In 2019 My Wardrobe HQ (MWHQ) launched as Britain’s first fashion rental marketplace. Estimates show that unused clothing in wardrobes is worth around £30 billion, while £140 million worth of clothing goes into landfill each year. MWHQ aims to provide the fashion industry with a circular economy to stop this waste, extending a garment’s life by up to 15 times. Prolonging the life cycle of one person’s clothes by nine months reduces their environmental impact by up to 30 per cent. MWHQ now offers over 500 brands for resale or rent, an online rental with Harrods and a pop-up with Bicester Village.
Five years ago, Sacha Newall (pictured above) was working in commercial media marketing when she embarked on a project researching self-drive cars. It galvanised her into a change of direction. ‘The Uber generation isn’t driving any longer, and the industry will be transformed as cars go electric and self-driven,’ she says. ‘For every car shared, 15 come off the road. I started thinking how the concept of car-pooling could apply to fashion.’
What cemented her resolve was a 2019 paper by the government’s Environmental Audit Committee on the impact of fast fashion on climate. ‘Solutions seemed to be limited to us all wearing one dress as a uniform until it wears out,’ says Sacha. ‘But that would remove all the fun, fashion and choice from our lives. Besides, can we really close Pandora’s box? I couldn’t see us changing enough to accommodate such a radical suggestion. It got me thinking.’
To Sacha, the logic in renting rather than buying is irrefutable: ‘Seven thousand eight hundred litres of water are used to make every pair of jeans. Sell 20 pairs and squander 156,000 litres. Rent the same pair out 20 times and the worst-case scenario is using 9,000 litres.’* She says brands only stand to gain from the huge rental and resale opportunities: ‘A truly sustainable brand has to do more than just do good and benefit everyone.’
In November 2019 Sacha teamed up with Tina Lake and started MWHQ. Within two months it had signed up nearly 30 brands. Today, customers can source clothes from 8,000 brands and from celebrities’ wardrobes, including the Delevingne sisters. Because the company reuses rather than recycles (on the basis that recycling takes energy and resources), rented clothes are likely to arrive (albeit beautifully wrapped) in a box discarded by the next-door supermarket. MWHQ also uses innovative and environmentally safe ozone to sanitise products, alongside working with Blanc dry cleaners, known for their green credentials. It plants a tree for every rental or sale made. ‘There was recently a bogus report claiming that buying is just as sustainable as renting because of all the diesel-guzzling delivery vans,’ Sacha says, ‘but that is to miss the point entirely because we have our own electric van and only ever work with carbon neutral [delivery] services like DPD.
‘Eventually we’re going to have to look at regulation because how are you sure something hasn’t been made by enslaved child labour if it sells for £3.99?’
Sacha is upbeat about fashion’s future now that the luxury sector is leading the way: ‘High-street brands will follow when you have Alexander McQueen and Gucci working with resale outlets and showing that giving clothes an afterlife is fashionable, aspirational and luxurious. This is an extraordinarily brave move for brands that have built their reputation on rarity and exclusivity.’
*The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (unctad.org)