As I approach the final year of my PhD, I highlight some of the current findings to emerge from data analysis. Such findings are tentative, and themes discussed below are subject to develop/change.  

The fashion industry is one of the largest contributors to climate change, posing a significant threat to both the planet and society. Notorious for overconsumption and waste, action is urgently required to alter the way in which the industry operates. The Circular Economy has been offered as an effective paradigm for industries to adopt, harnessing a circular supply chain (as opposed to linear) to reduce waste output and maximise product life. With this considered, my research seeks to explore the circular business model ’renting’, which presents a sustainable alternative to consuming fashion.  

Renting (unlike ownership) can offer consumers the opportunity to experiment with fashion, exploring different brands and styles, without the high price tag and burden of ownership. However, for renting to gain traction within the industry, it firstly needs to be understood. And so, harnessing an exploratory approach, this research follows a qualitative methodology to capture the lived experiences of female, fashion-conscious consumers. To gather the data, I have conducted 24 in-depth interviews with participants who have rented fashion – three of which formed a small-scale pilot study. All interviews were conducted via Microsoft Teams and each participant was awarded a £20 gift voucher.  

To analyse the data, I am employing the six-phase method – Thematic Analysis. It is already clear from the early analysis that renting does inform the self-concept, yet not in the way that was expected (i.e. that consumers may ‘hide’ the fact that they rent fashion items, due to the ‘stigma’ of wearing an item worn by another person/stigma of lacking funds to own items outright). Rather, what has emerged is that renting contributes to an individual’s self-concept through a sense of advocacy, with consumers revealing their desire to act as ambassadors of rental fashion – influencing others to rent and actively promoting the phenomena.  

“…for me it’s [renting] really good because I want to promote sustainability and the more I do that, the more I feel like it’s boosting my own sense of self purpose”  

At this point, based on tentative data analysis and initial thoughts across all of the interviews, the three significant themes identified are: (1) advocating; (2) treating; and (3) surrogacy.   

  1. Advocating/promoting/influencing others to rent is as important as actually renting (renting forms the self-concept through advocacy/ambassadorship of this form of access-based consumption); 
  2. Renting is often used to treat oneself (renting forms the self-concept through feeling intrinsically ‘superior’)  
  3. ‘Surrogate consumers’ whereby consumers feel ‘protective’ of rented items, caring for them more than owned items, knowing that they must protect its condition before returning it to the legal owner.  

In addition to those noted above, some further (potential) themes are beginning to emerge. These are listed below as a continuation of themes: 

  1. Consumers do not feel ‘attached’ to rented items in the same way they do for owned items (rented items are purposely selected as something a consumer would not ‘typically’ want to own, e.g., extravagant dress) – rather, they enter the rental process knowing they would not want to own the item and only wish to wear it once; 
  2. Rental needs to be ‘luxury’ (higher cost and higher quality) to align with the idea of ‘treating oneself’ (if clothes were lower priced, consumers believe they may feel greater attachment as they would ‘typically’ be able to afford that item and it wouldn’t feel as esteemed); 
  3. Consumers aspire to look/feel the same way as a micro-influencer/celebrity that is styling a rented piece/outfit and wished to have the same ‘look’ (i.e., ‘rent the look’ of Bella Hadid, Ellie Goulding, Stacey Dooley, Laura Whitmore).   

A final remark to make at this stage is the (higher-level) theme that represents consumers not feeling ‘attached’ to rented items. For example, one participant says, “It’s not mine, but it’s okay”, and another says, “that bag is not something I want in my wardrobe, it is not something I want or need and that is why I rented it”, contradicting previous research that suggests consumers foster a temporary extended self when accessing fashion. This is an interesting inconsistency considering that the current data speaks to the notion that consumers purposely choose rented fashion items that are vastly different to their self-identity. Further analysis will allow for greater generation of themes and refinement (or omittance) of any existing themes presented at this stage.  

This research has implications for theory, practice, and policy. From a theoretical perspective, this research aims to enhance the theory of Liquid and Solid consumption, and access versus ownership, in addition to the self-concept and extended self. Moreover, it seeks to offer practical insight to marketing practitioners, by offering potential insight to effectively target consumers and promote the circular business model of ‘renting’ goods. Finally, charities and foundations, such as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and Textile WRAP can utilise the research findings to action change and help inform policy.  

Amy received a Research Support Award to help her conduct her focus groups and studies. Find out more about the Research Support Award in the Funding section of Moodle.

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