Men’s Entry Into Rental Market a Slow-Go

Rent the Runway, Gwynnie Bee and other fashion rental services have taken the women’s market by storm as female consumers embrace the rental market as a way to refresh their wardrobes without a lot of cash outlay. Renting also ticks the sustainability box since the clothes can be returned instead of discarded when the wearer no longer wants them.

But when it comes to men, the category has been a much harder sell.

Most consumers’ first taste of rental is at prom where they borrow tuxedos or dresses for their last high school hurrah, and men continue to rent tuxes for weddings and other special events. But while women have experienced an influx of rental companies and brands trying their hands at the value proposition of non-ownership, services that are targeted to guys are few and far between.

Paul Magel, president of business applications and technology outsourcing at CGS, a global provider of business applications, said that although many of the leading rental companies like Rent the Runway are looking into expanding into men’s, they have yet to take the plunge.

“If you look at what has traditionally been the men’s rental market, it’s tuxedos,” Magel said. “But when you bring it home to fashion, men are very different than women and the market is trying to figure it out.”

While some more fashion-forward men may be the first to jump in, Magel said most guys are still proud that they have clothes from high school in their closets — especially if they still fit.

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“Rental clothes have no history,” he said. “And when you’re out and about wearing an expensive suit, you’re proud that you bought it. If you say you rented it, you look like a poser.”

Add to that having to constantly shop and return rental items, and the bloom on the rose fades even further for most men.

Instead of rentals, Magel said subscription sites like Stitch Fix, which curate and pick out wardrobes for guys “may be more of a formula for success and will be more and more accepted.”

Even so, there are a few pioneers who offer rental programs for men including Scotch & Soda, The Rotation, Mr. Collection, Taelor and Seasons. And the market has the potential to be lucrative. Statista expects the value of the rental market in the U.S. to jump to $4.4 billion by 2028, up from $1 billion in 2018. But how much of that will be men’s remains to be seen.

“Over the last five years, I was a user of women’s rental and I believe in the concept,” said Taelor founder Anya Cheng. Taelor launched in March 2021 offering men an elevated everyday wardrobe for job interviews, date nights and hanging out with friends, from companies like Brooks Brothers, Bonobos and Mizzen + Main, although none are official partners.

Cheng, a fashion AI tech entrepreneur who served as head of product at Target and eBay and helped introduce Facebook Shopping, views Taelor as a rental service equivalent to the makeover component in Queer Eye. For $59.99 a month, customers can get two boxes a month with four shirts each from Taelor, or for $89.99 and a one-time pilot, they can get three boxes with four shirts each. Taelor is currently purchasing brands and offering products in size M for its pilot program and will expand its size offering in the future.

Though Taelor has roots in Silicon Valley, Cheng said men and women in New York City, Miami, Chicago and cities in Texas are also using the service.

“We want to go after everyday people who may not be fashion-forward,” Cheng said. “Customers who are mostly busy and don’t want to spend time styling.”

She also sees Taelor as a benefit for brand partners, which could either be a brand testing a new business model, wholesalers seeking to monetize unsold inventory or independent brands looking for a direct-to-consumer channel.

Of course, sustainability is an opportunity for rental and subscription services, too. A 2017 report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation titled, “A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning Fashion’s Future,” found that only 1 percent of clothing is recycled and 73 percent goes into a landfill. And according to Le Tote, people only wear 20 percent of what they buy and 80 percent of the pieces are worn fewer than three times.

“At the end of the day, the sustainability of rental depends on whether it leads to people purchasing fewer items,” Cheng said.

Luc Succes, cofounder and chief technology officer of Seasons, one of a handful of men’s fashion rental companies to launch in 2020, said he was constantly reminded that the men’s market is not as big as women’s and there might not be enough men willing to participate in a rental business. His response? “This is not about men anymore but about a generation. The customer didn’t have as many options 10 years ago. When I think about where men’s wear is heading, I wonder what the person wearing Supreme, Bape and Palace will want to wear in five years.”

Seasons initially only serviced New York City, but expanded to more states as more members relocated during the pandemic.

“Our members moved to other cities across the U.S. to quarantine and we went with them,” said Regy Perlera, cofounder and chief executive officer of Seasons. As a result, the business added members in the Southeast and Midwest and changed its subscription model to be more flexible, allowing members to rent as few as one item rather than three.

This year, the brand mix is also being expanded with Jacquemus, Craig Green, Rhude and Deveaux among others, now being offered.

“We’re picking up where retailers left off,” Perlera said. “We saw Opening Ceremony, Barneys and Totokaelo shut down and some of those wholesale orders were left off so we were able to convince members to try this model.”

Seasons Courtesy Photo

Zayn Fostock, Zach Podbella and Baron Roth began developing The Rotation — which calls itself “men’s Rent the Runway for streetwear” — in 2019 after having conversations about men experiencing buyers remorse after shopping or not wanting to spend so much money upfront.

The company officially launched in early 2020, took a pause because of COVID-19, but was back up and running in June. Prices start at $89 per month for two pieces at a time and go up to $159 a month for four pieces at a time. Fostock, who serves as the company’s CEO, said the next steps for The Rotation are to expand its infrastructure and secure funding to continue its growth.

“The fact that we’ve been able to survive through the pandemic is a testament to consumer interest in the platform,” Fostock said. “We didn’t want to go direct to e-commerce. We wanted to do something different and give people more access to the clothing. There hasn’t been a large platform that does men’s wear rental and we have had people say that they couldn’t wait for something like this.”

Though not rental, Bespoke Post was one of the first men’s subscription services to hit the scene — and subscription services for men may continue to have staying power as more consumers opt out of ownership. The brand was founded by Rishi Prabhu and Steve Szaronos in 2011 to help men discover new brands in apparel, outdoor, grooming and housewares with labels like Filson and Shinola. Bespoke Post adopted a hybrid model, offering subscription boxes to men that prefer the format for brand discovery and expanding into e-commerce.

“We felt that discovery was really hard,” said Prabhu. “Discovery is active and passive. As a consumer, you need a mechanism to get things in front of people. When we first launched, we were just subscription, but we knew traditional e-commerce was an important point of that.”

Prabhu said at the beginning of the lockdowns, Bespoke Post focused primarily on small brands and customers responded with the business pulling in more than $42 million in orders.

Another player in the men’s subscription market is Tomorrow’s Laundry, a basics brand that was founded in 2016 and launched a subscription service in 2019. Despite some uncertainty about how men would respond after the pandemic hit, founder Robbie Eala said the brand’s T-shirts and hoodies offered the perfect work-from-home wardrobe and 2020 wound up as a growth year for the brand.

Going forward, the company hopes to expand into long-sleeve and button-down shirts and is also eyeing the women’s and children’s market. “I don’t want to start tackling those until we perfect men’s,” Eala said. “We want to stay true to our core and slowly expand the brand. We’re looking at 2021 to be a huge growth year for the brand.

“The entire market is going through a huge transition,” he added. “I really think men’s essentials will not go anywhere. Eventually everyone will get back to normal, but until that happens, the majority of the spending will go to essential products like Ts and hoodies.”

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