How Green is Rental Fashion?

Image: Vince

Fashion (especially fast fashion) is one of the most environmentally-intensive industries and as a consumer, it’s difficult to know how to make more sustainable decisions for your closet. An option that consumers have turned to in recent years is renting clothes for an occasion or period of time through companies like Rent the Runway and Le Tote. However, some sustainability experts are beginning to examine the footprint of clothing rental services and they may not be as green as originally advertised. Elle Magazine recently consulted with experts at MIT and explained that several factors make renting clothes taxing on the planet:

  • Every sequin skirt borrowed must be returned, which means the shipping impact of leasing your wardrobe could be neck-and-neck with that of a fast-fashion shopper.
  • Transportation is now the top source of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States, and online shopping is partly to blame.
  • Dry cleaning clothing items after each rental also adds to emissions

Material Waste: Excessive plastic packaging is a big problem among many retail experiences but for rental clothing items that must be continuously repackaged in dry cleaning bags and shipping boxes, the material footprint begins to grow quickly. Since most packaging is not recycled, or cannot readily be recycled, it gets tossed in the trash to head for a landfill.

On a related note, we recommend this article about the problem with sustainability initiatives within the fashion industry. 


Why This Matters: All this isn’t to say that renting clothing isn’t the ultimate answer–we just need to fine-tune the logistics to become more closed-loop. However, since one of the biggest problems with fashion is the over-production of items, renting helps solve this problem as consumers can more directly signal their demand for the things they actually want to wear.

Go Deeper: It’s overwhelming when it seems as if there’s no good way to purchase clothing without repercussions for the planet. However, there are some practical steps that can help quell the desire to keep purchasing new clothing. For instance, having more clothing swaps with friends or unfollowing Instagram influencers that can help fuel impulse purchases can both make an impact. Check out this useful article to learn more.

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