Is Rent-the-Runway really more sustainable?

“According to estimates, up to 6%–10% of global greenhouse gas emissions originate from the textile industry (Quantis 2018, Niinimäki et al 2020). Examining the state of the industry in 2015, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (2017) found that, globally, 73% of discarded textile materials were disposed in a landfill or incinerated, and less than 1%  were recycled into new clothing. According to their study, global clothing production has approximately doubled in the past 15 years, but the average number of times a garment is worn has decreased by 36%.” (Levanen 2021).

In recent years, many have begun to believe clothing rental companies such as Rent the Runway and Le Tote were the solution to fashion’s sustainability crisis. A new study however, suggests renting clothing may actually be worse for the planet than simply throwing your clothing away.

The study, published in the Finnish scientific journal Environmental Research Letters, assessed, for the first time, the impact of different ways of owning and disposing of clothes. Specifically, the researchers explored whether new “circular” business models like renting and resale were indeed more sustainable alternatives to buying and throwing away clothes. 

In the study, the researchers calculated the greenhouse gas emissions associated with: buying and throwing away a pair of jeans, continuing to wear an old pair of jeans for longer than average before throwing away, buying and recycling, renting, and reselling. 

Their findings are likely to surprise many. Renting was found to have the highest environmental impact due to increased emissions from multiple deliveries/returns and packaging. This impact is likely even larger if we also take into account rental companies’ reliance on dry cleaning, which is suspected to have a greater environmental impact than washing clothes at home. Recycling also had a high environmental impact due to the emissions generated through the industrial recycling process. 

For proponents of slow fashion, however, it came as no surprise that the most sustainable way to consume fashion was found to be buying less, buying better, and wearing longer. De Essentia was built on this very principle. We offer high quality fashion that can stand the test of time in any wardrobe. In founding De Essentia, we were committed to ensuring the sustainability efforts of our designers didn’t end when their garments left their fashion houses. We wanted to serve as an extension of their efforts to design responsibly. Ultimately, we decided that carrying the foundations of slow fashion over into our online boutique was the best way to achieve this. That is why the majority of our items are made-to-order. Additionally, when we do buy inventory, we limit our orders to a single size-run to ensure we are not asking our designer partners to overproduce. Our hope is that we can be a part of the solution and not just furthering the problem of excessive consumption.