How India’s fashion rental companies are carving a niche amid sustainability concerns

When former Delhi High Court attorney Aanchal Saini decided to change tactics in 2016 and set up an online company to offer luxury clothing for hire, he faced some skepticism from his peers, wondering if there was also a market for fashion rental.

But it’s been more than five years and she hasn’t looked back. Two years ago, Ms. Saini’s company, Rent it Bae, acquired India’s market leader in the fashion rental business, Flyrobe, to merge the two businesses.

Operating under the Flyrobe brand, the company now has more than 1 million customers, offering clothing through its online platform, serving more than 30 cities across India and its stores in Bengaluru and Delhi.

An embroidered silk bridal lehenga from famed Indian designer Sabyasachi, for example, is available for rent for four days at 9% of the garment’s 500,000 rupee ($ 6,631) price, while a men’s three-piece suit can be rented for about 20 percent of its value.

With the rental industry slowly emerging in India, people are becoming more aware of the industry and its benefits

Rohan Gupta, managing director, Gargee Designer’s

However, it hasn’t been an easy journey for the company to get people to try renting instead of buying when it comes to their wardrobe.

“I always tell people that this is a ‘consumer mentality change’ business,” says Ms Saini, CEO of Flyrobe. “It takes a few years to be spent in this space. When we all first came to this market, people didn’t even know this service existed. “

Fashion rental is still a niche segment globally, but has grown in recent years in Western markets, in particular, as pointed out by Rent the Runway in the US which debuts on Nasdaq in October with a valuation of 1.7 billion. dollars. While the industry is still in a nascent stage, industry watchers see the potential for further expansion of fashion rental in India.

Factors driving the market in Asia’s third largest economy include growing awareness of sustainability, increased internet usage, and a growing appetite for designer and designer clothes at an affordable price.

According to Market Data Forecast, the global online fashion rental market is expected to nearly double to more than $ 2 billion by 2026 compared to just over $ 1 billion in 2021. Some analysts see India’s online fashion rental market growing faster. rapidly of the global average pace over the next few years.

In addition to FlyRobe, other companies offering clothing rental services in India include The Stylease and The Clothing Rental, based in Mumbai.

The sharing economy in general has gained ground globally and India is part of this trend.

Kuntal Malia, co-founder of StyleNook, an Indian personal styling and online shopping service for women, which uses artificial intelligence, says that clothing rental has no mass appeal, but “speaks to our generation.”

“One scenario where it works well is the super-premium segment which has a one-time use, for example, a dress to attend a wedding,” explains Ms. Malia. “The other is where consumers are extremely aware of always wearing a brand’s latest season, but cost becomes a factor.”

Fashion rental companies typically professionally clean clothing between uses and aim to deliver it to customers in “like new” condition.

However, factors such as hygiene “worry Indian customers, especially in the midst of a pandemic,” he points out.

There were other major challenges during the Covid-19 pandemic, which meant fashion rental companies in India, including Flyrobe, were badly affected, Ms Saini says.

Flyrobe’s business depended heavily on marriages, and many of these were postponed into 2020 and the first half of 2021, when the pandemic and lockdown restrictions were at a peak in the country.

Indian weddings often last several days and are extremely lavish, requiring several changes of attire for the attendees.

These are top-notch items, and a single wedding for Flyrobe could often involve around 200 orders. As this trade dried up for a while, it hit the company’s revenue hard.

“We had to fire people, close the shops,” says Ms. Saini.

The situation has also pushed some of their competitors out of the market.

But now, with restrictions easing and the economy picking up, marriages are unfolding again and business for Flyrobe is back on track, he adds.

The company now aims to open more stores across the country and is seeking funding for the expansion.

Althoug Flyrobe is facing increased competition from new players coming to the market as demand picks up, it has suspended a plan to launch a membership program to generate more revenue from Western apparel, as it would largely target employees.

“Because of Covid, people don’t go out a lot, people work from home, so we put aside our subscription plans for a while,” says Ms. Saini.

Flyrobe caters to both men and women, and while the majority of its users are women, 55 percent of the spend comes from its men’s collection.

The company holds its own clothing inventory and allows designers to rent their garments through its platform. Flyrobe also allows its customers to rent their clothes, if the garments meet their standards.

Industry insiders say the pandemic has actually increased consumer concerns for the environment and sustainability in general, including the impact of fast fashion, as well as pushing many people to tighten their belts when it comes to spending on clothes. .

“When the pandemic hit the world, people started [thinking] that they may not need that many clothes after all, ”says Rohan Gupta, CEO of Gargee Designer’s, a luxury menswear brand, which offers the option to hire his clothes. “They started to think they had enough already.”

The company has an ambition to help “change views on fashion consumption as well,” he adds.

Japnah Gambhir, founder and designer of Indian fashion house Majestic by Japnah, says consumers are becoming more interested in accessing high-quality clothing for hire. At the same time, the reach of the industry is also rapidly expanding with the growth of e-commerce.

“Expensive stuff isn’t just for a certain section,” says Ms. Gambhir.

Some people “feel it’s best to keep an item of clothing for two or three days, create memories, and save money for future needs. In fact, it seems better to spend only 10 percent of the price of the product than to spend huge amounts, ”he points out.

Furthermore, it also appeals to the ethics of many millennials and “fashion rental platforms are coming up with plans that can help the environment and make this world fashionable with an ethical approach”.

“With the rental sector [carving] its space in India slowly, people are becoming more aware of its benefits, “says Gupta. He believes it” may take some time for everyone to adapt to this concept and the industry will explode. “

The rise in internet usage and increased exposure to fashion trends in India are just fueling the demand for clothes that may not be affordable for everyone. The internet is creating the opportunity for them to easily access these items through online fashion rental platforms.

“With the internet and social media, people are becoming more brand and quality aware,” says Gupta.

Ms. Saini predicts that this will only help the market grow as acceptance of garment rentals grows. She is confident there will eventually be change as companies like hers face a problem that many people can relate to.

“We always complain that our closets are full but we have nothing to wear,” adds Ms. Saini.

Updated: December 26, 2021, 7am

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