Rental platforms for clothes and accessories – especially occasion wear – offer an easy way out for cash-strapped professionals
‘Sex and the City’ the film wasn’t nearly as cool as the series that ran on HBO. But they both did teach us a thing or two about fashion. Take the scene where Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) interviews prospective assistants and meets Louise (Jennifer Hudson) from St Louis, who turns up at the interview carrying a Louis Vuitton. Hudson says she got it from Bag, Borrow, Steal, a website that lets people rent designer creations. Keep in mind, this was in 2008.
In the US, renting for special occasions — say, a tux for prom or a dress for a friend’s wedding — has been a go-to solution for years. (Remember that scene in ‘The Hangover’ where Doug and his friends, late for the former’s wedding, ring up a rental and the delivery van pulls up alongside their car as they speed towards the venue?).
In the last five years or so, the idea has been catching up in India too.
Aanchal Saini, for instance, left a career in law three years ago to start Rent It Bae, a portal that rents clothes and accessories such as bags, watches, sunglasses and jewellery, for men and women. “Everyone’s always laughing about how a woman’s closet can be overflowing with clothes but she’ll still say she has nothing to wear. But it is a real problem. Every time there was a party at my home, I’d head to the mall frantic to find a new dress so I wouldn’t have to wear the same thing I’d worn a few parties ago. But that takes a lot of money, and it’s such a waste. What does one eventually do with all those clothes? Renting offers a solution,” she says.
Agrees Shilpa Bhatia, a stylist, who started The Clothing Rental, another such portal, in 2005. “It’s value for money,” says Bhatia, whose clients include models, actors, and young professionals. Both Rent It Bae and The Clothing Rental also have physical showrooms, in Delhi and Mumbai respectively. “It is important in a country where many are just discovering social media and may not be comfortable ordering stuff online,” says Saini.
And there are offline businesses too — Google is full of them. Take shops like Dress Like Celebrity, which opened in Delhi five years ago. Founder Vikalp Gupta has his own manufacturing unit and rents lehngas, gowns, sherwanis, suits, and other outfits for men and women.
Most rental agencies charge 15 per cent to 25 per cent of the MRP for a dress or accessory and products are usually rented for a period of three-to four days. They are delivered to the client and picked up. After every use products are dry-washed and sanitised to ensure hygiene. “When we started out there was less awareness about renting clothes and also apprehension. People would ask us if it was clean,” recalls Gupta. But apprehensions are less common now.
Clothes are still typically rented for occasion wear – a party, festivals, a wedding in the family – or one’s own; for everyday wear one still prefers to buy. “Earlier, parents and elders would be unwilling to allow a bride or groom to rent an outfit for their wedding, because in India it’s also auspicious to wear something new,” says Gupta. But all that is changing now as people make the practical calculations of the amount spent on a dress that the couple is unlikely to wear again. For those who would still like to wear something new on their big day, Gupta also offers to make a new outfit and rent it at 35 per cent of the MRP.
The money saved on clothes can be used for honeymoon expenditures, to set up home, or even spent on jewellery – something that still has more investment value. “Earlier people would repeat their wedding attire at other weddings in the family. But not anymore, because trends change so quickly and you don’t want to be seen repeating an old dress or wearing an outdated one,” says Saini. In fact, Gupta and Bhatia say they get quite a few calls from newlyweds wanting to sell their wedding attire so others can rent and use it, since they are unlikely to wear it again themselves.
Not everyone, however, is comfortable to admit that they are wearing rented attire.“In Delhi people won’t say they rented their outfit. In Mumbai they do and also recommend it to their friends,” Saini says. Dress Like Celebrity’s Facebook page has pictures and stories of clients who have hired from him and sent their feedback. “But there are also those – especially brides and grooms – who tell us that when we deliver the dress at their house, there should be no tags, or anything for relatives and friends to know that it is rented,” he adds.
The idea of sharing clothes or accessories is not new to India. Hand-me-downs from elder siblings and cousins have been part of our culture of “waste not, want not”. In the tech age, that circle of sharing could be said to have expanded to include total strangers, allowing more indulgence, at a lowerprice!