What if you could rent your clothes?
Who and what is ‘Wear The Walk’?
So my name is Zoe Partridge, and I founded ‘Wear The Walk’ in, I don’t know, it’s hard because officially I founded it in January 2017 but I sort of messed it up. So I spent the first year figuring out what the heck I was doing, who I was actually speaking to, what the company was. I officially say it started in Jan 2018. That’s when we launched the concept and subscription service. It’s all about providing a more sustainable way to consume clothing. And in a more conscious way as well. We rent out luxury designer items on a (monthly) subscription basis. We do it currently on our website even though we would love an app.
And you also have a showroom right?
We do, yes. We’re based in Hackney Central, vivacious Hackney Central. So we’ve got a little showroom here and we do Pop Ups as well. I think from a business perspective it’s been really important for us to have a physical space as it enables people to really experience and feel, touch, you know, and see the clothing. But also for them to meet us as well. Renting clothes is quite a new concept. From a credibility perspective, it’s been great being able to meet our customers and for us it’s invaluable in the sense that we can really understand what their primary motivations are. It’s interesting because the first assumption was that they’re renting because they haven’t got the money to afford to buy. That was my original hypothesis and then I went, ‘oh, no, it’s definitely because they want be sustainable.‘ And then I sort of changed my mind and I thought actually whilst people do want to be sustainable they’re still very aesthetically driven. So, the primary motivation is, 'why shouldn't I look good when I can afford to'. I want to wear what I want, when I want and that’s what we’re providing and I guess the second part to that is we do that in a sustainable way. Because it’s exhausting. It’s perpetually exhausting to buy fast fashion. Constantly just buying new stuff and it’s sitting in your wardrobe and you get bored of it and you feel sick.
So the designers you rent out: are they all sustainable, local designers?
How do you source them?
When I first started I didn’t how easy it was going to be to get clothes. So initially I went to emerging brands and I realised that actually emerging brands needed as much of a kind of gateway into accessing consumers as consumers need to access emerging brands. And then actually what I realised is that emerging brands are now very sustainable in their practices or at least kind of ethical. A lot of them are seeking sustainable alternatives for the materials that they’re using and I think it’s to do with the next generation of designers. They are being brought up in a more conscious way about how they’re producing, where they’re producing and what they’re using to produce. So actually that came hand-in-hand with working with this section of the industry, but it’s important to us that we vet them as much as we can.
How do you make sure the designers you pick produce in a way that is to your standards?
You know, it’s really hard to make them accountable for that. Obviously the quality is really important. We look at the fabrics, how it’s been made and we try and get as much evidence as we can that it’s produced in a sustainable way. We check the factories that they work in and which countries they’re manufacturing in. But there’s still a lack of transparency.
Do you meet with the designers personally?
Yes. We’ve got really good relations with our designers because it’s important for them to know that their brand is growing alongside ours.
We talked about your assumption that people come to you to rent out clothes because they don’t have the money and not necessarily because they want to be sustainable. Do you think that’s changed or is there a certain segment of your customers that’s purely therefore the sustainability?
I think our audience has changed but also I think that the awareness around sustainability has changed. So even though the primary motivation might be money, people will always claim it to be sustainability. I’m not saying people are being dishonest or inauthentic. I’m just saying that more people are caring about it and so even though deep down they might be like, ‘this is great, I can get luxury for less,’ people will always rationalise their decision with something positive, which, in this case, is most likely going to be sustainability. And I think that’s great. Initially people were just using us because we're a cheaper option and now they’re using us because it’s a cheaper option and it’s more sustainable. I just think that the industry has woken up to sustainability, which means that more people are now justifying their decisions based on that.
That's interesting because when I came to you and rented my outfit for the awards night last week, my primary reason for coming here was sustainability. And then I heard how affordable your service is and I was thinking to myself, 'I would never be able to afford an outfit like this ever.' And I wouldn't even buy an outfit like the one I had because it's such a statement outfit. You’d wear that once. It would be such a waste to buy it and then only wear it once. I personally think the rental model is definitely a future.
Yeah, me too. I think it definitely is – I’m not saying it’s the right solution. I just think it’s an alternative. It’s one solution.
Exactly. We can’t tell people to just stop consuming fashion. That usually results in the opposite behaviour. We all want to upgrade our wardrobes frequently, we want to look great and feel great. That’s just part of our lives.
Yeah, completely. I think sustainability started very much at the grassroots. It was and is very much consumer driven. Consumers are demanding greater transparency and independent brands are reacting to this, cropping up and providing greater transparency. And now it’s making its way up to the government level with new laws enforcing sustainability practices and accountability and then also luxury designers that are implementing CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). So it’s really a movement that has come very much from the bottom up, which is great.
So you would say we as consumers definitely have an impact?
Massively. I think consumers are the ones absolutely driving this forward and it’s only now that luxury brands are starting to pay attention because essentially they’re the ones that are almost the worst at this.
I love that you say that because I’ve recently read an article which was diminishing individual efforts by saying, 'there’s all these big companies and they produce the majority of carbon emissions and are destroying the climate.' But companies also operate based on consumer demand.
Yes, completely. That’s how fashion’s changed. Trends are changing because consumers are creating trends. As opposed to it being this bi-seasonal kind of approach with two fashion weeks a year and luxury fashion houses dictating what we should wear. It’s now actually starting at a consumer level and it’s very much peer-to-peer. Social media and the advent of that has created a sense that makes us think, 'actually, I don’t have to listen to these brands to be told what to wear'.
Do you think renting clothes will be normal in the future? And do you think we will do this for our day to day clothes or just special occasion garments?
So our overarching mission has always been for everyone in the western world to own a capsule wardrobe and rent the rest. That’s what the ultimate mission is and we want to be the provider and facilitator of that. I think renting will become more common practice and the early adopters will be more likely to use us for let’s say 75% of their wardrobe. What we’re trying to do now is commercialise a lot of our items and also move into the ready-to-wear department. We’re really looking to shift our focus into providing a holistic kind of wardrobe concept, but I think from the mass population point of view it is still a far too new and disruptive idea. It’s more they’ll rationalise it by saying, ‘oh, I'm going to a wedding or christening or a birthday party. So I’ll happily rent for that, but I wouldn’t run my whole wardrobe like this’. And I think with the rise of things like the online second hand clothes app, Depop, the availability of clothing when you want it and the the rise of fast fashion is a hugely competitive market to try and take on. I don’t think we will ever replace buying completely but I do think that renting clothes has got a future.