The end of ownership for fashion products?

Business models capitalizing on preowned, refurbished, or rented products have hit the fashion market. The industry needs to pay attention as these models continue to evolve.

The life span of fashion products is being stretched as preowned, refurbished, repaired, and rental business models continue to evolve. Across many categories consumers have demonstrated an appetite to shift away from traditional ownership to newer ways in which to access products.

In fashion, the shift to new ownership models is driven by growing consumer desire for variety, sustainability, and affordability, and sources suggest that the resale market, for instance, could be bigger than fast fashion within ten years. In recognition of this consumer shift, start-ups will not be the only players making their mark in these segments—established fashion brands will also accelerate the pace with which they embrace new ownership models to further their relevance to consumers.

In more and more categories, consumers are choosing to rent rather than own goods outright. Think of Spotify supplanting compact-disc sales and downloads, Netflix replacing video stores, and Zipcar standing in for car ownership among many young urbanites. This is a fundamental evolution in consumer behavior, and we expect it will have an impact in the fashion business in the years ahead—as we outline in our latest State of Fashion report, written in partnership with the Business of Fashion (BoF).

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The end of ownership for fashion products?

This trend is partly driven by the young generation’s hunger for newness, while embracing sustainability. Research shows that average consumers today buy 60 percent more items of clothing than they did 15 years ago. But consumers keep that clothing for only half as long as they used to. For example, a survey done in Britain found that one in three young women consider clothes “old” after wearing them once or twice. One in seven consider it a fashion faux pas to be photographed in an outfit twice. Simply put, young people today crave newness, and these cohorts are much more likely to embrace churn in their wardrobes. At the same time, younger generations are more interested in sustainable clothing than older consumers. Rental, resale, and refurbishment models lengthen the product life cycle while offering the newness consumers desire.

Meanwhile, luxury brands are raising prices, significantly. Prices of fine watches and jewelry have nearly doubled since 2005. Tracking global prices of Louis Vuitton’s Speedy 30 handbag suggests an increase of approximately 19 percent per year since 2016. So, even consumers with six-figure incomes are looking to discounts and alternative models of acquisition for relief.

These demands are catalyzing the successes of rental and preowned models. We expect that the ability of these players to satisfy a heightened desire for newness and an increased unattainability will bring them into the spotlight in 2019. That’s reflected in survey data from our State of Fashion research (exhibit).

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Luxury consumers can circumvent the price increases of the Speedy 30 bag, for example, through The RealReal, which was founded in 2011 and, as of May 2018, enjoys a $450 million valuation. It sells luxury brands, in gently used form, via a consignment model. The RealReal’s hook: top fashion brands, up to 90 percent off. It recently raised $115 million in a Series G funding round and plans to expand its brick-and-mortar presence in the United States.

China’s YCloset takes a different approach, using a subscription rental model to grant customers access to an array of clothing and accessories free of additional charges. Customers that like a particular piece have the option to buy it outright.

Although established brands have traditionally turned a blind or scorning eye toward secondhand retail, they are now wading into the preowned and rental markets. For example, Stella McCartney launched a partnership with The RealReal in 2017, offering a $100 credit to consumers consigning her products on the platform. This can create a circular flow that encourages footfall in Stella McCartney stores, while building confidence in the quality and longevity of Stella McCartney products. Additionally, because of the circular nature of this partnership, it bolsters the corporate and social responsibility of the fashion brand.

Other luxury players, such as Richemont, have purchased resale or rental businesses outright, to take control of how their products and brands are marketed on the secondary market.

Some players have ventured into refurbishment, taking advantage of its sustainability benefits. Eileen Fisher, through its program “Renew,” takes back gently worn products and either refurbishes them or uses the materials to create new products all together. Patagonia pioneered an in-house repair and resale model by buying back their own products and selling those used items at a discount price. On its website, Patagonia asserts, “The single best thing we can do for the planet is keep our gear in use longer and cut down on consumption.”

The company Express is betting on the rental market, launching “Express Style Trial,” which allows consumers to rent up to three items at any given time for a monthly fee. In an interview with CNBC, Express’s chief customer-experience officer, Jim Hilt, states, “The consumer who is more interested in access versus ownership is happening across many industries. We looked at this evolution and asked, ‘How do we participate?’” In New York, French label Ba&sh is offering free rentals over a weekend period as part of its North America expansion strategy.

Turning to the months ahead, we expect 2019 will be known for three developments in particular. First, the number of brands getting into the rental, resale, and refurbishment business will increase markedly; established players will progressively regard alternative ownership as a force they need to embrace, or at least test, through new collaboration models with retailers or start-ups in the sector. This will require careful business-model considerations and a clear choice between partnerships, in-house development, or M&A. Second, we predict a notable increase in the number of “rental native” brands born exclusively for rental or subscription models. We would also not be surprised to see a unicorn in this space soon. Finally, more consumers will see a growing proportion of their wardrobes made up of preowned or rented products, especially for high-value items and accessories. While traditional players need not yet be alarmed, it will be essential to fully understand the emerging signals of what consumers prefer to own versus rent.

For more on all ten trends that will define the fashion agenda in 2019, see The State of Fashion 2019: A year of awakening.

About the author(s)

Anita Balchandani is a partner in McKinsey’s London office, where Marco Beltrami is a consultant; Achim Berg is a senior partner in the Frankfurt office, Saskia Hedrich is a senior expert in the Munich office, and Felix Rölkens is an associate partner in the Berlin office. Imran Amed is the founder, editor-in-chief, and CEO of the Business of Fashion.

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