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Rent before you buy


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Business Spotlight - epaper ⋅ Ausgabe 3/2022 vom 23.02.2022

FASHION

ADVANCED

"I really wanted to work for a business that was doing some- thing in the sustainability space,” says Shan Mandora from Zoa Rental, the UK’s first white-label fashion rental platform. “I just thought, what better way to maximize the impact I can have in that sector than working for a tech company that enables an industry-wide change.”

Still a very young business, Zoa was founded by its parent company, Hirestreet Limited, in 2021. Isabella West, who studied economics and management at the University of Oxford, started Hirestreet in 2017. Since then, West has been named one of Forbes’s 30 under 30 for her alternative solution to massproduced fast fashion. Hirestreet is based on sharing and reusing clothes rather than buying items for single use. The aim was to make sustainability more affordable and accessible.

“Hirestreet is our direct consumer brand, but it’s run on Zoa’s technology ...

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... and on the Zoa platform. We also sell Zoa externally to other brands,” Mandora explains.

Having previously worked in strategy consulting in the B2B sector, Mandora joined the newly launched Zoa in May 2021. The white-label platform came about after business on Hirestreet began to slow down as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The business was really growing, but in the pandemic, demand for rental and e-commerce really dried up because people weren’t going out,” Mandora says. “It was a blessing in disguise because it allowed the team to step back and think about where the market was actually going. Having spoken to a lot of the brand partners that Hirestreet works with, I noticed that the message coming back very clearly was that they were thinking about rental and that they would eventually do that under their own brands. So the decision was taken to build out the technology that was powering Hirestreet and allow it to be whitelabelled, so that other retailers could use it.”

As head of commercial at Zoa, Mandora’s role involves shaping the company’s strategy and go-to-market approach for the white-label rental platform. He manages business development, customer success, the operations teams and the wider commercial team. Mandora also meets with prospective and current clients to introduce them to the platform. Close collaboration with the product and tech teams allows him to monitor any changes that are made to the platform, such as new features to improve the user experience for brands setting up their rental websites.

“We have a website builder,” Mandora explains. “We built it to be easy and configurable. You could build a website in about ten minutes. You can work directly within our CMS, and then it’s just a case of uploading the product on to the site. If you wanted to use our operations, then you’d need to send your stock to our warehouse. If you didn’t, then you could be up and running as quickly as you like. Ideally, we want the platform to self-serve as much as possible.”

Rental trials

For larger businesses such as Marks & Spencer, which launched its trial rental site using Zoa’s technology in November 2021, the process is more complex, as they have to ensure that their brand image is reflected in their rental site. In a public statement, Marks & Spencer said it wanted to “test and learn” the clothing rental market in the UK. According to GlobalData, the value of this market in the UK is predicted to reach over £2 billion (€2.4 billion) by 2029. In 2019, this market was worth a comparatively low £400 million (€480 million).

“Once it is the norm, I think other brands will be playing catch-up”

Katie Bickerstaffe, chief operating officer at Marks & Spencer, said that the brand would like to appeal to a new customer base through the rental platform: “As we grow M&S clothing, we want to be more relevant more often, and we know customers are increasingly interested in the circular fashion economy. Our partnership with Hirestreet means we are putting M&S clothing in front of new customers. And our first rental edit doesn’t just showcase the style we have on offer, it also highlights the value and quality of clothing that is made to last.” With its rental offer, the retail giant also aims for affordability. The items sell for prices between £69 (€83) and £299 (€357), but they can be rented for four days from just £13 (€16).

“I think consumers are now weighing up this decision at the point of buying something. They’re thinking, ‘Am I going to wear this often enough to justify buying it? If I’m going to wear it fewer than five or ten times, then maybe I’ll rent it’,” Mandora says.

Events such as weddings, parties or ski trips often call for clothing that you would not wear on an everyday basis. Although items such as underwear are unlikely ever to be popular on rental sites, there is more likely to be high demand for evening dresses, suits or skiwear.

Displacing fast fashion

“Quite regularly, we have customer interviews,” Mandora says. “What customers were saying was, instead of spending £30 or £40 [€36–€48] on a one-off purchase for an event, they would rather rent from us for £30 or £40. They would get a better-quality item, wear it for the event they wanted it for and then send it back. This is directly displacing fast fashion. That’s where you have a genuinely big impact on the environment, because you are preventing overproduction and overconsumption.”

CIRCULAR ECONOMY

Traditional linear economic models may use natural resources to make products, but even before production begins, it’s clear that these products will become waste. In contrast, a “circular economy” is based on principles of sharing, renting, hiring, repairing, renovating and recycling. This mode of consumption aims to reduce overproduction. As the production of goods is a major cause of pollution, circularity can help reduce emissions, waste and the loss of biodiversity.

WHITE LABEL

A “white-label” product or service is produced or offered by one company and rebranded by other companies to make it look like their own. For example, simple products such as reusable water bottles can be produced by one company and then sold to other companies, who put their own name and logo on the bottle. A white-label approach allows one producer to sell to a wide range of customers without the cost of individualizing the product or service. For marketers, this adaptability is a big pull factor.

The service provided by Zoa includes optional services that brands can integrate into their websites — such as warehousing, cleaning and repairs. This means customers can often send an unwashed item back without having to worry about shrinking or damaging it in the wash.

The ease of this service is appealing to many, but education is essential to get more people to change their spending habits and convert their purchases to rentals. “Lots of customers’ behaviour is similar to renting already,” says Mandora. Many consumers buy an item, try it on and then send it back — or wear it just once or twice. In terms of degree of effort, this behaviour is the same as renting.

Environmental impact

A shift to clothing rental could have a massive impact. If 8.4 per cent of UK fashion retailers turned to rental, the carbon saving would equate to planting 1.5 billion trees. Currently, £140 million (€167 million) worth of clothing is thrown into landfill sites in the UK every year. Zoa hopes to expand its business over the coming years, and Mandora predicts that many brands will introduce a rental offering in the near future: “Once it is the norm, I think other brands will be playing catch-up. We are a mission-driven business. We want to help change the fashion industry for the better. We think we’re best placed to do that. I think once you penetrate the market in certain segments, hopefully it becomes self-fulfilling. You could almost see us as the Shopify of rental and circular commerce. That’s the direction we want to be going in.”

MELITA CAMERON-WOOD is a half British, half Maltese writer and editor at Business Spotlight. Contact: careers@businessspotlight. de