2019: The Year Of The Clothing Subscription

This year, eCommerce innovators welcomed consumers who wanted to rent — instead of own — their wardrobes, with clothing rental startups growing their reach through the help of new offerings and partnerships. And, in some cases, brick-and-mortar retailers brought these concepts to their own brands with original takes on clothing rental.

In February, news surfaced that American Eagle Outfitters was experimenting with an American Eagle Style Drop subscription offering. Shoppers could have “unlimited access” to clothing per reports at the time. Consumers can look through selections that get refreshed weekly with the subscription.

The selections are mailed at no cost to shoppers, who can use a free prepaid envelope to return an item. Shoppers can then send back their articles for cleaning, and they are returned to the customer without a fee. The Style Drop tells shoppers they need to pick eight items at a minimum to have a box sent to them, but the site recommends selecting at least 20 pieces.

In March, news surfaced that Rent the Runway was teaming with West Elm to help customers rent home goods like throw pillows, linens and blankets. Customers could select from 26 bundles for the bedroom and/or the living room through the service.

Rent the Runway CEO Jenn Hyman told Vox in March, “We see home goods as similar to your closet, where there are investment pieces along with design-based seasonal changes you are always wanting.” Hyman continued, “I think that the customer today wants flexibility to decide when to invest and when to play.”

The ‘Airbnb’ of Clothing Rentals

In 2019, some online marketplaces took a page out of the sharing economy playbook for clothing. HURR Collective Co-Founder and CEO Victoria Prew, in one case, watched the massive rise of the sharing economy model and believed fashion needed to be disrupted. Her company is “essentially Airbnb for fashion,” Prew told PYMNTS in a March interview. “We want to be a peer-to-peer marketplace,” she said, adding that she wants to make it easy and secure to share clothes.

Then, in April, news surfaced that Rent the Runway planned to unveil a children’s apparel collection on April 15. The clothing subscription company’s new offering was to include girls’ sizes from 3Y to 12Y at first. The firm was working with designers like Little Marc Jacobs, Stella McCartney, Fendi, LoveShackFancy Kids, and Milly Minis, among others with the program.

In May, brick-and-mortar retailer Urban Outfitters was tapping into the clothing rental market to take advantage of one of fashion’s fastest-growing areas. The company was launching a monthly service through a new business named Nuuly that let shoppers borrow six items from its brands, outside labels, and vintage pieces.

Urban Outfitters Chief Digital Officer David Hayne said, according to The Wall Street Journal at the time, “We certainly don’t think the customers are just going to stop purchasing.” Hayne continued, “Purchases make sense for things you know you’re going to use often; rental makes sense for things you would like to try.”

In August, Banana Republic unveiled its online subscription service named Style Passport to provide unlimited access to its collection of women’s apparel. Shoppers will be able to rent Banana Republic fashions for a single monthly fee and have the ability to purchase and keep any product through the new offering.

Banana Republic CEO and President Mark Breitbard said in an announcement at the time, “We’re constantly evolving with our customer, meeting her where she is shopping. Style Passport will drive incremental revenue, and help us connect with younger shoppers who appreciate great style and want an affordable, sustainable way to try new fashion.”

An Acquisition and a Hurdle

In 2019, a clothing subscription service also bought a brick-and-mortar retailer. News surfaced in August that Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) was selling Lord & Taylor for $100 million to Le Tote. HBC Chief Executive Helena Foulkes said in a statement at the time, “We’re excited to have reached an agreement with Le Tote that creates a new model for Lord & Taylor, bringing together fashion rental subscriptions with traditional retail.”

But the year wasn’t without friction for clothing subscription services. Rent the Runway froze its subscriptions in the fall and wasn’t taking on new subscribers or event rentals until Oct. 15 at the soonest per reports on Sept. 29 as the clothing platform encountered multiple inventory and supply chain issues.

Hyman sent subscribers an email that read per reports, “I’m reaching out to further update you on delays that some of you have experienced in receiving your orders over the last few weeks.” Hyman continued, “The delays, which began Sept. 13, are due to unforeseen issues associated with a significant software transformation that we are executing in our fulfillment operation.”

Later, in December, news surfaced that Rent the Runway was teaming with Marriott’s W Hotels brand to roll out a rental experience at the W South Beach, W Washington D.C., W Aspen and W Hollywood to offer its clothing rental service to travelers. The platform has been working with other firms like WeWork and Nordstrom to grow its reach.

“This idea of being able to show up on vacation … and have the perfect clothing for what you want to wear, is pretty magical,” Rent the Runway COO Maureen Sullivan said per reports. “The use case of being able to travel light and not have to [pack] … is such an obvious utility for us.”

And, also in December, H&M said its COS brand has collaborated with the YCloset, the Chinese subscription rental platform, to test clothing rentals. The world’s second-largest fashion group follows in the footsteps of other fashion industry players like Banana Republic of Gap Inc. and Bloomingdale’s that are lending their attire for a monthly rate.

From brick-and-mortar retailers to eCommerce startups, digital innovators rolled out new services and partnerships to allow consumers to think beyond their own wardrobes when choosing attire for a special event or everyday wear.