When she bought an “obscenely expensive” Zimmermann dress from the Australian brand’s 2020 collection, Courtney Fitzsimmons knew she’d been “irresponsible”.
“I wore it to dinner and thought, ‘Oh gosh’. The high came off, I’d spent thousands on a dress I will rarely wear,” the 32-year-old CEO of a finance company says. “I’m a single mum of four kids – that [dress] could have paid half a term of school fees. I couldn’t return it, and I loved it too much to resell it.”
Courtney Fitzsimmons makes more than $2500 a week from renting her collection of 300 dresses.Credit:Edwina Pickles
So, like a growing number of regular fashion lovers, Fitzsimmons, who runs a finance company, decided to rent the $3000 dress on peer-to-peer platform The Volte. Within three weeks of listing the dress, at $325 a pop, she’d made back her money.
Less than a year after her first rental, Fitzsimmons’ collection had grown from 10 dresses to more than 300, including a $695 current-season Alemais dress that has already made $3000. She has also hired an assistant to handle admin and ensure dresses are cleaned and checked before being sent to their next destination.
By now, Fitzsimmons is used to the obvious questions: how often do the dresses come back damaged? And isn’t it gross having other people wear your clothes?
To answer the first, not often. Fitzsimmons estimates a tiny number of returns require specialist cleaning or alterations to fix accidents such as a stiletto heel piercing a hem. Most rental platforms also offer borrowers insurance for as little as $5, a benefit over rentals conducted on Instagram of Facebook. And the second? “There’s an amount of pride [involved]. None of us want to send back a dress that makes us look like a slob,” she says.
Some of The Volte’s top rentals for spring racing. From left: Aje for Derby Day ($200 approx, RRP $695), Leo & Lin for Cup Day ($236, RRP $999), Zimmermann for Oaks Day ($250, RRP $1950).
As the spring racing carnival and wedding seasons combine to create a post-pandemic events boom, operators such as The Volte are hoping to add to their slice of the rental market, which is predicted to grow to $US7 billion ($11.08 billion) by 2025, according to research by Statista.
Although “traditional” rental platforms such as GlamCorner have been around for more than 10 years, peer-to-peer rentals are growing rapidly, especially now brands are getting behind rentals.
But it wasn’t always the case, says The Volte’s founder, Bernadette Olivier, who at first struggled to convince designers that rentals wouldn’t cannibalise their retail businesses.
Support for rentals … Alemais’ Lesleigh Jermanus.Credit:Eddie Jim
“What [designers] have come to recognise is that those consumers who are borrowing or buying secondhand were probably never in the market to buy it new in the first place,” Olivier says.
From this month, customers who buy from about 20 Australian brands including Rebecca Vallance and Alemais can automatically list their purchases for rent on The Volte.
Lesleigh Jermanus, designer and founder of Alemais, says supporting rentals and other sustainability initiatives to prolong the life of garments is an absolute must for any modern fashion brand.
School teacher Chelsea McHugh, who has been renting outfits for 10 years.
“I’m very interested and inspired by brands that are developing in-house rental, resale and end-of-life initiatives. However, as a young brand we don’t have the resources at this stage to provide this on our own,” she says.
School teacher Chelsea McHugh, from Frankston in Melbourne, has been a renter for 10 years but has only just started using peer-to-peer services. For a wedding last weekend, she spent $175, including postage and cleaning, on a dress that sells for $600. “I like you can contact the person directly, and you have a little relationship to the person you are hiring from as opposed to an automated website,” she says.
Fitzsimmons says after the spring racing boom, she expects demand to spike for Christmas parties, New Year’s Eve and “holiday bundles” people can pack for their summer trips.
So, is there anything in her wardrobe that’s off limits to borrowers?
“I bought a Rachel Gilbert dress I love and adore and I won’t rent it out. I’d be devastated if I didn’t have it anymore,” she says.
But watch this space. Today’s treasure may be tomorrow’s rental.
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