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How Sustainable is Renting Clothes?

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Harvard chapter.

During my experience trying Rent the Runway for the first time, I thought about how environmentally-friendly rental programs truly are. As the climate change crisis continues to escalate, the demand for ethical clothing has increased exponentially as well. Rental is a relatively new phenomenon in the fashion industry, but is consistently loaning out a piece of clothing before returning it actually as green as the companies make renting seem?


  • Before renting became more accessible, there were very limited ways to affordably and sustainably take part in trends. Buying secondhand only partially addresses this issue since styles have often already peaked before they can be found in thrift stores
  • Renting is especially useful for special events since formal attire is not worn nor repeated often enough to justify the monetary or environmental costs of buying something nicer for new; in general, this business model allows for more opportunities to be creative and incorporate new things into your style without the need to buy more
  • Minimizing on possessions opens up on the possibility of saving money and energy on storage and housing
  • Limits overproduction of clothing through an emphasis on collective sharing


  • Everything borrowed must be returned, which means the shipping impact is a significant factor. Transportation is one of the top sources of carbon dioxide emissions in the US, and online shopping contributes to that footprint
  • Free laundry is a perk, but the way the clothes are cleaned has a major environmental impact, even at home. However, dry cleaning does require more energy than our own washing machines do
  • Could possibly increase consumer desire for fresh, new clothes leading to more consumption due to the accessibility of a wider range of clothes at a lower price

The ultimate answer is still unclear. However, many rental services are continuing to reduce the impacts of fashion by eliminating clothing packaging, harmful cleaning pollutants, delivery emissions, and so on. Thus, renting is a step forward in the right direction, but don’t forget to also fully utilize what’s already in your wardrobe.

harvard contributor