- American Eagle has launched a rental subscription service for clothing.
- For $49.95 a month, customers can rent three items at a time and exchange them an unlimited number of times. If customers want to keep an item, they are able to purchase it at a 25% or more discount.
- Renting has become a major fashion trend as younger consumers who crave newness look for more sustainable ways to shop.
- This shift in shopping habits spells trouble for fast-fashion retailers that churn out new styles each week.
Last year, Business of Fashion called out the rental market as being one of the next big trends in fashion.
"In more and more categories, consumers are choosing to rent rather than own goods outright. Think of Spotify supplanting CD sales and downloads, Netflix replacing video stores and ZipCar standing in for car ownership among many young urbanites," a group of writers wrote in the publication's State of Fashion report for 2019.
They continued: "This is a fundamental evolution in consumer behavior and we expect it will have an impact in the fashion business in the years ahead."
Companies such as Rent the Runway, which allows customers to rent designer pieces one-off or sign up for a monthly subscription service, are paving the way in the rental market, and mainstream brands are increasingly joining in.
As Business of Fashion noted, Express recently launched its "Express Style Trial" service, which allows consumers to rent up to three items at any given time for a monthly fee. Last month, American Eagle launched (an almost identical) clothing rental subscription model known as "American Eagle Style Drop."
For $49.95 a month, members can rent up to three items at a time and have an unlimited number of exchanges. The shipping costs are covered each way, and dry cleaning is free. If customers decide they like a piece, they are able to purchase it at a 25% or more discount.
And customers seem to like it: "Just got my first box today! In luv with this game changer!!!!" one subscriber wrote on American Eagle's Facebook page.
Experts say that the rental market has the opportunity to thrive because it remedies a major conflict in the younger generation's shopping habits: These customers not only crave newness, but they are also more conscious about sustainable living and preserving the environment. Renting clothes allows them to stay fashionable without buying cheap clothes from fast-fashion retailers.
This could spell trouble for retailers such as H&M, Forever 21, and Zara, whose business is built around newness but doesn't offer the same level of sustainability.
Mike Barry, director of sustainable business at UK retailer Marks & Spencer, recently told The Guardian that while the backlash is brewing against fast fashion, it isn't widespread yet.
Still, "it would be a very brave business leader who didn't look into the next 12 to 18 months and say we are not heading there," he said.
"The signals are [fashion is] on the same trajectory as plastics and forests and alternatives to meat," he added.