The relentless pace, exorbitant price and intensely of-the-moment nature of modern streetwear have all combined to make keeping a rotating, relevant closet of the latest pieces incredibly difficult. But just as Rent the Runway shook up the luxury fashion industry, a new platform is hoping to change streetwear.
For Rotarity founder Chris Hasek-Watt, the inspiration to create a rental service for streetwear came from a very pragmatic place: his own unwillingness to spend massive amounts of money on clothes he would only wear a few times.
“The designs are cool and flashy, but you can only wear it a few times before it starts to look like you’re wearing the same thing every day,” he said.
Hasek-Watt created Rotarity to be a place where customers can rent high-end streetwear products for about 10 percent of their retail value, or sign up for a monthly unlimited subscription and rotate through the company’s inventory at will. Monthly members can take out four to five pieces at a time and keep them for a month. Those members will also have free shipping both ways (to the contiguous United States only). Individual renters will only have free shipping and returns on orders over $100.
Rotarity is building up partnerships with a number of big-name streetwear brands, although none have been announced yet. Each piece will likely be rented out between six and 10 times before it is consigned, sold or donated by Rotarity.
Hasek-Watt is aware of the inevitable comparisons to companies like Rent the Runway or the now-defunct Eleven James, but he welcomes the association. For him, the reason RTR has thrived and Eleven James folded comes down to the selection of category.
Luxury gowns, the kind that Rent the Runway specializes in, are perfectly suited for wearing to a gala or a prestigious event. RTR has, from the beginning, depended on customers renting these sort of one-and-done items for special occasions. Eleven James, the luxury watch rental service that abruptly, and somewhat mysteriously, folded in August, was dealing in a category ill-suited to rentals.
“Eleven James almost reinforced the idea for Rotarity to me,” Hasek-Watt said. “That they were able to go on as long as they did speaks to the power of the rental model, because luxury watches are the complete wrong category for it. Watches have a lineage. I’m proud to wear my grandfather’s watch. It’s not something you rotate through or where you always need to have the latest and trendiest version. Streetwear is the perfect category for rentals.”
While luxury fashion has multiple platforms dedicated to the rental market, like RTR, Armarium or Nova Octo, high-end streetwear has no such service currently. When Rotarity’s individual rental option launches early next year (monthly memberships will launch at a later date), it will be stepping out into the unknown. The most crucial element of the brand’s launch will be nailing the marketing and convincing consumers that it is worth the value.
“The biggest challenges for streetwear rental services are price point and customer base,” said David Naumann, vice president of marketing at Boston Retail Partners. “There is probably a minimum price point for streetwear to be profitable for a rental model. The other potential challenge is that the target audience for streetwear rental may be a different demographic than the traditional fashion rental consumer, which may require more advertising and education on the value proposition.”
The crossover between luxury and streetwear goes beyond just aesthetics. The former has absorbed much of the ethos of the latter in terms of business model and design philosophy. But the streetwear industry has also taken many cues from luxury fashion. These similarities make streetwear an excellent candidate for rental for all the same reasons that luxury is: high prices, attention-grabbing designs that are hard to wear day after day and a fast-moving pace that puts trendy items out of style quickly.
But there is another facet to the rental market that makes it such an appealing model: young consumers today do not have the same relationship with the things they wear that previous generations did. As For Days’ founder Kristy Caylor put it, young consumers are interested more in access over ownership. For them, it is less about owning something new than it is about experiencing something new. Hasek-Watt is hoping that Rotarity will tap into two major trends in young consumers’ spending habits: a shift away from ownership, and a focus on sustainability and not creating excess waste.
“I would see kids show up at a store in groups of three or four, and put their money together to buy one pair of Yeezys to share,” Hasek-Watt said. “And that reinforced to me the idea that it’s less about ownership for this generation. People ask, “Do you really want to wear clothes that aren’t new?’ But Gen Z doesn’t care about whether something is new off the rack, they care about whether the experience is new to them. Millennials and Gen Z favor variety and experience. That and sustainability are a big part of our appeal to them.”