Clothing renters are pausing their memberships as more companies work from home

One effect of the coronavirus outbreak is the wave of mandatory work-from-home policies sweeping across companies in industries from media and PR to fashion. In turn, events are being canceled and “social distancing” has become the norm. At the same time, fashion rentals are suffering.

Glossy spoke to multiple customers of rental programs like Rent the Runway and Nuuly who said they would be pausing their membership for at least a month as work-from-home policies are instituted at their places of business. While rental is not the only area of fashion that will feel the effects of coronavirus-related shutdowns, cancellations and delays, much of rental was built for people who want a constantly refreshed wardrobe or “special occasion dressing,” making the space particularly vulnerable to the rise of social distancing.

One customer of both Rent the Runway and Nuuly has worked from home, on and off, for months, but in the wake of the outbreak, her place of employment has made changes to its work-from-home policy. She now works remotely five days a week.

“I swapped new items less frequently when I first started working from home, but kept my memberships for weekends and events,” she said. “But just this week, in the age of social distancing and real work-from-home, I paused both memberships for the month.”

Even some of the most loyal renters are having second thoughts.

“I’ve been an Unlimited member of RTR for two years, without ever pausing my subscription,” the other customer said. “But I only use it for work clothes and for work-related events. My office is going to be closed for three weeks — I’m not about to pay for sitting-on-my-couch clothes, so I’m definitely pausing and saving my $159 for the month.”

Reached for comment, Rent the Runway and Nuuly both emphasized the fact that they’re taking an abundance of precautions to maintain the health and safety of both employees and customers. When asked about the potential for pauses and cancellations, Rent the Runway directed Glossy to an FAQ the company put out on the coronavirus and a representative said the company was focused on safety at the moment.

Nuuly offered a written statement. 

“At Nuuly, the safety of our customers and our team is the top priority. During the receiving and unpacking process, our employees have always worn gloves, and we have fully stocked our fulfillment center with hand sanitizing stations. We use both wet and dry cleaning for all of our garments and bags to eliminate dirt and germs, and send everything through a steam tunnel that is 250 degrees.”

Both companies declined to comment specifically on the possibility of slowdowns or membership pauses. Le Tote, also asked for comment, did not respond.

Nova Octo, an upscale rental company that does not do recurring subscriptions, said it has already begun to feel the effects, with customers canceling orders.

“We’re preparing for it, big time,” said Nova Octo CEO Silje Lübbe, adding that her company, like many others, has determined the next few months will be tight and has turned their attention to the next quarter. “We’re so reliant on people socializing that it’s going to be a big deal for us. We’re pivoting, big time. But we’re trying to be flexible on things like returns because we know it’s out of our hands and out of our customers’ hands.”

Lübbe said customers can cancel orders at any time and get a full refund, rather than requiring 10 days as usual. The company’s own office in Tribeca is still open for now, but that will likely change in the next few days, she said.

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