Clothes renting and swapping: the new sustainable ways to shop

Latest News

Buying clothes? That’s so last year. In 2021, we’re renting and swapping. And with a rise of these platforms, it couldn’t be easier. Saving money; saving the planet — what’s not to like?

Buying clothes firsthand, or, more specifically, supporting fast fashion, is damaging our planet one t-shirt at a time. As we know, the industry is the third-most polluting industry, so by buying into fast fashion, we’re buying into climate change, global warming and the mass destruction of our planet. Yes, buying into fast fashion is asking for trouble.

Consequently, we’re constantly trying to come up with new, less destructive ways of buying — or not buying — clothes. Thrifting and charity shopping have been favourites for a while, but we’ve now moved onto not buying clothes at all.

Enter renting and swapping. Renting clothes involves paying a reduced fee to borrow a piece for a stated amount of time. Swapping involves donating some of your clothes in return for someone else’s. Renting and swapping highlight that it isn’t always necessary to own more clothes, but borrowing or trading clothes will more than suffice. It comes from the fact that overconsumption is rife and therefore renting or swapping encourages more conscious consumerism.

fast fashion sustainabilityA lot of people are jumping on the conscious consumerism bandwagon. In fact, a UK survey by Mintel found that in 2019, 52% of 25- to 34 year-olds bought secondhand clothes. Furthermore, 75% of 16- to 24-year-olds said they’d swapped clothes or would be open to doing so, and 54% of the same age group said they’d rented clothes or would be interested in doing so.

Model Yaourou Konaté Lehrmann says she no longer buys clothes at all. She only rents outfits “for events, special occasions, or fashion shoots”. She rented her first outfit in 2019 through My Wardrobe HQ (MWHQ) for the fashion awards at the Royal Albert Hall.

Louisa Rogers, creative director at a sustainable fashion brand and a previous employee at a swap shop, says she was brought up shopping secondhand. “However, I was introduced to the idea of swapping, or ‘swishing’, when I started working for Mrs Bears Swap Shop in London,” she explains. Rogers worked here while she was at university and it opened her eyes to swapping clothes with friends. “Rather than having to restyle older pieces, you could get a whole new set of on-trend and barely worn items within a couple of hours.”

Swapping is now growing and there are more of these swap shops opening everywhere. One, SwapNation, has recently opened a permanent studio in London. Its CEO and founder Montana Marshall tells me she had hosted a lot of successful swapping events and pop-ups and so decided it was time to open a permanent studio. “[It] was envisioned as your guilt-free alternative to retail therapy,” she says, explaining that their mission is to make “swapping the new way to shop”.

A lot of people find change difficult and shopping is no different. “It is easy and more eco-friendly”, encourages Lehrmann. She explains that MWHQ was easy to use, enabling you to browse different categories, such as latest arrivals or designer items. “The clothes arrived on time and the girls at MWHQ are friendly and helpful; it’s like having your own personal stylist.”

In contrast, Rogers addresses the difficulties of swapping in our current climate: “It’s not very easy at the moment, as it’s largely event-based and Covid-19 has made it difficult to run regular swap-meets.”

She does, however, go on to say that she can see the potential for an app to meet this demand: “Vinted — a resale app — offers the potential for swapping as an alternative to selling but it doesn’t seem to be frequently used, which is a shame.”

vintedMoreover, Marshall acknowledges that this new way of shopping can feel odd at first, as you leave the studio with a bag full of swaps without tapping your card. However, she adds it otherwise feels completely natural. SwapNation likes to think of its studio as an experience “where swappers can browse the rails, try on some clothes, grab a drink, take some photos and chat to other like-minded people”. She says that despite being an anti-shopping environment, people have the more joyful aspects of shopping, including flicking through the rails — just without the “impulsive, mindless consumerism”.

Lehrmann encourages others to try this way of shopping. She explains that most people post outfits on social media to try to stay on-trend and won’t post the same outfit twice. “[How] could you afford it?” she asks. Swapping and renting make sense sustainably, as otherwise “you end up with lots of clothes accumulating in your closet that you probably won’t wear again”.

“It’s rewarding as well as responsible,” encourages Rogers. “[Not] only are you getting rid of something that has been taking up space, but you get to see someone else get really excited about it.” She too believes people should try this way of shopping, arguing that everyone has unloved, unworn and unused clothes in their wardrobes.

Marshall agrees: “Swapping is a mutually beneficial way to shop.” It of course benefits the planet, giving clothes use and preventing them from going to landfill, and it benefits the swapper “who gets to offload their unwanted items in exchange for new-to-them, stylish pieces.” It also benefits your bank account, as it works out cheaper than buying clothes firsthand.

clothes rentingHowever, it’s one thing telling people to try out this new, eco way of shopping, but it’s another acting on it. “Renting gives you the option to try before you buy,” says Lehrmann. This means you won’t be impulse buying, as renting allows you to try it out, and it makes sense economically.

Rogers suggests organising informal swapping events with friends to introduce this new way of shopping. You can then look for more regular local swapping events. “Most organisers will let you carry over ‘swapping credits’ to the next event, so if you don’t find anything that takes your fancy, there’s always next time,” she explains.

Finally, Marshall adds that encouraging more people to try out these new ways of shopping “requires a large-scale mindset shift”. She says that her swap studio shows that “secondhand doesn’t have to mean second-best”, explaining that it stocks high-quality clothing, shoes and accessories “that would make any fashion lover swoon”.

Furthermore, she says the team tries to reach out to those who hesitate to wear an outfit more than once. “Not every event calls for a new outfit,” she says. “Whether you have a wedding, job interview or date lined up, we’re here to refresh your wardrobe the sustainable way.”

Renting and swapping are certainly making their mark in the fashion world. But are they here to stay? Better for the planet, better for your closet and better for your bank, it’s a surefire way to make us all conscious consumers.

Chloë Morgan
Chloë Morgan
Chloë is a recent English graduate from Loughborough University. She tries to use her writing to raise awareness of important issues in an attempt to help others. Her passions lie in social justice, mental health and sustainability. After taking part in 'Veganuary', she developed an interest in veganism and recently went vegan. She is also trying to boycott fast fashion as much as possible by shopping second-hand and more sustainably.