Following its book-borrowing, formal-wear rental predecessors, the multinational retail corporation Urban Outfitters recently announced that it will be introducing a clothes rental service. The new scheme labelled Nuuly will involve customers paying a subscription fee to order items which they will later return.
Similarly, Home Depot announced it will be enhancing its tool rental service in an attempt to gain more favour with builders and home-improvement gurus who are known to regularly rent tools. Aimed at a more professional market than its clothing counterpart, this endeavour attempts to improve efficiency for customers’ businesses.
Evidently the age of ownership is declining and is taking the stigmas of borrowing with it.
What are the benefits of a trend such as this?
It is no surprise that, in the age of environmental awareness and activism, trends of product sharing and renting are coming to the fore.
The clothing and textile industry produces 20% of the world’s waste and is the runner up to oil as the largest polluting industry in the world. With statistics like these in mind, it is encouraging to see retail stores such as Urban Outfitters implementing practical solutions that will allow both businesses and consumers to contribute.
This trend allows businesses to embrace their environmental corporate social responsibility in reducing production and waste. It also provides opportunities for consumers to act on rising environmental concerns, by reducing their own waste. Instead of buying only to throw away, people are now able to borrow, use and return, allowing the product to be fully and sustainably utilised rather than being simply discarded when it begins to gather dust.
For the generation which is less inclined to commitment than its predecessors, the ability to borrow makes businesses more accessible in many ways.
Customers are exposed to a range of products which they are able to use and return as they wish, rather than having to commit to the ownership of a specific product. Not only does this solve the generational distaste for full purchases but it means that customers are able to test and try a variety of products which they may have otherwise overlooked.
Rather than having to pay the full price for items customers are able to borrow as they need as part of the subscription fee, meaning costs are cut for consumers whose purchase may have been wasted after initial use. People who may not have been able to afford an item can now access it via this new scheme. Others who are more committed to a minimalistic lifestyle do not have to purchase another dust-gatherer but can borrow as required
Consumers who may have been deterred by pricey products can now access the full range of a business’s goods without having to commit to a single, large purchase. Businesses will be able to attract ranges of customers and further vary their own products as they become accessible to broader and more varied markets.
Finally, initiatives such as this could foster a sense of community in increasingly disconnected societies through the sharing of products. Having to use and take care of a product that will be used by someone else could create a newfound ‘duty of care’ for products which do not belong to the individual but to the broader community. People could be connected by their products rather than driven apart by them and a kind of ‘custodianship’ of a shared product may produce a broader sense of connectedness in a society which craves it.
This trend of buying to borrowing which is emerging among businesses comes with many potential benefits. As businesses and individuals, we can approach it with optimism, in the hopes that it will reduce waste, increase the accessibility and variety of companies and foster a sense of connectedness in what can sometimes feel like a very disconnected world.
Michael McQueen is a trends forecaster, business strategist and award-winning conference speaker.
He features regularly as a commentator on TV and radio and has written 5 bestselling books. To order Michael's latest book "How to Prepare Now for What's Next", click here.
 Tiffany, K. (2019). Urban Outfitters is introducing a clothing rental service. Available: https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2019/5/22/18635736/urban-outfitters-nuuly-clothes-rental-subscription-anthropologie. Last accessed 3rd June, 2019.
 Cain, A. (2019). Home Depot is doubling down on tool rentals in a bid to win over pro builders and drive sales. Available: https://www.businessinsider.com.au/home-depot-tool-rental-pro-builders-2019-5?r=US&IR=T. Last accessed 3rd June, 2019.
UN Partnership On Sustainable Fashion and the SDGs. Available: https://www.unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/timber/meetings/2018/20180716/UN_Partnership_on_Sustainable_Fashion_programme_as_of_6-7-2018.pdf Last accessed 3rd June, 2019.
 Sweeny, G. (2015). It’s the Second Dirtiest Thing in the World – And You’re Wearing It. Available: https://www.alternet.org/2015/08/its-second-dirtiest-thing-world-and-youre-wearing-it/. Last accessed 3rd June, 2019.