Inside the rental fashion world – from items going missing to celebrity clients

With many shoppers reviewing their spending habits as a result of Covid, rental fashion has become one of the trendiest ways to shop – and its popularity is rising. Even celebrities with high disposable incomes have jumped on the borrowing bandwagon – Carrie Johnson opted for a rental wedding dress for her big day, and Holly Willoughby has been known to rent some of her looks for This Morning.

Now, with soaring inflation it seems rental fashion could prove even more popular for shoppers watching their pennies.

Here, we speak to Front Row founder Shika Bodani about the inspiration behind her shopping service, her new collaboration with Fenwick and her celebrity clientele…

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Hi, Shika! What inspired you to launch your fashion rental service, Front Row?

I was working in finance. It sounds really ridiculous to say, but I was inspired by Suits. I saw that Meghan Markle’s character had the most incredible work wardrobe – Victoria Beckham dresses, Roland Mouret – so I went on a shopping spree and bought some of them. I soon realised how unsustainable it is to keep that up, which motivated me to start a clothes swap idea. I piloted the concept to friends and family with my own wardrobe, so it was only about 30 pieces. It started as a passion, eventually evolving into the rental platform it is today.

What do you think about fast fashion?

I’ll be honest, pre-Covid I used to shop at Zara, Topshop and son on, just because I wasn’t as aware of the impact it had on the environment. I think Covid gave rise to the conscious consumer and it really opened people’s eyes. I’m definitely more conscious now and I try to rent from my lenders through Front Row or other rental platforms wherever possible.

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What are your top tips for readers looking to rent an outfit this summer?

I would say think outside the box. The rental model is built so you can experiment and come into contact with brands you’ve not had access to previously. At Front Row we are very focused on our curation. So we have brands like Elie Saab and Ralph & Russo that you won’t find on other platforms. I think you just need to have a little bit of fun – you’re not committing to buying.

Do you have other ideas on how readers can be savvy with their wardrobes?

We are a rental platform but people can also monetise their wardrobe by lending through us. So we effectively draw on people’s existing wardrobes. A lot of our lenders have items they’ve worn once
or twice, just sitting in their cupboards collecting dust. It’s a shame to see those pieces go to waste so I would recommend signing up as a lender. We do have a sale section on the website as well, so people can list their pieces to rent, sell or both.

We’ve seen celebrities embracing rental services. Do you think that’s helped make fashion rental more acceptable?

Celebrity support is fantastic because it’s caused people to sit up and pay attention. Rental is being talked about everywhere now. However, we’re still only tapping into a really small segment of the market so there are still many customers to convert.

Do you have any famous customers?

We have dressed all of the Little Mix girls and Holly Willoughby. Funnily enough, when Kate Middleton wore that Roland Mouret gown to the Top Gun premiere, we actually had a client rent that piece
from us for the same event. The client who rented it wants to remain discreet about it. She wore the original version with the lace panel at the back.

Would you love to dress the Duchess of Cambridge then?

Oh, absolutely. It’s the Kate effect. She’s just so fabulous. Watch this space. I honestly think she will jump on the rental bandwagon. Rental is cool now and it’s great because we’ve all created this movement towards it.

Tell us about your latest collaboration with Fenwick and the in-store experience…

We thought it was really important to have a physical space where people could come in to try items on. Ideally we want people to use it as a rotating wardrobe or for last-minute rentals, or to come in and plan things in advance for later in their social calendar. We’re popping up in London’s Bond Street for three months and in Newcastle. It’s a very different edit in both locations. We’re really excited about Newcastle because we want to develop our customer base there. There’ll be lots
of party pieces and gorgeous Saint Laurent couture pieces as well.

Have you ever had anything returned badly damaged or not returned at all?

In the first eight months, unfortunately some items just weren’t returned. I’m glad that happened because it was a really important learning curve. We need to create a trusted community of lenders and renters. A lot of our customers are mindful of the fact that they’re wearing something that doesn’t belong to them. They’re effectively purchasing experiences in fashion, so they’re extra careful.

Let’s talk about Love Island . For the first time they’ve ditched fast fashion in favour of pre-loved fashion partner eBay. Was that a positive move?

Absolutely. I’m a big fan of Love Island. I think it’s an important step. It has a lot of influence, so I think it’s going to have a positive impact. I’d love to see them partner with a rental player at some point.

How can fashion be more sustainable?

We’re stepping in the right direction but some designers need to catch up. During Covid there were so many pieces being manufactured that went to waste because people weren’t shopping. I’d love to see designers stop producing so much. Some are producing up to eight collections a year and we definitely don’t need that.

What’s next for Front Row?

There are some exciting things in the pipeline. We’re fundraising at the moment. We’ve got a really exciting event coming up during London Fashion Week, rolling out our app and looking to expand globally – so watch this space.

For more information on how to hire your next luxury look, visit ALTERNATIVELY, pop into the Fenwick Bond Street or Newcastle stores now to browse the Front Row x Fenwick edit


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