Are clothing libraries the future of fashion?

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Apr 1, 2021

How renting rather than owning your wardrobe can let you enjoy fashion responsibly

When Dean Jones discovered that the average Australian woman only wears about a third of her wardrobe, he was shocked. Not only did this seem wasteful and unsustainable, spending all that money on garments that end up unworn sounded like a bad deal for the end-customer. He also realised that his wife, Audrey, was this type of fashion consumer, and her clothes were starting to take up so much space that they were finding their way into his side of the wardrobe. 

Dean and Audrey came up with a simple solution. Observing that many women are already familiar with borrowing garments from each other, they realised that sharing items of clothing among multiple people means that each person needs to own far fewer garments. 

And so they created GlamCorner: an infinite online wardrobe where women could borrow from them in the same way they’d borrow from a close friend or family member. Fast-forward eight years and GlamCorner has become Australia’s leading dress rental business, processing, cleaning and delivering 50 tonnes of high-quality fashion every month.

At the core of this business is a much broader trend in the world of clothing retail. As most of us are starting to realise, contemporary fashion has big problems lurking under its glamorous surface. The industry’s shift towards fast fashion accelerates clothing trends and encourages consumers to abandon their garments far earlier than their actual useful lives. Since the year 2000, the number of garments bought annually by the average consumer has increased by 60 percent. Back then, however, consumers kept their clothing items for twice as long as they do today. Now these items are thought to be discarded after just seven or eight wears. 

To support this massive demand, the output of clothing manufacture has more than doubled since 2000. The fashion industry is now one of the primary contributors to environmental pollution. Fast fashion production is responsible for 10 percent of all carbon emissions and is the second-largest global water consumer. The cheap fabric of fast fashion clothing is also to blame for an estimated 35 percent of oceanic microplastics

Some leading apparel companies such as Patagonia, Levi’s and H&M have introduced clothing recycling programs that allow consumers to return garments they no longer use. But the reality is that current technologies are underdeveloped and cannot reliably convert discarded fabrics on a commercial scale. Given this, almost 60 percent of garments end up either in incinerators or landfill within a year of being produced

Fortunately, alternative ways of looking at how we consume clothing are starting to emerge. ‘Collaborative consumption’ or ‘sharing economy’ business models provide a more circular approach for fashion businesses to lessen their environmental impact. Clothing libraries such as GlamCorner are a great example of this model. They prolong the service life of garments, therefore reducing the demand for new clothing and slowing down the fashion cycle. At the same time, clothing libraries allow fashion consumers to update their wardrobes as often as they like. 

Other local clothing libraries and circular textile companies in Australia include:

  • AirRobe, an online marketplace designed for users to buy, sell and rent preloved fashion;
  • Goldie’s Designer Dress Hire, a Newcastle-based store than rents out designer garments for functions and events; and,
  • WornUp, an innovative start-up that reforms old textiles such as school uniforms into useful items such as dog beds, acoustic tiles and even school desks.

Sustainable fashion solutions like these allow people to enjoy fashion at a fraction of the monetary and environmental cost. Dean and Audrey have changed the game of fashion consumption and they still have big plans for their business. GlamCorner is expanding from formalwear hire to a subscription service for everyday casual and business apparel. The couple is also looking to create their own best practice sustainable dry cleaning facility. This will let them save water and energy, and better care for garments during cleaning, further prolonging their lives.

As their business continues to grow, Dean and Audrey have also noticed long-time users reporting a fascinating trend. Many of them are confirming exactly what the couple initially set out to do: their wardrobes are shrinking. 

You can find GlamCorner, AirRobe and other sustainable fashion businesses in our Business Directory. Join our newsletter to stay updated on circular economy innovations.

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