As formal events and social outings slowly return to Newcastle, demands for designer dress hire have skyrocketed, signalling the community’s desire for a more affordable and environmentally sustainable fashion alternative.
“Dress hire is becoming popular as more women realise buying a dress which they will only wear once is wild,” Taya Calder-Mason said, owner of Goldie’s Dress Hire.
“COVID-19 has also helped with the growth because we now have events to get dressed up for!
“I feel like a lot of our clientele love that ‘new dress feeling’ without being slapped with a $600 bill.”
The Hamilton-based hire business has a simple rental process.
Calder-Mason said Hunter residents offer their designer pieces for rent to the public, which are stored and marketed at Goldie’s HQ.
Each time the dress is hired, owners will receive a percentage commission of the hire price.
Depending on the retail price, style and designer, owners can receive up to a 30 per cent commission, sometimes more.
The outfit is worn, returned and then the cycle begins again.
Calder-Mason said outfit hiring was becoming the industry norm and addressed growing concerns about the negative impacts of fast fashion.
“There has been such a fantastic shift in the fashion industry in recent years,” she said.
“Hiring used to be slapped with a bad label, meaning you simply couldn’t afford a designer piece, however, it now embodies a whole new meaning.
“Women recognise they no longer need to spend hundreds of dollars on an outfit they will only wear once.”
Calder-Mason’s business is home to over 600 designer pieces, including high-end designer handbags and outfits ranging from sizes four to 16.
She said outfit hiring gave people the opportunity to be more courageous in their fashion choices.
“A lot of women are happier to be much more adventurous when hiring,” Calder-Mason said.
“Women who felt more safe wearing black are now interested in a pop of colour or a floral pattern.
“Removing the commitment to a long-term investment piece means that you can have a more spontaneous fashion moment.”
21-year-old outfit hirer, Mia Kierath, said she often hired formalwear pieces as opposed to buying them, as it allowed her to access fashion she would otherwise consider unattainable.
“Outfit hire means I no longer have to fork out money to buy a nice dress for more formal events, where afterwards they sit in my wardrobe redundantly,” she said.
While Newcastle-based fashion designer, Laura Howard, doesn’t personally participate in outfit hiring, she nevertheless supports its rise in popularity.
Howard’s minimalist brand SAINT, created in 2020, was the product of personal motivations to move away from trends and offer classic pieces that consumers would “hold onto for years”.
As a sustainability advocate, Howard said the dress hire concept was positive.
“In a general sense, I think outfit hire is amazing,” she said.
“We should be sharing resources and passing things around to give them as much life as possible.”
However, some designers have opposed the practice, as they find it increasingly harder to ignore the fact that the outfit hiring model capitalises on the futures of their labels and the retail firms that support them.
In 2020, Melbourne designer, Effie Kats, branded the model “unfair” and said the practice profited off potential designer income.
However, Howard said she held no concern for the impact on her sales.
“My customer would be someone who collects pieces for their personal wardrobe that they would have for years to come – that’s the whole idea,” Howard said.
“I don’t necessarily think the rental market for clothing will have an impact on small independent brands, even those who are trend-driven.
“It will be the pieces by the bigger brands who also have a larger environmental impact.”
Howard said that buying and hiring better quality pieces was a more sustainable choice instead of opting for fast fashion pieces that had reduced wear longevity.
A report by the Australasian Circular Textile Association (ACTA) for the NSW Environment Protection Authority found that in 2020, of almost 305,000 tonnes of textiles discarded in NSW only 800 tonnes were recycled.
About 240,000 tonnes were sent to landfills, with the remaining 62,000 tonnes sent overseas by charities for reuse.
While the figures included household items such as bed linen, curtains and furnishings, clothing contributed significantly.
Howard said the importance of sustainable design and practice was intrinsic to her own personal wardrobe and brand outlook.
“I wouldn’t personally hire out a dress, outfit or accessory purely because I would rather invest my money toward pieces that I can wear again,” she said.
“That said, I think the consumer-style of a person who rents outfits is someone who either goes to a lot of events or someone who is into trends for which renting a piece versus buying one is far more sustainable.”