Business

On trend: Startup gives women a way to rent that perfect style from someone else's closet

A young Toronto entrepreneur has started a business allowing women to rent out their own clothes, aiming to help reduce the environmental damage of fast fashion while also empowering them to save money though renting and to profit in lending out their own garments to others.

Reheart lets women rent out their clothing, helping fashionistas make money and cut their carbon footprint

Reheart founder Vasiliki Belegrinis hopes her company can become an ‘AirBnB of fashion’ that will help women buy fewer clothes and reduce the impact of clothing production. (Tina Mackenzie/CBC)

Lending each other clothes is something women have been doing for a long time. 

A young Toronto entrepreneur believes she can build a business around that tradition, adding a new twist that will try to help save the planet.  

"I thought, I have a great closet, I know my friend has a great closet and everyone around me does," said Vasiliki Belegrinis, the founder of Reheart. "We already share our clothes, but now we are just formalizing it."  

Actually, "just formalizing" clothes swapping among friends is only a small part of what the 22-year-old entrepreneur is hoping to accomplish.

In trying to become the "AirBnB of fashion," Belegrinis said she is hoping her customers can do good, feel good and look good all at once.  

The company fits right into the emerging clothing rental trend and is one of a few online businesses in Canada facilitating rental exchanges between individuals. Through Reheart, users can list clothes for rent for up to 50 per cent of the profits, and peruse its online catalogue for items they might wish to rent themselves.

The aim is to help reduce the environmental damage of fast fashion by getting women to purchase less clothing overall, while at the same time empowering them to save money through renting and to profit off lending out their own garments to others. 

Reheart is tapping into a huge potential inventory.  

Business analysts report clothing production has doubled since 2000 and in 2014 topped 100 billion garments a year for the first time. In context, that means almost 14 new pieces of clothing for every person on the planet. 

Inventory expected to grow 

Reheart is launching with about 2,500 registered users and an inventory of more than 1,200 items that Belegrinis estimates have a total retail value of more than $500,000.

She expects that inventory to grow quickly. According to Greenpeace, 40 per cent of the clothes people own in developed countries is barely used or never worn.

Currently the company accepts high quality, gently used items, including dresses, gowns, blazers, skirts, shirts, coats, bags and accessories.  

Emily Anas peeks out from behind a small pile of the 1,200 garments the company has available for rental. (Tina Mackenzie/CBC)

Reheart has found Items that are less than one year old and cost $300 at full retail price do best,

Lenders send their rental items to Toronto for storage and Reheart handles all shipping and cleaning logistics because Belegrinis said the business is too time-sensitive to rely on direct peer-to-peer transactions.   

GTA customer base  

Most of Reheart's customer base is in the Greater Toronto Area and from ages 20 to 35. New users have signed on from Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver and the company ships across Canada. 

"It didn't feel weird" signing up to lend clothes to Reheart, said Risham Najeeb, a 22-year-old account executive who works in Mississauga.

"I was more ... like, 'Wow, why hasn't someone done this before?' "

Najeeb plans to lend out several outfits to Reheart later this summer, but has already listed an expensive Kate Spade purse. 

The first item Risham Najeeb gave to Reheart to rent was the Kate Spade purse she's holding, which is worth more than $500. (Risham Najeeb)
 

Initially she worried about her things being abused by renters, but Reheart says it protects lenders, repairs damaged items and charges customers who fail to return items with the full cost of replacing them.  

Najeeb was not getting much use out of her $500 purse, which is listed at $45 for a four-day rental and was popular during Reheart's test pilot phase.          

Najeeb said lending is about more than making money.  

"I do personally also believe in just the message and the meaning behind this platform, which is to reduce waste from fast fashion and just kind of make our habits in terms of fashion more sustainable."

Renters can have items for four, 10 or 30 days. 

A short-term deal is often what Roxanne Bilski is after. The Toronto model has a busy social and work calendar.  

She's worn rental outfits to more than 10 occasions in the past year. One of those outfits included a used gown for the Miss World Canada pageant.  

Toronto model Roxanne Bilski rented a used gown for a beauty pageant. (Miss World Canada)

A new dress for the preliminary competition could have cost her $1,500 or more. Instead, she paid $80 and felt good about reusing a dress. Sending the dress back came with an added bonus.

"I live in small downtown condo. I don't have the closet space."  

Global clothing crisis inspired entrepreneur  

When it comes to creating clothing, business is booming. Experts say clothing production has become a $2.4-trillion-a-year industry — up from $1 trillion a year less than two decades ago.  

One study reports that less than one per cent of material used to produce clothing is recycled into new clothing, with a truckload of clothes being dumped into a landfill every second.  

Numbers like these shocked Belegrinis when she watched a documentary about the industry called The True Cost in 2016.  

Then a business student deeply interested in social enterprise, Belegrinis decided to sell underused items in her closet that weren't appropriate to give to charity.  

In early 2017, she began listing items on Facebook, Kijiji and the Letgo app. The effort failed. "I had the worst experiences dealing with resale apps," said Belegrinis. She also found customers were unreliable and were looking for unreasonably low prices. 

Belegrinis and two staff members look over some of Reheart's rental inventory. (Tina Mackenzie/CBC)

Later that year, she hatched the idea for her business, inspired both by the success of Rent the Runway and an American peer-to-peer used clothing rental business called Style Lend, which started in 2013 and claims to be generating revenue from more than 50,000 users.    

Recently, Reheart took over another Toronto clothing rental startup called Boro, whose founders were giving up the business. Belegrinis hopes that merger will help her business reach a point that it could sustain itself within six months. 

Turning property into profit   

Clothing rentals are another example of how the sharing economy allows people to turn their property into profit.   

Brands like AirBnB, VRBO, Uber, Lyft, Turo and Getaround are the big names in the sharing world but there's peer-to-peer bike rental, boat rental and RV rental, as well as several apps for parking spots.

But it's not all sunshine and roses. Sharing economy businesses can have negative impacts. 

Prof. Ming Hu of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto likes the Reheart idea, but worries about how sustainable the clothing rental model is overall. His concern is that manufacturers and retailers offering consumers tempting deals on new clothes for rent will mean that a large volume of clothing is still being produced. 

"As a result," said Hu,"there could be more clothes out there circulating in the society."   

Hu points to complaints about AirBnB and VRBO reducing the supply of long-term rental housing and studies showing Uber and Lyft increase traffic congestion as other examples of unwelcome outcomes from the sharing economy.

Belegrinis believes sharing clothes will work out. 

"A lot of who we're targeting, they just don't like to buy anymore," she said. "And I think that even as the incoming generations also come into place, they'll put even more emphasis on sustainability." 

About the Author

James Dunne

Producer, CBC News Business

James Dunne researches, produces and writes stories for the business unit at CBC News. He has a decade of experience in business programming, including on the shows Venture and Fortune Hunters. An award-winning videojournalist, he's also worked on special projects and as the late lineup editor for the World at Six on CBC Radio One.