Welcome to this monthly column within our broader sustainability section which focuses on what fashion retail is doing to address the issues in its industry.
Sustainable and fashionable don’t always go easily hand in hand but renting designer clothes to and from your peers could buck the trend – brought to you by Retail Insider with Clipper and Give Back Box
Name: HURR Collective
Location: Marylebone, London
As the first peer-to-peer rental site founded in the UK, the HURR Collective, which launched in 2019, is hoping that it will benefit from first mover advantage while the clothing rental market hots up around the world. Retail Insider recently spoke to its chief product officer Ollie McQuitty about how the company saw an opportunity in the circular economy to be both sustainable and profitable.
McQuitty explains that co-founders Victoria Prew and Matthew Geleta saw a chance for women to have an unlimited wardrobe accessed online making both environmental and economic sense. “It’s empowering women to share wardrobes…women have always shared clothing but the HURR platform can now offer this as part of the wider circular economy.”
Prew has a background in property as a chartered surveyor but with a large amount of entrepreneurial flair thrown in and was frustrated that properly organised clothes rental was not a possibility here and wanted to do something about it. The gamble paid off because when HURR launched it had a waiting list of 10,000 individuals wanting to use its technology-driven solution that alleviates the problem of the massive overproduction of clothes.
Prew and Geleta initially looked at the situation in Australia and the States where most rental sites tend to own the stock they rent out. “They did significant market research first. How and why did Airbnb grow? How has Rent The Runway developed in the States?” says McQuitty.
Initially self-funded there has since been external investment into the business and the team currently stands at around 10-12 staff based in Marylebone in the centre of London.
So who are the early adopters of this new-ish phenomena? Unsurprisingly McQuitty confirms that there are currently two distinct demographics. The crossover between owner and renter is currently quite small although he notes that eventually it would be ideal if all the users both rented out and borrowed. Inevitably those with extensive designer wardrobes which allow them to rent out items, are likely to be older – around 35-50 – whereas borrowers are usually in the 25-35 age range.
What they have in common is that they are both going to be professional, educated and probably very urban. “We have some pockets of users such as outside Oxford but mainly we are talking very metropolitan at the moment,” McQuitty notes. He agrees with the thesis that there is a very slight mothers-to-daughters feel to the two communities and the element of community between the two parts of the transaction is key to HURR’s popularity.
Prew reckons the relationship that lenders and renters develop is one of the great pleasures and fascination of developing HURR. Due to the geo-tagging technology on the site users can choose to do face-to-face swaps with other users nearby and can also offer each other personalised fashion and styling tips. This in turn means that the company does not accept any male vendors at all at the moment because of the obvious safety implications.
Of course, not everyone meets up in person and HURR uses a variety of delivery alternatives including no-emission cycle couriers and RePack – a sustainable non-plastic packaging that fits through letterboxes and can be reused again and again.
In order to eliminate fast fashion from the HURR equation there is a minimum original retail price point of £150 for any item listed on the site. But that still lets in a whole host of mid-tier labels and brands, many of them internationally-based where purchase would normally entail hefty shipping costs.
McQuitty confirms that dresses are the “bread and butter” of the business currently, mainly for special occasions and with the associated accessories such as bags also very popular. However, renting everyday wear is catching on with users fast although apparently a residual trepidation about wearing someone else’s shoes remains. There is a dry cleaning charge included in the rental price and HURR caps that amount.
Lenders have full control over how and for how much they list their clothes – HURR staff will advise if needed as to pricing and so on and the company also offers a free service where users simply send in their photos and staff do the rest. In addition, there is a concierge system for large-scale users of the site with 25 items or more and yes, it is absolutely possible to turn a profit from an extensive designer wardrobe.
The company takes a commission on both sides of the transaction and surprisingly McQuitty claims there is almost no need for the kind of mediation about wear and tear that one might expect over dresses that are constantly being worn to parties. “We can act as mediators and we have a team who do resolution but to be honest, there have only been a couple of incidents since we launched” he says. There is a small insurance fee included in the rental price for things like broken zips or lost buttons but if an item was totally ruined then the user would have to pay the market price.
In terms of growth and marketing it has been very organic and mainly based on SEO and social media advertising but the company did dip its toes into the world of pop-ups in November 2019 when it opened a unit for a week in London’s Belgravia. McQuitty explains that the pop-up was an opportunity for HURR to meet their user community and to introduce lenders and renters to each other. “We were also introducing the benefits of rental to the wider community, we held workshops and seminars. It went very well,” he notes.
As to the future McQuitty sees AI as a possible avenue for the company. “We want to play with smart mirrors, using stylists underpinned with technology,” he explains, while Prew has cited a possible entry into maternity and children’s wear, which given how quickly children grow out of clothes and how expensive maternity wear can be, might well be very popular indeed. Either way, Prew says: “The fact is, this is the future of fashion.”