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Woocommerce Category Post Widget
Jane Shepherdson was once named the most powerful woman in British fashion. As the boss of Topshop when it ruled the high street and delivered £100m in profit a year for Philip Green’s Arcadia retail empire, she was the high priestess of fast fashion. But times have changed: Shepherdson now wants us to ditch the shopping bags and get our style fix by renting everything from dresses to sunglasses and shoes instead.
Shepherdson, who revamped the Whistles fashion chain after leaving Topshop in 2006, is now chair of My Wardrobe HQ, a designer fashion rental and resale website, which next month opens a pop-up in London department store Liberty.
The tie-up is part of an emerging trend for secondhand and rented clothing which is becoming not only acceptable but desirable.
Liberty claims to be the first UK department store to host a peer-to-peer fashion rental pop-up, following a partnership between Nordstrum and Rent the Runway in the US. But the idea is in the same vein as Selfridges hosting pop-ups by fast-growing vintage vendors Depop and Vestiaire Collective and online designer store Farfetch testing Second Life, a handbag resale service.
“People are becoming more comfortable with wearing things other people have worn and not necessarily seeing it as second rate,” says Shepherdson.
Concerns about the environmental impact of fashion, which contributes more to climate change than the aviation and shipping industries combined, are expected to drive a boom in rentals. The UK market is expected to grow more than fivefold to £2.3bn by 2029 from an estimated £400m last year, according to analysts GlobalData.
Peer-to-peer lenders such as My Wardrobe HQ and Hurr, where those with an over-stuffed wardrobe rent out items to those on a budget, are expected to lead the way, outstripping traditional players such as Moss Bros or newer online platforms such as Girl Meets Dress or Hire Street.
On My Wardrobe HQ at present, fashion lovers might choose a floral satin dress from The Vampire’s Wife label for £110, a Gucci military coat for £295, a pair of Michael Kors biker boots for £40 or a Herve Leger sequinned bodycon mini for £215. All rentals last a week and customers who fall in the love with their items can buy them outright.
Shepherdson says she got into the idea of peer-to-peer rental after taking nearly a year off living out of Airbnb homes in the US after quitting Whistles in 2016.
“I came back at the moment when it was suddenly becoming more and more apparent about what a massive polluter fashion is. I thought I’ve filled all my life with making fashion more compelling and there’s some massive back-peddling required.”
“I thought about peer-to-peer renting and why couldn’t it be exactly like Airbnb, where people could attract each other and buy into someone’s lifestyle.
“I’m not a hypocrite. I want people to enjoy fashion. Rental is a totally guilt-free way to wear the most beautiful dress and it’s not out of reach for people.”
A £1,000 dress might rent for £100, which is not exactly cheap, but accessible to anyone who can afford a big night out with cocktails, dinner and a cab home, she says.
Shepherdson began by trying to start her own site but then met Sacha Newall and Tina Lake, who founded My Wardrobe HQ in June 2018, combining their experience in online fashion, car sharing, online marketplaces and women’s magazines: “It felt like a business that could scale.”
My Wardrobe HQ works by managing the whole rental process, including photography, delivery, cleaning and payment, for its clients. About half the items on offer come from individuals, half from brands.
Shepherdson says she is now in discussions with brands about producing collections specifically for rental. “Why not? It’s obviously a change but it’s just sharing a bit more, making sure you get away from that thing of buying something, wearing it once and moving on.”
She says the idea is particularly appropriate for luxury womenswear. Ski-wear, occasion wear, maternity clothing and childrenswear are other areas Shepherdson thinks are ripe for rental.
While Shepherdson says it’s unlikely she’ll go back to leading a fashion chain unless it’s one with strong sustainability credentials, she rues the troubles at Topshop and its fellow fast-fashion chains, particularly the loss of good jobs for young women.
“It’s sad but there is a certain inevitability to it. Everything has changed, the whole approach to shopping. If you look at the retailers having a difficult time, most are based on bricks and mortar shops.
“I still love going shopping but you have to create theatre, something worth coming in for, to get people off the sofa.”