Urban Outfitters is launching a clothing rental subscription service called Nuuly, the company announced Tuesday.
Open to subscribers later this summer, Nuuly will cost $88 a month and allow customers to pick six items — up to a combined value of $800 — to rent, wear, and return. Renters also have the option of buying items they end up liking, though the release doesn’t specify if they’ll be discounted.
According to a press release, Nully will stock 1,000 different clothing items at launch, adding 100 new items per week through the end of the year. The catalog will include Urban Outfitters’ many in-house brands and items from Anthropologie and Free People (which are owned by UO Inc.), as well as some of the streetwear and denim brands that Urban Outfitters already has partnerships with, including Reebok, Fila, Champion, Levi’s, Wrangler, and Citizens of Humanity. There will also be a “curated selection” of “rare vintage” and an assortment of designer labels, including Universal Standard and Anna Sui.
Like most brick-and-mortar retail, physical Urban Outfitter stores have been struggling — foot traffic has been declining for several years, in part because younger shoppers are shifting their attention away from the legacy cool-kid brand (founded in 1970) and in part because they’ve shifted focus to resale apps, Instagram shopping, and other digital retail options. The company’s online store was an early adopter of the sort of dubious Afterpay installment payment plug-in, which has been compared to the department store layaway system of yore and criticized as yet another way for people to go into debt.
The press release describes Nuuly as a solution to “the paradox of a millennial’s quest for constant fashion newness alongside the desire for a more sustainable lifestyle,” and emphasizes the rental model’s potential to ameliorate fashion’s (still not very clear) environmental impact.
Whether or not Urban Outfitters — or its customers — are really that worried about whether shirts are killing the planet, a shift toward rental is a pretty logical one for the company.
Rent the Runway, the designer gown rental service founded in 2009, hit a billion-dollar valuation in March and has spent the past several years expanding into other types of clothing and accessories including kids’ lines and West Elm bedding. Imitators have popped up all over the fashion and home industries; some recent examples include FastPass (Rent the Runway for fast fashion, used primarily by Instagram influencers) and Tulerie (Rent the Runway but peer-to-peer, pulling clothes from other people’s closets). Ikea even launched a furniture rental service earlier this year.
Urban Outfitters’ new venture — if it succeeds — will represent an even more thorough mainstreaming of the idea that we don’t actually want or need to own anything. It’s one thing to borrow a sofa for a sublet or half a dozen cocktail dresses for a wedding-packed summer, but when even your cheap cotton crop-tops and mid-range distressed denim are only temporarily yours, it’ll look a lot simpler not to keep much at all.
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