Deborah Williams: Firstly, could you sum-up My Wardrobe HQ’s mission in three words?

Tina Lake: Rental, resale marketplace.

DW: When I look back, let’s say ten years ago, just the idea of renting clothes was seen as cheap and not appealing. But you’ve managed to strip that narrative and create a mainstream luxury market out of fashion rentals. That’s such a huge move for the industry. Why do you think this has now become more accepted and appealing?

TL: I think the average consumer is a lot more educated in terms of sustainability and the damage that fast fashion is having on the planet. I think the press has also done a very good job of educating the end consumer. What we’ve done is work with a lot of very high-profile influential models and celebrities, helping educate their followers to know that rental can be glamourous, as opposed to it being something you should be ashamed of. Renting now shows that you’re being a lot savvier. Whereas before people rented for financial reasons, now, people are doing it not only for financial reasons but to also stop the waste.

Ten years ago, we didn’t have Instagram as such a prevalent part of our lives and the problems with fast fashion have been exaggerated because people need to be seen wearing something new every time they’re photographed. This need has meant that fast fashion has become so damaging to the planet. What we’re saying is to pull those items out of your wardrobe, share them and we will facilitate all other parts of the journey for you, such as the cleaning and the delivery – making the whole process seamless. It’s that constant perpetuating drive that enables the word to get out there that this is a really positive thing to be a part of.

DW: My Wardrobe HQ was at London Fashion Week and earlier this month on the red carpet at the 2019 British Fashion Awards.  When we look at sustainability within fashion, for a while it was seen as a bit of a buzzword – not really catching on as it should’ve been. Now with the work of My Wardrobe HQ, how does it feel to see the fashion industry champion the fashion rental market?

TL: I think it’s so exciting and really positive. The British Fashion Council is incredible for all the work they’re doing. Actually attending the awards myself, I can definitely say that everybody is talking about sustainability and positive fashion – especially in what little bits we can all do independently to make that change. It’s not just one big thing that will change it; it’s lots of little things.

It was great to see the British Fashion Council’s support of all our work on sustainability within the industry. We [My Wardrobe HQ] dressed, in total, 75 celebrities and influencers at the fashion awards. That’s nearly 10% of the attendees. If you consider last year, no one was even talking about rental and I don’t think anyone was wearing any rental – if they were, they certainly weren’t talking about it. And, this year, we had such a high percentage of people choosing to rent – actually paying for their rentals and wanting to wear previous season’s items. We talk a lot about ‘dare to re-wear’. It’ doesn’t have to be the latest item; wearing things that are previously used and renting them back is the most sustainable message you can send to your followers. We had people like Millie Mackintosh, Lady Mary Chateris and Alice Naylor-Leyland, who could have picked anything they wanted from any designer. And yet they chose to rent through My Wardrobe HQ to make a stand against fast fashion and highlight the need for all of us to be more sustainable.

DW: I imagine creating a company such as this required many pilot schemes. Looking back at the whole process, at what point did you know that My Wardrobe HQ could work?

TL: I’ve worked in trend predictions for over 20 years, so when Sacha Newall, my business partner, approached me with this idea two years ago, I felt like it was a lightbulb moment. I felt it was a natural evolution for the industry. Sacha wrote a report, which she sent to the government, saying could rental be the solution that we’re looking for. The government published it online and believed that, yes, it could be. The first few people I phoned after hearing the idea was Vivienne Westwood and lots of other exciting and up-and-coming designers like Vilshenko and Mother of Pearl. All of them were unanimous that this is something that they wanted to be part of. And I think once I saw the positivity towards rental as a concept from these different groups, it became very apparent to me that with the support of people of that level, it would be something that would be positively received by most people.

DW: Your brand partners include Zandra Rhodes, Vivienne Westwood and Hunter. What key values do you look for in a brand partner?

TL: Sustainability or people endeavouring to become more sustainable. A lot of brands behind the scenes are doing a lot to work with their factories on more sustainable components, such as making sure working conditions are at a high level and how items are sent back to the UK, to make it less harmful to the environment. Everybody can’t do everything at once but they have to have a mission to improve where they are at and long-term goals of trying to become as sustainable as possible.

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DW: My Wardrobe HQ offers a ‘Try Before They Buy’ service, enabling customers to purchase items if they do not want to rent.

TL: What we tend to say is if you are going to wear it once, or even twice, just rent it. But if you’re going to wear something four or five times, you can buy it, keep it and once you’re finished and decide you’re not going to wear it anymore, you can place it back on our platform. Our whole ethos is about extending the lifecycle of a garment, so it keeps circulating until it is threadbare.

DW: What’s the difference between your rental rates to purchasing rates?

TL: At the moment we only offer a set seven-day service as a standard. But you can ask for shorter or longer rentals, which will vary in price. Based on the seven-day rental period it’s roughly 10% of the RRP. Having said that, if it’s current season and in high-demand, the rental could be up to 20% of the RRP.

DW: You also have a stylist service that helps customers complete an outfit after choosing an item to rent. Are they human stylists?

TL: Yes. We’ve got a great team of stylists, who are incredibly experienced. You can go online, pick out 20 to 30 items and one of our stylists can come to your home for you to try them on. It’s great as the stylist can work with you in pairing outfits with what you already have in your wardrobe – almost upcycling what you already own.

DW: Staying on the topic of stylists, with human stylists you have that personalised, one-on-one aspect. But would you consider implementing AI-powered styling algorithms?

TL: Yeah, we will introduce that in the future – it’s absolutely in our pipeline.

DW: You currently offer womenswear items – do you have plans to expand into menswear or even childrenswear?

TL: Absolutely – 100%. Childrenswear would be next and then menswear.

DW: How would you make those work because I know childrenswear is very different, especially considering, in this case, people will be spending money on luxury items.

TL: We would see it quite broadly. It would work similarly to how we work at the moment. But, I assume, in the future we would have different rental periods, such as two months or two weeks depending on what the particular type of product requirement was.

DW: Fashion rental is clearly playing a huge role currently and in the future of fashion. So aside from the future plans we spoke about earlier, what else can we expect from My Wardrobe HQ in the next three to five years? Could this include a pop-up store or permanent physical retail space?

TL: Absolutely. We already have a pop-up in South Kensington in the Brompton Cross. We initially started that for a couple of months but it’s been very successful, so we’ve had to extend it. We then have a pop-up in Liberty’s in February and March, and then we’re talking to other major retailers about other pop-ups. But yes – we do see a future in having retail locations so customers can come in and try-on items rather than just having them delivered home. We also want to introduce a subscription model in the future.

DW: And would that be international?

TL: Yes and we also plan on expanding into Europe.

DW: Fantastic. Final question – what’s the main lesson you want the fashion industry to know about fashion rental?

TL: I think the key thing is to stop wastage and start sharing. We’re all guilty of having items in our wardrobes with the label still on. One of our hashtags is #SharingIsCaring – so just start sharing and make the most of what you’ve got.

To retailers that have items sitting in your warehouse – seriously don’t burn anything. Let’s reinvigorate items that already exist rather than continuing to overproduce garments and things going into landfill. We’ve got to stop and take hold of where we’ve got to and take responsibility for the damage we’ve done to the planet.

Another thing is, although many would not be able to buy a used £2,000 dress, there are a lot of people that would be able to afford it at 10% of the value. So it’s not just about the sustainability angle, it’s also about using that asset sitting in your warehouse or wardrobe and generating some extra money from it.