The ever-growing rental market allows customers to experiment with styles, discover new brands and extend the lifespan of a garment, without having to create waste.
TheIndustry.fashion speaks to Georgie Hyatt, co-founder of womenswear rental service Rotaro. We speak about the last couple of years in business, dedication to sustainability, stock selection, and the impact of COVID-19 on the rental market.
Tell us a bit about yourself?
I was previously in the consulting team at WGSN, the global authority on trend forecasting. I worked closely with brands, from luxury through to fast-fashion, helping them understand their customer shifts, move into new markets, develop new products and implement trends. I hadn’t always planned on working in fashion, despite fashion being a way for me to express myself creatively throughout my life.
When I moved to London from South Africa after studying psychology, business and marketing, and discovered WGSN, I was enthralled by understanding and forecasting consumer shifts and behaviours and the psychology behind why we behave like we do and how that translates into fashion.
If we start at the beginning of the business – How was Rotaro founded? Had sustainability and the rental market always been something you’d been aware of?
At my previous company, we had been tracking the circular fashion economy for some time, and as I was working closely with a few fast-fashion brands I began to experience a sense of cognitive dissonance, where I was increasingly interested in alternative fashion solutions, whilst simultaneously working on trends. Providing an alternative to once-off fashion consumption was the driving force behind Rotaro. Consuming fashion more mindfully is a core pillar of Rotaro and is echoed in everything we do.
A criticism of fashion rental is that it creates a large carbon-footprint per garment, so we have factored this into our business model. Our delivery is carbon-neutral, our packaging is biodegradable and recycled and our laundry system uses Ozone, a naturally occurring gas to clean products that is eco-friendly and cleans garments to a medical-grade. We have also launched an exclusive resale platform on Depop, so that we ensure our garments find a “forever home” after their rental life.
I initially founded Rotaro with my partner Charlie Knowles, an entrepreneur, and since then we have a brilliant third co-founder, Brooke Andrews, who was previously at Conde Nast and has also founded and sold a tech company, so we’re lucky to have a core team with a very complementary skill set.
From the initial idea, to the business fully operating – how was that journey? It must have taken quite some time to build up an inventory.
It took about 6 months from inception to have enough inventory to go to market. As soon as we agreed to go ahead with Rotaro, we began establishing relationships with brands to be their rental platform, developing the website and branding and building our online community. We are constantly learning and staying agile to navigate these uncertain times, it has been such an exciting ride thus far!
With such a variety of amazing brands on the market, how do you choose which ones to offer on the platform?
We stock brands that have something different to offer, full of personality and beautifully made. Our cult brands are within the mid-luxury sector, with a retail value of £100-£1200. A lot of of our brands are Scandinavian, as they are pioneers in design and sustainability.
I love that Copenhagen Fashion Week has introduced these new sustainable measures that every brand showing has to meet, hopefully the other Fashion Weeks follow suit!
Sustainability! The key word on everyone’s lips!
What does Rotaro do to help create a sustainable tomorrow in the fashion industry?
“If everyone wore a pre-loved outfit to a wedding next year, the carbon emissions saved would be the equivalent of taking 56 million cars off the road for a day” – this is one of my favourite, hard-hitting facts, from The Useless Project, it shows that if each one of us make more mindful fashion decisions we can all make a difference together.
Rotaro contributes by providing a platform for people to rent their fashion rather than buying and creating waste. We extend the lifespan of these garments and ensure the process is carbon-neutral. This process creates a lighter footprint on the the planet whilst still experimenting with fashion.
Do you have a roadmap for where you want the company to be in 5 years in terms of sustainability?
In 5 years time I would like to see break the habit of buying clothes for a couple of wears extinct. I want Rotaro to have helped change consumer behaviour. When someone wants to inject newness into their wardrobe, they think of rental first. As a side effect, customers will buy more mindfully and purchase pieces to wear again and again.
We also want to ensure the brands we work with have sustainable measures and an eco-friendly supply chain. Rotaro will consistently stay ahead of the curve in terms of new delivery methods, progressive ways of cleaning and sustainable measures at our disposal.
How has COVID-19 impacted the business?
We initially saw a dip in rentals but as the world opened up from June, we have seen a 25% increase in rentals, higher than before COVID-19. We believe this is because people have had a chance to slow down and reassess their relationship with fashion and ownership.
With less disposable income consumers are making calculated shopping decisions. We still have people renting occasion wear and that is because people are making the most out of smaller moments, micro-celebrations we like to call them, whether it is a friends birthday or a fun dinner, party dresses are still renting well. Simultaneously we are seeing a rise in our casual wear where our community is renting for weekend activities with friends. The desire to feel confident and look great is still alive and well.
If someone rents an item from you and LOVES IT – is there a way for them to purchase?
Absolutely. Our resale platform on Depop is where you can find our pre-loved pieces at a discounted rate. If you absolutely love a piece you have out, we also take sale requests, so don’t hesitate to ask!
And finally – the future! What’s next for Rotaro, if anything?
Rotaro will continue to create great brand partnerships, close customer connections and curate a beautiful collection. We are combining the feeling of a luxury e-commerce platform and authentic collaborations through elevated aesthetics and storytelling to grow the Rotaro community. Stay tuned!