Millions of Germans rent films or cars, but rarely pants or shoes. But that should change with more "slow fashion". Not buying new clothes should make the textile industry more sustainable and save citizens money. Retail, on the other hand, is not very enthusiastic.
Whether cars, tools or books: For Carina Breisch it is completely normal to rent or borrow things. "Why don't we borrow any clothes?" Breisch asked himself at some point. When the Stuttgart woman was still living in a flat share, it was completely normal to help yourself to the cupboards of the flatmates. So she almost never needed anything new.
According to the Federal Ministry for the Environment (BMUV), Germans buy an average of sixty items of clothing a year. "Fast fashion" means that new trends and collections are coming onto the market at ever shorter intervals. This is often cheap and enables short-term satisfaction of consumer needs. Every fifth piece of clothing is hardly ever worn. Global clothing production has more than doubled since the turn of the millennium. "All indications of excessive, non-sustainable development have been met," says the BMUV website.
"Slow Fashion" is the name of the counterpart to this development. Sustainability is the priority here. According to a representative survey by the environmental organization Greenpeace published at the end of July, renting clothes from commercial providers is still a niche. Overall, only seven percent of those surveyed have ever rented clothing from a commercial provider. However, the model seems to be more popular among young people. Among the 18 to 29 year olds it was already 15 percent. "I thought to myself, there must be something," says Breisch from Stuttgart.
She researched on the Internet and came across one of these commercial providers: the "clothing shop". There, customers can take out a subscription and rent four pieces of clothing at the same time for 29 euros a month and exchange them for new pieces if necessary. There are shops in Cologne, Freiburg and Berlin. And soon in Stuttgart, where Breisch opens her own branch. Lena Schröder is the head of the "clothing shop". She has been running her shop in Cologne since 2016. Originally, two friends founded the "clothing shop" as an online rental service, which was discontinued in 2018. Schröder took over the brand and concentrated on stationary stores, she says. The shops in Freiburg and soon also in Stuttgart are franchises, i.e. independent companies that use the brand and the structures of the "clothing shop" - and pay for it.
Schröder, who studied fashion design, noticed during her studies that she didn't like the textile industry overall and didn't want to support it with her work. She also does a lot of educational work in her shops. It is a process that will take a few more years "until the average shopper is open to renting clothes". According to Schröder, in order to really consume fashion more sustainably, you have to buy more consciously and less. By renting, customers would have the opportunity to have more variety. In the long term, however, the trend must be to use clothes for a long time and to borrow pieces from time to time. "It just has to be produced and consumed less," said Schröder.
The Federal Environment Agency advises, among other things, to rent or borrow clothing in the interests of environmental compatibility. This can work with friends, but several online portals now also offer clothing items for rent. There are various options and providers. There are providers who, like the "clothing shop", rent out clothing items in a subscription model - only digitally instead of in the store. But you can also rent individual textiles for specific occasions. A wedding dress is available for a fraction of the new price. You can use a provider's app to rent out clothes yourself or borrow them from other private individuals. Another provider offers packages with several pieces of clothing that can be easily combined with each other. Luxury handbags can also be rented by subscription and exchanged regularly.
"Fashion brands must change from producers to service providers," demands Greenpeace consumer expert Viola Wohlgemuth. In principle, new textiles must be durable and repairable, but above all repair, rental and exchange services as well as second-hand fashion must also be offered and become the new standard. Wohlgemuth welcomes rental models "because they make everyday consumption more sustainable". The need to wear something new can also be satisfied in this way. The most sustainable piece of clothing is always one that doesn't have to be remade. The medium-sized fashion and clothing brands stand for quality, value and a good fit, says a spokeswoman for the General Association of the German Textile and Fashion Industry. This would make them trendy when it comes to clothing that lasts a long time, can be repaired or goes into recycling. Rental and lending systems for workwear are important business models for German textile companies.
The classic retail trade has the model of selling goods, says a spokesman for the Textile Shoes Leather Goods Trade Association (BTE). "Retail does what the customer wants." Lending is an interesting model and if that becomes a trend then trading will follow. But: Clothing is a classic wear item that cannot always be repaired. And some goods the customers simply wanted to buy new. "They don't want to wear their neighbor's underpants."