When I think of on and offline destinations that house archive designer pieces, it’s treasure trove vintage shops and buy-and-sell second-hand websites like Vestiaire Collective, eBay and Depop that spring to mind... But, there’s a new breed on the block: The pay-as-you-go rental. And they’re popping up on every proverbial corner. 

An antidote to the all-too-familiar situation of wearing something once (and once alone), this fast-rising system means you needn’t commit to long-term relationships with your designer threads. The premise? Simple! Subscribe to items on a rolling basis for as long as you please, before switching them out in a sustainable fashion

Image courtesy of Wear the Walk.

Founded on a circular economy that prioritises longevity over quantity sold, ethics are at the core of London-based rental company Higher Studios’ philosophy, which began life in 2016 via the wardrobe of Central Saint Martins fashion graduate, Sara Martin.

“When graduating, I had an issue of wanting to create something that was ethically sustainable, however I thought that a financially sustainable business would mean selling more and more – which, in itself, would be unsustainable. So, I decided to study business with a mission to finding the solution,” she explains. "I started by renting out items from my own wardrobe – and, from there, began to contact people who I knew had certain pieces and might also want to rent them out.”

Fast-forward to 2019 and, partnering with select brands – including COMME des GARÇONSJunya Watanabe and Ode to Odd – to now boast an extensive archive of past-season and current stock, Higher Studios is paving the way for brands to lend their clothes while retaining ownership. Any profit is generated from its innovative model of reusing and recyclingOptions range from paying-as-you-go with individually priced items; renting one at a time with unlimited swaps for £85 per month; renting two items at a time with unlimited swaps for £150 per month; or to go all the way and rent three looks on an unlimited basis for £215 per month... Think an SS16 Phoebe English panel jacket and an AW07 COMME des GARÇONS playsuit one day, and a Maison Martin Margiela SS10 trenchcoat and an Ode to Odd shirt the next.

Image courtesy of Higher Studios.

“We cannot afford for cultural and creative pursuits to simply have a ‘less negative’ impact,” Sara argues in her manifesto. Instead, we must find a way to have a positive social and environmental impact, and play a part in clearing up the mess that we find ourselves in."

Built on a similar premise of sustainability, East London-based Wear the Walk is another rental company to note. The brainchild of Zoe Partridge – a self-proclaimed “perpetrator of buying something and wearing it once” – it was while working in luxury fashion and observing how elitist the model can be that Zoe began to nurture her idea. “Any entrepreneur that says they had a ‘lightbulb moment’ is lying,” she explains of its inception. “The concept took about six months of working through doubt to bring to life.”

Originally by-appointment only, but now an online operation, Wear the Walk makes it easy to get your paws on stand-out pieces that you wouldn’t find elsewhere – from designers including Central Saint Martins graduate, Jamie Wei Huang, and sustainably minded womenswear designer, Bozena Jankowska. “Renting is becoming more acceptable and accessible, as the idea of a subscription-based sharing-economy model grows,” Zoe explains. “We, as consumers, are far more incentivised by experience luxury over personal luxury – this is why renting will satisfy the new-wave consumer.”

Image courtesy of Higher Studios.

Zoe’s core millennial market – a.k.a. ‘Part-Time Divas’ – can now spend the £100 budget that they would have otherwise allocated to high-street fast fashion, to access and rent four designer items a month. ‘Wardrobe Revolvers’ can swap out new items with a limit of six per month for £349; meanwhile, ‘Ultimate Swappers’ can rent on an unlimited scale for £649.  

My biggest takeaway? As millennial myself who, for the most part, takes a conscious approach to living, this model ticks so many boxes in where I stand on sustainability. A mindful approach is the only option to safeguard our futures. And, while the rental model succeeds in appeasing any penchants for newness, it does so in a well-considered manner. In short... I'm sold.

Intrigued? Click here to discover Wear the Walk, and click here to discover Higher Studios. Main image credit Wear the Walk and Front Row.

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