How Will Emerging Markets Respond to the Rental Wardrobe Phenomenon?

How Will Emerging Markets Respond to the Rental Wardrobe Phenomenon?

A few weeks ago, we looked at the phenomenon of the rental wardrobe – a consumer trend that enables you to borrow rather than buy your clothes.

Sites such as Chic by Choice, The Black Tux, Borrowing Magnolia and Mine for Nine enable consumers to rent clothing for big events such as maternity, a formal event or their own wedding.

If you’re looking for a longer term wardrobe solution, you can use a subscription service such as Le Tote to refresh your wardrobe with new borrowed items every month.

What remains to be seen is how this shareable wardrobe phenomenon will catch on across different markets.

There’s some sign that the trend may be emerging in India and China; two key markets that could help indicate the extent of this trend as a worldwide phenomenon.

In markets where the trend is already evident, it’s continuing to develop and showing increasingly complexity. What’s particularly interesting is that a recent piece of research indicates that Asian consumers could be the ones most open to the sharing economy.

New complexity in rental market

The rental apparel market is now becoming more diversified and offering a wider range of models and items to rent. This includes aspirational watches via Eleven James, and designer handbags via Bag Borrow or Steal.

Startup Rentez-Vous has been experimenting with a more events-based exchange model that enables people to borrow each others’ clothing via peer-to-peer transactions.

There’s much talk of extending the model to menswear but at present most of the businesses in this area are dealing exclusively with womens’ clothing. One exception is The Mr. Collection, offering either workwear or casual clothing for rent on a monthly basis.

Rent the Runway, darling of the investor community, started out offering fabulous (although not designer) dresses for formal occasions. The US brand’s now expanded its remit by moving into the subscription model with its ‘Unlimited’ offering, which enables you to pay a monthly fee to rent up to three items at a time for as long as you want. It’s also starting to offer a workwear wardrobe and planning to open a small number of physical stores in its US home market.

Existing retailers are starting to pay attention to the new way of obtaining clothes.

This trend is not yet sizeable to be a major threat, and retailers are now at the stage of seeking more information before they decide how to react. Westfield Group, a shopping centre company behind two major shopping complexes in London and many others worldwide, conducted its own research into the phenomenon. The brand’s conclusion was that high street retailers and department stores might eventually dedicate a proportion of their floor space to clothing available for rental.

The model outside the West

In North America and to some extent the UK, it seems the rental wear model is still developing and expanding to new areas of apparel. In many other parts of the world this model is all but unheard of at present.

Research suggests that some of the world’s most significant emerging markets may actually be a very receptive to the sharing model of transacting.

A 2014 Nielsen survey found that 94% of Chinese consumers and 78% of Indian ones were willing to share items, compared with just 43% of North Americans. Consumers in Mexico, Indonesia and the Philippines also showed a willingness to share assets.

Although the breakout startups of the sharing economy, such as Uber and Airbnb, have emerged in North American, consumers in this region actually showed the least inclination to share their own assets or share those of others. The highest inclination to share was demonstrated in Asia Pacific and Latin America. It’s possible that the trend could be more transformative to the economic landscape in the regions most receptive to it.

Millennials, and the generations that will follow them, are the key drivers of the sharing economy.

In North America and Europe, this generation is facing poorer earning prospects than previous generations, they’re also saddled with high student debt and are likely to struggle to afford home ownership.

On the positive side, this generation is accustomed to using digital technology and incorporating it seamlessly into their lives as a trusted intermediary with services such as banks. Less able to aspire to own anything and less attached to physical possessions and brands than prior generations, this generation is receptive to the notion of sharing their possessions with others.

But even outside the West, it’s the Millennial generation that consistently show the most positive response about sharing.

According to Nielsen, Millennials are the most willing of any age group to participate in the sharing community in any region of the world. The same isn’t true for the slightly younger generation sometimes described as Centennials (currently under about 20 years old), who are less enthusiastic about the sharing model. Those past the age of retirement are consistently highly disinclined to share, regardless of which part of the world they are in.

Rental wardrobe startups blossom

In the major emerging markets such as China and India, the sharing economy is a diverse and growing sector. In a short space of time a number of market entrants have emerged in India offering either peer-to-peer transactions in the Ebay style or a rental service.

Share Wardrobe and Elanic are clothing-focused peer-to-peer sales platforms. Envoged offers a similar service for luxury clothing, bags and other accessories.  Etashee offers ethnic as well as Western wear in either a peer-to-peer or concierge-mediated transaction model. LibeRent, FlyRobe, and SwishList offer traditional and formal clothing for single-occasion rental.

China’s sharing economy is already sizeable enough that the authorities are actively seeking ways to include this chunk of activity in economic figures.

According to China Briefing figures, China’s sharing economy was worth US $299 billion in 2015 and is anticipated to grow 40% to 2020 to eventually represent 10% of China’s economic activity.

PRC is taking an enlightened approach in comparison to other authorities around the world. Many local authorities have reacted negatively to sharing-based economic activity, with local bans on these transactions and the apps behind them. It’s worthwhile observing how China’s authorities manage to tax the sharing economy as this may set the standard for the rest of the world.

So what does the sharing economy mean for the fashion industry and for consumer society as we know it?

If the rental model of obtaining clothing continues to expand, it’s likely to be a disruptive force in the fashion industry, unless retailers find ways to participate. Westfield’s suggestion that retailers offer rentalwear in-store would be one way to achieve this.

Whilst it’s unlikely that we’ll ever move fully away from apparel ownership, the rental wardrobe effect may impact particularly on formal wear in markets where the model is embraced strongly.

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