Would You Rent Used Clothes from H&M?

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As consumers have become increasingly conscious about the negative effects of fast fashion on workers and the environment, H&M has stumbled through the decade as one of fast fashion’s most criticized. Through the years it has made efforts to improve its practices—which included destroying, rather than donating, unsold merchandise—and scrub its environmental image, launching recycled-clothing initiatives with big-name advocates (this 2016 M.I.A. advert) and more recently powering a Swedish power plant with trashed H&M garments.

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The corporation’s latest effort is consistent with the burgeoning rental-clothing market, following in the footsteps of Rent the Runway and HURR Collective, but like.... lower-end. The Business of Fashion reports that H&M’s flagship Stockholm store will rent pieces to consumers for the equivalent of $37 USD per week, in a tiny step towards cutting down on its vast amounts of cheaply made landfill waste:

H&M’s rental model is limited to a collection of 50 garments offered to members of the company’s loyalty programme. H&M will assess the trial in three months before expanding any further. The shop, which is testing new concepts, will also feature clothing repair services, a coffee shop and a beauty bar.

“We have a huge belief in rental, but we still want to test and learn quite a lot and do tweaks and changes,” Daniel Claesson, H&M’s head of business development, said in a presentation at the flagship.

Presumably those 50 garments will not include things like $5 cotton v-necks and $30 jeans with no stretch—though the BoF piece doesn’t specify, it wouldn’t be surprising if the pieces consisted of its diffusion lines with high-end designers, like the recent Giambattista Valli collaboration. But if this program does get off the ground outside of Sweden, it seems its most difficult obstacle is getting consumers to believe its pieces are actually worth renting in the same way one might borrow, say, a Reformation dress from Rent the Runway for an engagement party. And one Credit Suisse analyst is skeptical about the economics of it, too, telling Business of Fashion, “I’d be surprised if you can really make it work as a business model... I can’t see that the kind of labour cost involved in a rental model at those price points really makes sense.”

Similarly, it’s hard to imagine how a small rental service will help address “environmental concerns,” as the BoF piece suggests. A 50-garment trial period in one of the world’s wealthiest countries doesn’t seem like it will do much to offset the effects of H&M’s contributions to the ongoing crisis of fashion-industry pollution.

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