M&S trials clothing rental as ASOS launches open-source circular economy guide

Marks & Spencer (M&S) has launched its first clothing rental trial, on the same day that ASOS published a new interactive guide to help brands and designers reduce waste across the fashion value chain.

M&S trials clothing rental as ASOS launches open-source circular economy guide

Image: M&S

M&S’s clothing rental trial is being operated as part of a partnership with online, UK-based clothing rental platform Hirestreet. Shoppers will be able to choose from 40 pieces of womenswear from M&S’s Autograph range and Ghost collaboration – two of its higher-priced ranges. For the trial, there is a focus on dresses, skirts and jumpsuits suitable for the party season, as well as M&S’s more premium leather and wool coats and jackets.

Hirestreet’s model involves having shoppers book their rental online. The clothing is then delivered to their address and, once the rental period is up, they are supported in returning the clothing by post. A four-day rental is typically 18% of a product’s RRP. Other brands already listing clothing on the platform include French Connection, Rat & Boa and Asos.

M&S was notably an early-stage investor in Hirestreet’s parent company Zoa Group via its Founders Factory Joint Venture, which was set up in 2018 in a bid to help the retailer identify and participate in emerging business models.

“Clothing rental is a growing market and working with Hirestreet through our Founders Factory joint venture gives us a huge opportunity to learn from the leading start-up in this space, operate in an agile way and better understand what our customers want from rental services,” M&S’s chief operating officer Katie Bickerstaffe said.

“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.”

The retailer said in a statement that it believes clothing rental is becoming more popular as consumers become more sustainability-minded. The most recent edition of M&S’s own survey of 5,000+ adults, conducted every quarter, found that one-third of shoppers now consider the climate impact of their fashion purchases.

Rental is becoming increasingly popular for fashion, partly for this reason. By renting clothing, people can avoid the cycle of buying, wearing a handful of times and then disposing or donating, meaning there is a circular economy benefit. But it has also been observed that, post-Covid, people are more aware of not over-spending on occasion wear, and that many do not want to be seen in the same outfit multiple times.

For all of these reasons, the global fashion rental market has expanded rapidly in recent years and drew more than $3.5bn in revenues in 2020. This is expected to grow past $7bn by 2025.

As for M&S specifically, the rental trial will inform options for a wider launch. The company recently refreshed its long-standing Plan A sustainability strategy with a 2040 net-zero target and, on clothing resources, the long-standing ‘Schwopping’ scheme has been updated to encourage more people to return used garments.

ASOS Circular Design Guidebook

In related news, online fashion retailer ASOS has today (16 November) published a 112-page interactive guidebook to help brands and designers adopt circular design principles.

The resource is open-source and has been developed with input from the London College of Fashion and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.  

It includes information on incorporating innovative and recycled materials; minimising waste during design and manufacturing; designing upcycled items; improving durability and versatility and designing for recycling and disassembly at the end-of-life stage. Using mono-material designs is a key focus here, as textile blends and footwear with many components are notoriously hard to recycle.

All of the 850+ third-party brands from which ASOS lists products will be encouraged to use the guidebook, as well as competitors including H&M Group. Work has already begun to train staff at ASOS owned brands, with ASOS due to publish a dedicated circular design strategy by the end of 2023.

That dedicated plan circular design strategy forms part of a wider set of sustainability ambitions through to 2030, published in September. Time will tell how ASOS plans to address questions around producing less in the first instance; the company currently has more than 40,000 listed lines under its largest owned brand, ASOS Design.

Sarah George

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie