Skift Take

Rental is the future of fashion, and the trend could transform how we pack and plan for upcoming trips. What businesses are ready to serve the demand?

Fashion has always had its role in luxury hospitality whether in the form of on-location tailors and stylists or storefronts for the world’s most exclusive brands. Now a combination of technology, a shifting consciousness around sustainability, and an ever-growing luxury traveler base is leading to the rise of fashion concierges and rental services for the modern high-end traveler.

Today’s luxury travelers want to make their lives easier and do so in a sustainable way. Having a wardrobe waiting in your room — and subsequently less to pack — is now achievable thanks in part to a rise of rental fashion. Luxury consumers are increasingly aware of the environmental problems with fast fashion, and renting high-end brands seems to be one antidote to the industry’s waste. Luxury travelers also want to travel lighter and live like a local by wearing brands that are unique to a country or an outfit that’s guaranteed to fit the scene.

While some of the founders Skift spoke with are not convinced that a fashion concierge will ever truly replace your own personal items, others are set on eliminating the need to pack at all. Each of the services we explore promises to cut down on luxury consumers’ waste, lighten their luggage, and help them look their best in a new place. We’ll look into whether they can deliver on that.

Rent the Runway dives Into Hospitality

The most high-profile example of the growing opportunities for fashion concierges and rental services in the travel sector is the recently announced partnership between Rent the Runway (RTR) and W Hotels. The RTR Concierge Closet is a pilot program running from December through March 2020 at W Hollywood, W Washington D.C., W Aspen, and W South Beach. This initiative aligns with Marriott’s broader push to refresh the W brand image.

After booking a stay, W guests can choose four styles to rent from a destination-curated collection based on RTR data and receive them in their hotel room upon check-in. They pay $69 per piece and return the items on checkout.

“Our guests stay with us because they know luxury doesn’t only mean white gloves and silver spoons — it means getting whatever they want, whenever they want it,” said Anthony Ingham, global brand leader of W Hotels Worldwide. “Personalized, authentic experiences and rewriting traditional rules are what W does best.”

The customized wardrobes are considered an in-room amenity, and the ability to pack less is positioned as a hotel benefit. The Marriott brand will consider expanding the service throughout its North American properties once the pilot is complete.

“Traveling without luggage has always been my dream,” RTR co-founder and CEO Jennifer Hyman said in the collaboration announcement.

Although RTR wasn’t able to provide data on how much of its current business is delivered to hotels or customers on the go, travelers have anecdotally used their service for rentals when traveling either for work, weddings, or vacations.

Hyman has described these partnerships as a way to make the rental apparel more accessible through new points of access. While the partnership sounds promising, the collaboration does come only months after RTR announced a pause on new subscriptions and special occasion clothing rentals due to issues in the company’s supply chain.

one Startup Takes an unlimited Approach

The rise of rental in fashion is particularly suited for travel services as typically the client only needs the item for a finite amount of time. Trvl Porter is a startup set on disrupting packing through its service, which combines technology and personal stylists to send a curated rental wardrobe to clients for up to two weeks. The customers pay $65 per rental item with no limit on how much they can choose.

“What we’d love to do is eliminate all packing in the future so clients are able to travel anywhere without anything. That’s our end vision,” said Trvl Porter founder Stefanie Nissen.

“The future of travel is going to be an easy process, and hassling with luggage won’t be part of that,” said Nissen. “It is kind of shocking that there hasn’t been a solution because we still struggle with lost luggage.” Nissen envisions a future — though there’s still work to be done — where travelers can receive an alert for upcoming trips with a personalized look book. The traveler would then select what they want, which might include toiletries, beauty products, undergarments, pajamas, and shoes.

“Because the future of fashion is rental, I believe it is going to be easy to get what you want and then be done with it,” Nissen said.

Other fashion companies also see a future in rental. Clothing brands such as Express and Urban Outfitters, as well as Bloomingdales, offer rental programs. High-end fashion brand Vince this year launched UNFOLD, an apparel subscription service in which customers can rent a number of items and return them for new ones on a rolling basis. And wardrobe curation service Stitch Fix went public in 2017 after finding a giant market for personalized styles delivered to consumers’ doors.

“What’s interesting around rental is that people are becoming more conscious of it, they’re really wanting to reduce waste in landfills,” said Nissen. Renting clothes, she said, cuts down on water electricity to produce clothing, and Nissen plans to work with local brands and outlets to limit any air travel required for the rental service.

Nissan is excited for the B2B opportunities that she is interested in forging with hospitality, aviation, and travel brands also set on crafting a more sustainable future.

A Traditional Approach to Fashion Concierge

While technology played a role in the rise of rental services such as Stitch Fix and now Trvl Porter, some luxury travelers demand the one-on-one touch of an experienced stylist. That’s what Sophie Caulcutt, co-founder of the Voyager Club, set out to create.

Voyager Club is a London-based luxury travel booking and concierge service. Its fastest growing business is the vacation wardrobe service MyVacationStylist, which delivers a personalized wardrobe directly to customers’ home, hotel, villa, or yacht around the world, in part, through partnerships with Hidden Gems Hotels and Edmiston Yachts.

The service is more of a traditional luxury concierge because a personal stylist manages the entire process. The two most common factors that drive customers are either a lack of time or lack of know-how on what’s appropriate in a specific destination. Sixty percent of Caulcutt’s clients are based in the U.S. and fall between the ages of 35 and 65 years old. 

The growth of her vacation wardrobe service comes as luxury travelers are increasingly looking for customization.

“It is about the experience and creating a very personalized offering,” said Caulcutt.

My Vacation Stylist runs on a partnership with Matches Fashion, a UK rival to Net-a-Porter, as well as smaller boutiques. Caulcutt found its global inventory different to what might be accessible through a traditional concierge at a luxury hotel.

“The problem that I have is with trusting a concierge at The Ritz in London or the Conrad to go and find you what you need,” said Caulcutt. “You need someone with a certain level of taste and expertise that you can trust — I think that’s why clients come to us especially on the wardrobe side.”

The fashion concierge is still in its beginning stages with a men’s service and sustainable fashion concierge launching this year, which will only include brands that are sustainable, ethical, or artisanal.

“There are brands such as Fisch, which is bikinis and swimsuits made from recycled fishing nets and ocean waste,” said Caulcutt.

As guests become more aware of their environmental footprint, we predict fashion concierges to grow — especially for travelers who have money to spend and want to pack light.

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Tags: fashion, luxury, w hotels, wellness

Photo credit: A curated selection of outfits from Rent the Runway is available to guests at four W properties this winter. Ethan Gulley for W Hotels / W Hotels x Rent The Runway Closet Concierge

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