The Boiler House

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An Honest Conversation...
Nothing to Wear? Rent Your Wardrobe to Make Money and Save the World

The fashion industry churns out 1.2 billion items per year, producing 5% of global greenhouses gases. In the last two decades of globalization, fast fashion has created a buy-to-throw culture with disastrous effects on our environment. In the UK alone, we spend 86 billion pounds on clothes each year. Yet, 140 million of this ends up in landfill soon after. Fast fashion brands have been known to launch up to 24 new lines per year, putting heaps of pressure on already scarce natural resources. However, our global clothes utilization – the amount of time a piece of clothing is worn by a buyer – has gone down by 30% in 15 years. So, even though our wardrobes are bursting at the seams, we don’t wear our clothes that much after all our spending.

While the fast fashion industry faces the long, uphill battle of venturing into more sustainable and ethical lands, there’s good news ahead. Change is already here. Up-cycling, clothes swapping and renting gigs are taking the scene by storm, and London-based fashion rental project Loanhood is at the forefront of the movement. I caught up with two of the three co-founders, Lucy & Jen, wonder women on a mission to change the way we wear our clothes. After years of working in the industry, Loanhood founders believe the sharing economy is the key to the greener future we all aspire to. And that we can only achieve it by transforming ourselves.

Stella McCartney Sustainable Fashion Marketing Imagery

I’ve been educating myself on fast fashion and I have to admit, I find it slightly daunting. Reading the 2019 report by Fashion Revolution, I found highly disconcerting that brands such as Dior or Gucci or Armani do not publish any of their policies concerning the environment or ethical issues. Why is that?

Lucy: They might not be doing much yet, or anything at all…

Jen: I agree with you, it is an overwhelming subject. That’s why one of Loanhood’s aims is to bring about an opportunity to participating in sustainable fashion in a way that is not overwhelming. These big brands might not be doing very much, it’s true. Regardless of the changes that are starting to occur in our society, for them, it’s still business-as-usual. But most of the brands you mentioned are huge operations, their supply chain is massive. Most of the time they don’t even know who makes their clothes. So it’s an enormous task for them to unravel everything, it would take them years and years…

And it’s precisely the lack of transparency that creates the sort of environment the fashion industry has created today. We hear a lot about greenwashing, where brands shout about their eco-line while still carrying on unsustainable practices. But today, there’s a lot of green hushing as well.. . brands do not want to talk about what they are doing in terms of sustainability, because they might get criticized for it.

Take H&M for instance. Compared to most brands, they are doing loads in terms of the environment…

H&M Conscious Marketing Imagery

I read they are among the top consumers of organic cotton...

Jen: Exactly. But because they disclose what they are doing, they also get massively criticized for what they’re not doing, or what they might be doing wrong. So brands might think it’s better not to say anything to try and dodge a bullet or two.

This is a recurring theme in the sustainable world, and within human beings in general. We tend to criticize a lot, but then when it comes to lifestyle changes, positivity is what ignites our motivation…

Lucy: That’s what Loanhood is all about. We’re a peer-to-peer fashion rental community. We share knowledge and information about the industry, and especially about how to make constructive, positive changes. And if you want to have a positive impact today, re-using and sharing clothes are the most effective actions you can take. They have an immediate effect.

The best thing you can do on a sustainability
journey is to make an informed decision.

Jennifer Charon, Loanhood

So how did Loanhood come about?

Jen: We’d been working in the industry for several years and we felt strongly about the amount of waste being produced. So in Spring 2019 we officially started Loanhood, full of big and bright ideas. It was a sharp learning curve, to say the least. Because when you want to instigate behavioural change, you need to create a platform for it. And tech has been a big part of making it happen.

Lucy, Jen and Jade, founders of Loanhood, at the Hackney Service Centre last year. Pic: Lois Borny

What would you say to people who might think clothes are a bit too intimate to share?

Jen: Well I think that’s what everyone said when Air B&B started, isn’t it? The thought of renting out your house to complete strangers was maybe too wild for some, but it’s now a multi-million-pound business.

Lucy: People are more open to the sharing economy these days. It’s the easiest way to make a difference. And, if you can make an income from your wardrobe…

Jen: that might change the relationship people have to their clothes. They’re not just “extra stuff” anymore, they’re a little side-earner…

What about recycling clothes? Is there any value to that?

Jen: It’s not as simple as it seems. For instance, clothes made from polyester blends are difficult to recycle. There are only 3 plants that currently recycle fabric: one in Scandinavia, one in Hong Kong and one in Europe. Recycling fabrics made from blends, such as lycra, is a complicated process. A lot of factors come into play. They are made to endure, but when it comes to breaking them down, it’s overly complicated.

Lucy: Things are also changing in that respect though. Levis, for instance, are designing new types of clothes that are easily torn apart, that are metal-free etc. In that way, it will make it easier to recycle later.

Jen: MUD, a Dutch brand makes denim mostly out of recycled cotton. Again, technology advancement will play a big part in making recycling a more mainstream practice.

MUD jeans make the world’s first “raw denim”

It’s important to recognize there are a few top dogs that are doing lots of work on the sustainability front. Stella McCartney, for instance… What do you think has been the biggest motivator of trend change in the last few years?

Lucy: Consumer demand has definitely have influenced. And that is down to some key players. For instance, the David Attenborough effect has changed people’s outlook on the sustainability front, and that in turn has a definite influence on brands.

Jen: I think there are bits of information coming from everywhere, and watershed moments that have grabbed the public’s attention have done a lot to create the right momentum.

Lucy: Let’s not forget, though, that a lot of big brands are not necessarily making changes from their hearts. I’m not talking necessarily about Stella McCartney, but a lot of brands do have a huge PR machine. Dior, for instance, recently recreated a forest on the runway in Paris when presenting their Spring/Summer 2020 collections. They used more than 100 trees, and said they would replant them… but how many of the garments were made sustainably? [In third party assessments, Dior has failed to score acceptable ratings in all sustainable-ethical areas investigated.]

When it comes to someone who’s just embarked on the sustainable fashion journey like myself, what fibres would you advise to go for?

Jen: It depends. Some people might want to go down the natural fibre route, in which case I would advise to check out linen, organic cotton, ethically sources wool. From a synthetic standpoint, lyocell and rPET are promising.

I think it’s important to stress it’s not a black/white situation because there are pros and cons to every type of fibre. The best thing you can do on a sustainable journey is to make an informed decision.

Ultimately, extending the life cycle of our clothes seems to be the most sustainable way forward. That takes us back to Loanhood. How did your first event at The Boiler House go?

Lucy: It was great. There were a lot of people who came for the Adventure Uncovered festival, who didn’t necessarily know much about circular fashion. Which was perfect for us, because an important part of our role is to share information. The idea of renting clothes is still new…

How would anyone interested in putting up their clothes for “rent” with Loanhood go about it? 

Jen: When our peer-to-peer rental site launches later this year, people will be able to create an account and upload items directly to the site. 
Then, they’ll set weekly rental prices. Loaners (people who own items) can set the weekly rental price they feel happy with. We recommend about 10-20% of the retail price, depending on the brand, condition, style, if the item is in demand and even personal value. 

Will Loanhood have a policy be in place, in case clothes get ripped or ruined?

Jen: Yes. We understand accidents happen from time to time. Loaners will have to take a picture of the damaged item, so that it is time-stamped on their phones, and email it to us.

The Borrower will be charged for any specialist dry-cleaning or repairs necessary. If an item is damaged beyond repair and needs to be replaced, they’ll be charged the RRP of the item… unless they can source the item and replace it within 7 days.

What are some of your personal favourite sustainable brands?

Jen: On the high end, Stella McCartney, Mother of Pearl and Mara Hoffman. Closer to high street prices, we love Lucy & yak, Armed Angels and Ohoy Swim.

A sustainable swimming brand?!

Lucy: Yes, in a way it’s exciting that brands producing innovative outdoor gear have gotten there before most of fast fashion brands. Because it goes to show that we have the technology to translate sustainable ideas into mainstream fashion. There’s even a plant-based material to make wetsuits, which completely replaces petroleum-based neoprene.

That’s great to know. I love surfing. I can see how clothes renting would work for a lot of travellers. Although I often pledge to travel light, it can be really hard. But travelling with heavy luggage is a nightmare! Renting clothes would make life easier.

Lucy: Exactly. That will reduce your wardrobe to a few key items, and you can pick up the rest on the other end!

Jen: Also, that will make a massive change on your personal carbon footprint. When it comes to flights, for instance, packing lighter decreases fuel consumption and lessens the environmental impact of the whole journey.

What does the near future hold for Loanhood? How are you going to engage the crowds who are not necessarily into the sustainable thing …yet?

Jen: We’re going to make it really cool and fashionable! It’s gonna be so cool they are going to want to be renting/hiring out clothes all the time. Our intention is to make it a really cool, fun experience and people are going to love it. Look at Depop, for instance. They don’t talk about the fact that sustainability is at the heart of what they do – they frame as a cool and fun side-hustle. Our task is not to guilt-trip people, but to prevent new ideas that will ultimately aid behavioural change on a larger scale.

Lucy: Our rental platform will be launching in May. In the meantime, anyone interested can come to check us out on the 25th of April at Hackney Council.

Wanna learn more about alternative ways to do fashion? We have two exciting weekends coming up here at The Boiler House! We’re launching our Sustainable Fashion Event, “Let’s Slow Down”… two whole weeksends of the best eco-fashion traders in town! In addition, panel talks and influencers sharing their sustainable journeys, and practical, fun workshops to learn new ways of making our wardrobes sustainable!

Book your tickets for Weekend 1 and Weekend 2.

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