With the successful launch of Rent the Runway in 2009, there have been many variations of fashion-on-demand rental services. Le Tote and Stitch Fix send subscription boxes, Tulerie offers rental clothes for those looking for something more exotic and Gwynnie Bee focuses on workwear.
And in some sense, the recently launched FashionPass looks an awful lot like other clothing rental services out there. Users subscribe and have the option to change up their looks as often as they want, care of the “community closet” FashionPass offers. But what sets the company apart isn’t what it sells, but who it sells to.
FashionPass isn’t just for the average clothing customer working with a limited budget and looking for a higher-quality or more sustainable rental option than fast fashion. Instead, the brand directly addresses influencers and those aiming to become influencers, whose livelihood literally depends on how well they can outfit themselves.
Interestingly, the audience was an evolution for the brand. According to Founder Brittany Johnson, the initial idea was to create a fashion rental firm, a la Rent the Runway, but one that was more relevant to her shopping needs and the needs of those around her. As a college student, Johnson was dressing for house parties and tailgates, and a lot of what was on offer at Rent the Runway wasn’t actually meeting those needs.
“I didn’t like their product offering, I didn’t like the way they talked to their customers, because it didn’t feel like a friendship – it felt more like this big company that you’re borrowing from,” she noted.
Johnson was looking for a more personal and relevant experience, and FashionPass evolved from that concept. The fashion rental firm offers three tiers of service: Socialite for $79 a month, which offers two articles of clothing and one accessory at a time; Trendsetter for $109 a month, which offers three articles of clothing and two accessories for simultaneous rental; and Wanderlust for $139 a month, which offers four articles of clothing and three accessories.
For any plan, users can swap out articles of clothing as often as they wish. Structurally, it is similar to Rent the Runway’s Unlimited offering, but the goods are notably different and far more oriented to fast fashion. The fast fashion comes from more upscale brands – think Free People and For Love & Lemons – but are still a fair distance from designer-level.
“It’s hard to constantly have new looks for interviews, events and photo shoots,” wrote Kendall Long, who appeared on the 22nd season of “The Bachelor” and the fifth season of “Bachelor in Paradise,” in an email to Vox on why she began using the service. “I try not to wear the same thing more than once or twice, maybe because everyone else always seems to know fashion so well and have new looks!”
And while most of FashionPass’ clients are not Bachelor contestants, they do have a certain demographic similarity. According to Johnson, their average customer is between the ages of 24 and 32 and is an avid social media user, particularly Instagram.
“She’s going through all these big life changes, whether it’s getting married or having friends who are getting married. She’s going to weddings,” she said. “She’s also having lots of fun and posting everywhere on Instagram all the time.”
And in Johnson’s opinion, Instagram is the force that is driving the booming fashion rental economy. It creates an incentive for influencers, of course, since building a following often means projecting a lifestyle, whether or not one is actually living it. In the past, that has led some influencers, like Lissette Calveiro, to rack up some pretty significant debts in pursuit of building an audience. As Calveiro told the New York Post at the time, clothing was among her major expenses, as she worked hard not to repeat outfits.
“At the time , ‘influencer’ wasn’t a thing, but I was trying to create this online persona,” Calveiro said. “It’s not that I was into expensive stuff – I’m not a designer kind of girl – but I spent a lot [of money] online shopping. I would spend frequently and wouldn’t really keep up with how much, and I was also traveling a lot.”
Those costs add up, and a rental service can offset that. Moreover, Johnson noted, what influencers do trickles down to micro-influencers (those with fewer than 100,000 social media followers) and everyday people looking to keep up with the digital trends.
“I think it is 100 percent because of Instagram,” Johnson said, “because you’re following so many of these girls who work day and night on their aesthetics, on their feed, and it bleeds over into your average girl. She definitely picks up on some of that. Every photo she’s posting, she’s thinking, ‘Is this Instagram-worthy? Does this look good in my feed? Am I showcasing my outfit in the best light?’”