The renting economy is not as sustainable as we believed it to be

Sustainability has been a recent trend in fashion and consumption that seems like it’s here to stay.

As pro-planet geeks here, we don’t disagree with this trend. Anything progress companies take towards environmentally-friendly practices, regardless of the motive, seems like a step in the right direction.

The issue becomes when there is so much information circulating about what “sustainable consumption” really is and what “eco-friendly” actually means. Is it sustainable materials? Is it lowering our carbon emissions? Is it manufacturing with less water or fewer toxic chemical pollutants? Is it buying used instead of buying new? Suffice it to say, there are a lot of questions that are enough to confuse any well-intentioned consumer.

To add to that confusion, a recent research study published in the Environmental Research Letters found that renting clothing may not actually be the sustainable darling we all believed it to be. Brands like ThredUp and Rent-the-Runway were pioneers in this space and were touted as the most sustainable form of shopping for the latest trends, but the study found that this may not actually be the case.

The study analyzed the lifecycle of a single pair of jeans and compared it against different consumption models:

  1. Base - Buying new and disposing of jeans in landfills
  2. Reduce - Buying fewer new items
  3. Reuse - Buying new and re-selling
  4. Recycle - Buying new and transforming the garment into new materials
  5. Renting - Sharing and swapping existing garments

The study made assumptions about the number of times a single pair of jeans was worn and analyzed the overall global warming impact of each of the consumption models by calculating the greenhouse gas emissions in different areas of the supply chain from manufacturing to delivery to end of use process of handling the garment.

The study found that the sharing economy (or renting clothes) had the highest global warming impact and was the scenario that had the largest carbon footprint. This was driven by the number of times the garment was transported between customers and the warehouse facilities that inventory the garment. The scenario which had the least global warming impact and considered to be the most sustainable form of shopping was...buying less and wearing them for as long as possible (not much of a shocker).

We’re not here to accost the consumer for trying to make smart, environmentally friendly choices. Instead, we’re here to explain how we fit into this scheme.

Cubbiekit embraces the “Reduce” and “Recycle” consumption models. How?

  • Cubbiekit offers a capsule collection of essentials in timeless colors, made for daily use, encouraging buying fewer, better basics. We believe Cubbiekit to be your go-to pieces that you grab out of your drawer everyday. (Reduce)

  • Cubbiekit manufactures with GOTS certified organic cotton, which certifies it was manufactured with ethical and environmentally-friendly practices, organic chemicals that won’t pollute the ecosystem and fewer carbon emissions. Cotton itself is a natural material and will biodegrade safely over time and quickly, unlike synthetic fabrics. This means that should a Cubbiekit garment ever end up in a landfill (we hope not), it will decompose eventually within a year.

  • When parents send back their Cubbiekit, we ship it only once more after we receive it to be donated or upcycled into new Cubbiekit clothing. This is where we differ with baby clothing rental services. Instead of shipping Cubbiekits over and over again and swapping out between customers, we collect it to be turned into recycled cotton. This is the same cotton we use to manufacture certain styles of new Cubbiekit clothing. We work with our factory to make this a reality. We acknowledge that there is room for improvement in this process because the amount of energy required to operate recycled cotton machinery isn’t a small amount. However, we do see it as a sustainable method of manufacturing because it eliminates the need to grow and harvest more cotton. (Recycle)


Source: Environmental Research Letters, 2021, via Fast Company

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