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Along with second – hand shopping, thrifting, upcycling and recycling, renting clothes was one of the best options when it came to sustainability, or at least, that’s what we thought. A few weeks ago, a study published by Environmental Research Letters, a Finnish scientific journal revealed that renting clothes had the highest climate impact when compared to resale, recycling and throwing them away. Keep reading to discover why.
Clothing rental comes in handy whenever, but particularly when a special occasion arises, and we want to wear something nice and rise to the event. When it started it used to be a little – known practice, however, nowadays it’s a distinguishable fashion habit. It helps you save money whilst offering a great variety of wardrobe options. Besides, you can forget about washing or taking them to the dry cleaners without having to compromise for any outfit you choose to rent. In case you fall in love with a piece you can keep it for a fraction of the retail price.
Popularised by companies and public figures it has been named as one of the solutions to fashion’s environmental crisis. Nonetheless, a report by the World Economic Forum locates fashion among “the big eight” (the eight major value chains that drive global emissions) and responsible for 5% of the emissions.
The key finding was that due to the use of transportation and cleaning of the clothing, renting fashion had the highest environmental impact. The study found that many rental services use the term circular economy in a wrong way. According to Ellen McArthur Foundation, a circular economy is based on the principles of designing out waste, pollution, keeping products and materials in use and regenerating natural systems. Thus, it comes as a form of greenwashing by the rental brands.
As a solution, the study suggests that companies change their logistics in order to make them more climate friendly. In that scenario, renting would environmentally be on the same level of reselling. Furthermore, it clearly stated that the most sustainable way to consume fashion is to buy less and wear more, and for as long as possible.
In an interview for The Guardian, Tammy Chislett, CEO and co-founder of rental business Onloan, defended the renters: “We believe that rental needs scrutiny to make it as ‘green’ as possible, but we’re worried that encouraging people to throw clothes away doesn’t help the industry, let alone the planet.”
The study was based on a Finnish business, so renters argue the conclusions can’t be applied to all of them. Transportation, according to the Finnish example, was modelled on each item being collected by a car journey. However, companies around the globe end garments by post or use electric and more environmentally friendly vehicles.
Regarding the impact caused by dry – cleaning, once again, it cannot be extrapolated, since services like Onloan use wet cleaning, along with other methods to avoid the environmental impact of dry cleaning.
All in all, if what we’re worried about is the environment, there is no alternative to buying less. Renting can come in handy and may not be as bad as buying new clothes, but keep in mind that, probably, those garments weren’t made in a sustainable way in the first place. It is definitely part of the solution, as it can help slowing down customer consumption, but it’s not THE solution.