The online fashion rental market in India, pegged at $3-4 bn, has been exploding with mushrooming startups and existing players even attracting seed funding. Obviously the fashionistas no longer believe in buying expensive designer wear when they can rent it at a fraction of the cost. Nivedita Jayaram Pawar explores this new trend in luxury clothing.

 

It's not taboo anymore to turn up at a high profile luxury event in clothes that are rented and not owned. Instead, it's considered practical and economical considering the sartorial demands of an increasingly busy social calendar. A hectic social life coupled with the onslaught of social media has made repeating ones clothing or accessory almost unforgivable and even social harakiri. So in such circumstances it makes little sense to invest thousands of rupees in clothes that will be worn once and be relegated to a corner of the cupboard.

 

What's the buzz all about

A decade ago, renting high-end designer wear was more or less unheard of. Women who didn't want to purchase an expensive dress for a one-time event were left to borrow from a friend. Designer gown and accessory rentals were the exclusive territory of celebrities and their stylists. But all that has now changed.

 

The allure of 'no ownership' is now moving beyond housing and cars. High end fashion is now one of the biggest rental industries on the rise. It makes perfect sense for people who can't afford luxury brands but do appreciate the quality. The new generation raves multiple experiences and desires to be fashionable and trendy, without the pressure of permanent ownership. While the international market is huge for wardrobe rental services, with successful ventures like rent the Runway, Lending Luxury, Girl Meets Dress, etc, in India this trend is still in its early days.

 

Shilpa Bhatia, an erstwhile Hindi film stylist, was among the first few to tap into the potential of luxury rental as early as in 2005 when she launched The Clothing Rental in Mumbai. "It was always a herculean task to source garments for all the advertisements that I used to style. Brands would often request for Armani suits and red carpet gowns without a budget to support the request. I would run around crazy trying to create a fancy look and would be frustrated when the tailor didn't get the right finish. That's when I decided to invest a small amount on certain classic products that I would have a need for often. It started out just to ease my styling career. Slowly other stylists discovered us and started renting from us. They too noticed the value in our goods." The Clothing Rental today has two stores in Mumbai apart from an online presence. Offering similar deals are a number of online fashion rentals, including flyrobe.com, swishlist.in, stylebank.in, liberent.com and stage3.co. Renting outfits has become common for those once-in-a-lifetime events (wedding, mehendi, sangeet, bridal showers, bachelorette parties) that require a level of luxury that's not necessarily worth the long-term investment.