Can Clothing Rental Recover From COVID-19?


For years, sustainability experts have touted rental and resale as eco-friendlier modes of consuming fashion. With a deadly disease ravaging the nation, once bustling thoroughfares reduced to ghost towns, and a long-overdue racial reckoning sweeping all corners of industry, one question looms large: Who has the appetite to shop, let alone the focus to do so more ethically?

Certainly enthusiasm for new threads has waned as shoppers focus on more important issues. Months of shuttered storefronts, vaporized foot traffic, and shrinking discretionary incomes have conspired to bring even formerly recession-proof giants like H&M and Zara owner Inditex to their knees. Clothing sales have nosedived 63 percent from a year ago. Pandemic-driven forces have pushed tens of millions of Americans out of their jobs, and with everyone tightening their belts and stocking up on essentials, toilet paper drops have become the new sneaker drops. Even people with the mental wherewithal for retail therapy are buying fewer clothes because they’re stuck at home with nowhere to go. Until there’s a COVID-19 vaccine, every night is Netflix-and-chill night.

“I’m definitely not thinking about what I wear as much as I used to,” says Olivia Begalla, 18, who just graduated high school in Florida. “Where am I going?”

You’d expect people to feel less eager about rental and resale, too, and for the most part, you’d be right. Conventional retail is poised to tumble by 23 percent this year, according to analytics firm GlobalData. The clothing rental market—that is, companies like Rent the Runway, Le Tote, and Gwynnie Bee—is expected to tank by nearly 50 percent. Secondhand clothing sales, as a whole, are facing a decline of 13.3 percent. The bright and perhaps surprising spot is online thrifting, which in isolation—that is, teased apart from offline secondhand like Goodwill et. al.—looks to tick up 22 percent.

Read the full story at InStyle