When former Delhi High Court lawyer Aanchal Saini decided to change course in 2016 and start an online company to offer luxury clothing for hire, she was faced with skepticism from her peers, wondering if there was even a market for clothing rentals.
But over five years later, she hasn’t looked back. Two years ago, Ms. Saini’s company, Rent it Bae, acquired Flyrobe, India’s market leader in the clothing rental industry, to merge the two companies.
Operating under the Flyrobe brand, the company now has over a million customers, offering clothing through its online platform, which serves more than 30 cities across India and its stores in Bengaluru and Delhi.
An embroidered silk bridal lehenga by the great Indian designer Sabyasachi, for example, is available to rent for four days for 9% of the garment’s 500,000 rupee ($ 6,631) price, while a three-piece suit for men can be rented for about 20 percent of its value.
However, it was not easy for the company to convince people to try renting instead of buying when it comes to their wardrobes.
“I always tell people this is a ‘consumer mindset shift’ company,” says Ms. Saini, Managing Director of Flyrobe. “It takes a few years to pass in this space. When we all first entered this market, people didn’t even know this service existed.
Fashion rental is still a niche segment in the world, but it has grown in recent years in Western markets, in particular – highlighted by Rent the Runway in the United States which debuted on the Nasdaq in October. with a valuation of $ 1.7 billion. While the industry is still in its infancy, industry watchers see potential for further expansion of clothing rental in India.
Factors driving Asia’s third-largest economy market include a growing awareness of sustainability, increasing use of the internet, and a growing appetite for affordable branded and designer clothing.
The global online clothing rental market is expected to nearly double to over $ 2 billion by 2026, from just over $ 1 billion in 2021, according to Market Data Forecast. Some analysts see India’s online clothing rental market growing faster than the global average over the next several years.
Besides FlyRobe, other companies offer clothing rental services in India, including The Stylease and The Clothing Rental, based in Mumbai.
The sharing economy in general has made gains globally and India is part of this trend.
Kuntal Malia, co-founder of StyleNook, an Indian fashion design and online shopping service for women that uses artificial intelligence, says clothing rental is by no means appealing to the masses, but that it “Speak to our generation”.
“One scenario where this works well is the super premium segment which has a one-time use, for example, an outfit to attend a wedding,” Ms. Malia explains. “The other is where consumers are extremely aware of always wearing a brand’s last season, but cost becomes a factor.”
Clothing rental companies typically clean clothes professionally between uses and aim to deliver them to customers in “like new” condition.
However, factors such as hygiene “concern Indian customers, especially during a pandemic,” she said.
There were other major challenges during the Covid-19 pandemic which meant that fashion rental companies in India, including Flyrobe, were badly affected, Ms Saini said.
Flyrobe’s business largely depended on weddings, and many of them were postponed to 2020 and the first half of 2021, when the pandemic and lockdown restrictions were at their peak in the country.
Indian weddings often last for several days and are extremely lavish, requiring several changes of dress for those in attendance.
These are big ticket items and a single wedding for Flyrobe can often result in around 200 orders. As this business dried up for some time, it hit the company’s revenue hard.
“We have had to lay off people, close shops,” explains Ms. Saini.
The situation has also pushed some of their competitors into bankruptcy.
But now, with the easing of restrictions and the economy recovering, weddings are taking place again and Flyrobe’s business is back on track, she adds.
The company now aims to open more stores across the country and is seeking funding for its expansion.
Although Flyrobe faces increased competition from new players entering the market, as demand increases, it has suspended its plan to launch a subscription program to generate more revenue through Western clothing, as it would be primarily intended for office workers.
“Because of Covid, people don’t go out as much, people work from home, so we put our subscription plans on hold for a while,” says Ms. Saini.
Flyrobe caters to both men and women, and although the majority of its users are women, 55% of the spend comes from its men’s collection.
The company has its own clothing inventory and allows designers to rent their clothes through its platform. Flyrobe also allows its customers to rent their clothes, if the clothes meet their standards.
Industry insiders say the pandemic has in fact boosted consumer concerns about the environment and sustainability in general, including the impact of fast fashion, and has caused many to tighten their belts when ‘it’s about spending on clothes.
“When the pandemic hit the world, people started [thinking] that they might not need so many clothes after all, ”says Rohan Gupta, Managing Director of Gargee Designer’s, a luxury men’s clothing brand, which offers the option of renting out outfits. “They started to think they had enough already.”
The company has the ambition to contribute to “also changing views on fashion consumption,” he adds.
Japnah Gambhir, founder and designer of Indian fashion house Majestic by Japnah, says consumers are increasingly interested in being able to access high-quality clothing for hire. At the same time, the scope of the industry is also expanding rapidly with the growth of e-commerce.
“Expensive things are not reserved for a certain section,” says Gambhir.
Some people “think it’s better to keep an item of clothing for two to three days, make memories, and save money for future needs. It seems indeed preferable to spend only 10% of the price of the product than to spend enormous sums, ”she underlines.
Moreover, it also appeals to the ethics of many millennials and “the fashion rental platforms come up with plans that can help the environment and make this world fashionable with an ethical approach.”
“With the rental sector [carving] Gradually its space in India, people are becoming more and more aware of its benefits, ”Mr. Gupta said. She believes that “it may take a little while for everyone to adjust to this concept and for the industry to flourish.”
The increasing use of the internet and the increased exposure to fashion trends in India are only fueling the demand for clothes which may not be affordable for everyone. The Internet provides them with the ability to easily access these items through online clothing rental platforms.
“With the Internet and social media, people are increasingly concerned with brand and quality,” says Gupta.
Ms Saini predicts that this will only help the market to rise as the acceptance of clothing rentals increases. She is convinced that there will be change eventually, as companies like hers tackle a problem that many people can relate to.
“We always complain that our closets are full but we have nothing to wear,” adds Ms. Saini.
Update: December 26, 2021, 7:00 a.m.