The combination of a new wave of minimalism sparked by tidying expert Marie Kondo and a growing sharing economy has spawned a fresh spin on fashion retail.
As consumers purge their closets, entrepreneurs are moving to fill the gap with wardrobe subscription services, where clients pay a monthly fee to rent clothing for personal or professional use.
Toronto-based Rent Frock Repeat recently decided to switch up from leasing out only special-occasion dresses and accessories to offering everyday clothing on a subscription basis, said its co-owner Kristy Wieber.
This new service, to be launched this fall, allows people to minimize their belongings but still have variety in a budget-conscious way, she added.
“As consumers, all the Marie-Kondo-ing in the world will not replace us wanting to have new things,” she said.
Consumers have long been able to rent tuxedoes, ball gowns and costumes for one-time events, but several businesses have launched in recent years offering wardrobe staples like sweaters, dresses and statement necklaces for rent on a subscription basis, which are delivered by mail.
Most of these services involve customers paying a flat monthly fee for a set number of items, selected online ahead of time and delivered to homes. These items are then returned by mail after a certain period, usually a month, to be dry-cleaned by the rental company. Or, some plans allow for customers to buy the items they like if they want to permanently add them to their closet.
In addition to Wieber’s business, there is Montreal-based Chic Marie, San Francisco-headquartered Le Tote and maternity-focused Sprout Collection in Toronto.
The cost of a monthly membership can range from as low as $65 to as high as $139 per month, depending on the type of plan or wardrobe, with maternity wear tending to cost more. The number of items received varies widely by plan, but could be anywhere from six to 15 items.
With the average household in the country spending roughly $3,430 a year on clothing and accessories, according to 2017 Statistics Canada numbers, paying a monthly fee to be able to regularly refresh your wardrobe is an attractive prospect.
However, whether a wardrobe rental service offers the best bang for your buck depends on your personal or professional clothing needs, time constraints and how you feel about shopping, say finance experts.
For example, for someone early in their career in a corporate setting who wants to look the part but does not have much disposable income, this would be a “perfect fit,” said personal finance expert Rubina Ahmed-Haq. Or, for pregnant women whose size and shape are constantly shifting or someone who needs to appear in public or at special events regularly, this would be a good option, she added.
But the monthly fee – which could tally up to more than $1,000 on an annual basis – doesn’t account for the money that needs to be spent on basic clothing, Ahmed-Haq noted.
“You still need clothes to work out in, there are other needs,” she said. “It’s not just work clothes.”
The service isn’t necessarily aimed at replacing a person’s wardrobe but rather to “spice it up,” in a less-costly way, said Marie-Philip Simard, the founder of Chic Marie.
After 18 uses, Chic Marie’s items are donated to charity, she added.
“For people working in fashion, you are going to always be up to trend… You get compliments on them, you feel great about yourself,” Simard said. “It might be superficial, but a lot of confidence comes from the way you look.”
Simard got the idea for the service while working as a lawyer at a Montreal-based law firm. She was spending as much as 30 per cent of her budget on attire to meet the office standard, she said.
“The wardrobe was really costly, and I needed to have another option,” she said.
Coleen Clark, a personal finance professor at Ryerson University, said for many people who don’t require a wide range of items in their wardrobe, investing in a quality piece rather than a monthly rental may be a better route.
“You could buy yourself something really, rather fine, that you could wear for years,” she said.
It’s also about convenience for those who don’t have the time or don’t enjoy shopping at the mall, said Wieber.
Her service, which is still in pilot mode, also allows people to try things out for a while to see if it’s really the right fit and avoid buyers’ remorse, she added.
“I don’t have to go out and buy stuff and take it back,” she said. “I just can wear it for the month, keep what I absolutely love… Or just try new stuff.”