feel into administration in August 2018. “The growing overall demand for the brand, coupled with a strong online customer base, position the company well to navigate these changes and we are therefore considering all options,” they said with regards to a sale. In the 16 months to January 2018, turnover at Pretty Green rose to £38.2 million and pre-tax losses narrowed to £1.5 million following a £5.6 million loss the year before. Private equity company, Rockpool, invested £11m into Pretty Green in 2017 for a minority stake.
Pretty Green has a very distinctive British look, and, while it has its core Mod audience, it needs to develop and reintroduce itself into the larger men’s market. It has to define what it sells and make men more aware of this. Its small retail network will probably be trimmed further and it’s good they are starting to narrow their losses, but they need to tap into that rich vein of cult British style that Fred Perry and Dr Martens do so well. This cool also translates internationally. Any investor would probably want Liam Gallagher to have a more prominent role at the brand and increase his visibility in it.
Right - Liam Gallagher in Pretty Green
The British luxury goods brand, Anya Hindmarch, has been put up for sale. Mayhoola, the Qatari royal family’s investment fund, which also owns Pal Zileri, Balmain and Valentino, has decided to sell the brand it started buying into in 2012. The fund has grown its stake from 39.9% in 2012 – Mayhoola bought a controlling stake in the company for £27million - to at least 75% by the middle of last year.
Founded in 1987, Anya Hindmarch has become known for her quirky and colourful designs. The brand lost £28.2 million and reported a 10 percent decline in revenue to £37.2 million for the year in 2017, the latest year for publicly available accounts. The selling decision is said to be “mutual”.
Anya Hindmarch has plenty of fun ideas, but, they, as a brand, just need to establish who the customer is. It has a lot of potential, but, unusually for a leather goods company, it needs to focus on more conservative product. Sometimes it’s hard to find a plain, elegant black bag, which means they are missing out on a huge amount of sales. The prices are premium, so the high-fashion, seasonal and quirky fashion product has a limited audience, while more classic and trans-seasonal product would sell well too.
Their £40 stickers were a surprise hit, but, as an example, their candle range has a strange disconnect between customers. I don’t think many of the older women carrying the bags want cartoon eyes and rainbow decorated candles on their coffee tables. It needs to balance the fun with the sophisticated.
This brand would sit well with Burberry - there are rumours they are looking to buy something - or maybe a Mulberry, and drill down into that affordable luxury market more. I think they will have plenty of interest, possibly from the Americans - Tapestry, Capri Holdings - growing their brand portfolios.
If retailers can survive 2019, there is a strong chance they’ll be okay. Investors will want to see that losses are stabilising, or reducing, and there is a clear strategy for the future. Skeleton retail networks, offering enough brand awareness while pushing people online with good product will be the future for these brands. Being less reliant on the department store model and taking your quality product direct to consumers will be the only way to make these brands profitable. You need a point of difference to make people pay more and a feeling they can’t get what you offer anywhere else. The days of chucking huge amounts of money at growing brands is over and private equity will opt for more realistic, tidy returns rather than huge growth.
These brands have that problem of being too big to be nimble and streamlined, while not big or glamourous enough to catch the eye of the big investors to take it somewhere big. Mike Ashley can’t buy everything. Or can he?!
Read more of TheChicGeek's expert comment here
It could be part of the new push for a genderless society or simply the boundaries being widened for what is, or feels, acceptable for men to wear or carry, but it feels right and looks right for men to carry handbags, right now. This isn’t about making a statement or being provocative, it’s about design, rather than gender and size, that is dictating what a stylish man carries.
Left - The Dior Saddle bag reborn on Kim Jones' first catwalk for Dior Homme
There are certain styles that are simply great pieces of design or are fashion classics and look just as good on a man’s shoulder as on a woman’s. This isn’t about ‘feminising’ men, it’s just something of beauty that is practical in carrying what needs to be carried. Enough said.
What started with Loewe’s ultra-chic ‘Puzzle’ bag has ballooned to include many other classic women’s styles. It was the reintroduction of the Dior ‘Saddle’ bag on Kim Jones’ SS19 catwalk, at his new gig at Dior Homme, in Paris in June, that cemented this new feeling. The #DiorSaddle hashtag featured male influencers reintroducing this style designed by the former Dior Creative Director, John Galliano.
Luke Ross, blogger at Fashion Samaritan, says, “I noticed a real change around 2012 when Hedi Slimanne debuted his first Saint Laurent collection that featured his signature slim cuts that really made pockets obsolete.
“Guys wanted to wear these skinny silhouettes, but the garments just didn’t have sufficient pockets” he says. “You couldn’t carry a wallet, keys, phone etc in them as it ruined the lines and for the first time we started to see men carrying bags with them that weren’t just backpacks.”
Right - Spanish influencer, Prince Pelayo
We have so much more to carry today: wallet, phone, keys, charger, water bottle, notebook, that unless you have a coat with huge pockets, a bag is an indispensable accessory for men. Men want the elegance a bag can give their total look, rather than numerous bulging pockets which can make you look dishevelled and untidy.
Alvin Cher of Bagaholicboy, the dedicated blog for bags, fashion and luxury based in Singapore, says, “I think it was just a matter of time before men got more and more confident and realised they were not restricted to just bags made for them. And if the ladies can dip into what was offered for the guys, the guys can do the same too.
“Boys actually loved the Boy Chanel when it first came out. And started buying. Then slowly, but surely, more and more brands came in.” he says. “Remember Tisci's Givenchy when they had the Pandora? That was a hit too. Even Mulberry's Alexa was deemed 'boyish' enough by some guys to use. After that the gates opened, Dior did it, so did Gucci, Loewe. Even Celine has fans amongst the men, remember the Cabas that everyone wanted?” says Cher.
“I think everyone played a part by releasing a piece that helped the evolution - Ghesquiére released those 'Arena' leather document cases at Balenciaga that every guy in fashion had and they kind of trickled down as more and more people were carrying ipads and laptops so they could be justified as practical even if they weren’t for the everyday man.” says Ross. “For me, Loewe really moved things along by making it cool to have a bag that was a replica of a female bag with the Puzzle. It’s large enough to look like a duffle bag, but then also can be small enough to look like a camera bag.”
This new trend has been pioneered by men’s celebrities, bloggers, influencers and street style images, all making the look believable and cool: men seeing other men carrying these types of bags, making it feel contemporary and fresh.
Navaz Batliwalla, founder of disneyrollergirl.net and author of The New Garconne: How to be a Modern Gentlewoman, and champion of androgyny in womenswear says, “With the influence of streetwear on men’s luxury, men's style icons like A$AP Rocky and any Korean boy band member you care to mention, have long embraced their fashion-forward side, so increasingly, the idea of carrying a bag that’s more exciting than a briefcase or a Uniqlo backpack is no biggie.” she says. “Plus, the fact is that everyone is simply carrying more stuff. Why let your outfit down with a sad generic gym bag, when you can have something that’s as considered and design conscious as the rest of your outfit?”
Left - Luke Ross, Blogger, Fashion Samaritan
The term ‘manbag’ was from the age of the ‘Metrosexual’ and feels just as dated. Who can forget that episode of Friends when Joey becomes too attached to his new shoulder bag, and the ribbing he took from his friends. Looking back, it was huge.
“I think the rise of the reusable tote also fuelled this fire as it became normal for a guy to carry a tote without it looking like a ‘manbag’.” says Ross.
Men don’t need the labels anymore: manbag, mutch - male clutch - or whatever else adds a masculine moniker to a name. I think brands will start to offer more gender neutral shopping areas and put more styles into the men’s shopping areas and advertsiing. This is a market growing into another and actually the true meaning of ‘unisex’.
So, what should us guys be looking for?
“I'm all for a guy carrying a bag made for ladies, but it still boils down to my proportion ratio. You have to try it on and see if it looks correct visually.” says Cher. “I think the time has gone when it comes to specifying which bag suits which gender. More and more brands are coming out with versions that look exactly the same for both guys and girls, so it is all about trying them on, seeing what works and having fun. It is a bag after all at the end of the day, we don't have to be so so serious about it.” says Cher.
Right - Blogger - The Modman with the Loewe Puzzle bag
“I think it’s about being authentic and genuine to your attire and aesthetic.” says Ross “Don’t do a tailored suit and then wear some flimsy nylon, touristy looking money bag.” he says. “Lastly, buy the bag for what you want it to do not the label. I’ve bought bags in the past that I wanted because they were cool, but they actually couldn’t take that much weight in them before the leather started to warp leaving them at the back of my closet and mind.”
The opinion formers in menswear have been carry women’s styles of bags for a while now, but with the new Dior grey Saddle bag set to hit stores in February, I think we’ll see a huge expansion of men carrying styles that were traditionally seen as women’s.
“Men have evolved, which is what fashion is all about anyway.” says Cher.
Male handbags were a major trend on the Milan AW18 catwalks - See more here
Mike Ashley is a retail predator. Much like a lion watching his prey out on the savannah, he waits until the wildebeest looks weak and separated from the herd and then bides his time. Pouncing only when it suits him and he’s certain of a tasty and easy meal.
This week he pounced and was rewarded with House of Fraser for £90m. He already had a 11% stake in HOF, bought in 2014, so he had an interest.
Left - Harrods of the High-Street?
This price was drastically down from the £480m the Chinese owners, Sanpower, paid for it. The brand is weak and damaged, but not dead, but it will need investment in order to survive. They didn’t seem to have a strategy and they didn’t define why you would go to House of Fraser over another store.
Ashley needs to work on making it clear why you’d return to House of Fraser. While John Lewis is offers mostly necessity, and can be bought online, Ashley would be better at targeting ‘treats’, relating to fashion and dressing up to seduce a higher spending customer to leave the house.
This needs to be the store for birthdays, for Christmas, for anniversaries, or anything that requires fancy packaging and that feel good, swinging bag feeling. Fewer visits, but more money out of people’s pockets. At the moment the nicest thing they sell is a Mulberry handbag, but they need more excitement to keep people interested.
Promising to turn the struggling chain into “the Harrods of the high street”, could be Ashley’s flippant words, but if he focuses on that idea, he could be onto something. You don’t go to Harrods for the mundane or ordinary. Admittedly, the prices will have to be different, but you can still package everything nicely and tie-in exclusive product and brands.
Reading about his ‘elevation’ and expansion plans for his other brands, recently, what’s left of House of Fraser will be in prime locations such as Bluewater, Westfield White City and Glasgow, if he decides to stick to closing the other 31 struggling stores, and would fit nicely into this expansion plan. He could easily use his premium Flannels brands to insert much higher end product, something House of Fraser always aspired to be, but never quite got there.
He’s realised that it’s important to have product and brands for each level of customer. The bargain end is fickle and requires huge volumes, while the growth in luxury brands offers lower volumes, but much higher profits. Flannels is expanding rapidly and this acquisition will help create a larger scale.
Flannels is opening new stores at Glasgow Fort shopping centre, Hull and Leicester as part of its ongoing expansion drive. The retailer announced, recently, it expects to open between 6 and 12 new Flannels stores before its financial year end next April 2019. In its premium lifestyle division, Sports Direct currently operates 21 Flannels stores, 10 Cruise stores and three Van Mildert stores, so its premium designer business is really growing. Even Oxford Street is getting a Flannels next year.
He could introduce his underwear brand, Agent Provocateur, into HOF stores and work on their strong existing brands like Biba.
It’s inevitable, if Debenhams continues to struggle, that he’ll merge the two, already owning 29.7% of Debenhams. He’s probably waiting for his moment to strike on this one too and get it at a knocked down price. The high street will plateau soon and even go back into a growth mode and, if in the right locations, in the right cities, House of Fraser will be smaller, but much stronger.