It’s a feeling many of us have come to know – although less might admit to it – that aligning our environmentally-conscious values with the companies we work for and brands we consume day-to-day is tough. Increasingly, young people want and expect their place of work to be taking positive action against climate change and unethical working conditions. However, the reality of finding these roles can be a very different story, especially amongst record-high unemployment rates and companies’ mysterious greenwashing practices.
When friends Lucy Hall, Jen Charon andJade McSorley started questioning their experiences in the fashion industry, they set out to make a change. “We were all passionate about sustainability,” says co-founder Lucy, “So we thought, how can we use our skills to actually do something good? That’s how we came together to create LOANHOOD.”
Launching today, the trio are sharing their solution – LOANHOOD, a community-driven rental app supporting emerging designers and users through its community-oriented platform. “We’re so excited, it’s been a long time in the making,” says Lucy. “We’ve been working on LOANHOOD for many years behind the scenes, busy making the best fashion rental app that we feel will connect with a younger crowd. There’s still a long way to go, but it’s amazing to get the app out there to as many people as possible and to start making a real impact.”
The three women have a plethora of fashion industry experience already under their belt – Lucy was a model agent, Jen Charon was a graphic designer and Jade McSorley a model – before starting their endeavours into fashion tech. Their solution came together after Jade’s studies at London College of Fashion in Fashion Futures, and LOANHOOD was formed shortly after. “The concept is such an old one, borrowing clothes from friends,” says Lucy. “When I was at university, I had a group of girls and we all shared our clothes, we would pick and choose like a clothes swap. But when we came up with the idea for rental, no one was doing it.”
When I was at university, I had a group of girls and we all shared our clothes, we would pick and choose like a clothes swap. But when we came up with the idea for rental, no one was doing it.
Having identified their gap in the market, LOANHOOD’s early years saw the trio host clothes swaps around London in order to meet and better understand their community. “People love a clothes swap. We used it as a test so we could ask and answer questions early on,” Lucy explains. “Some people initially didn’t understand clothes swaps, especially our swap, that it is not about bringing designer clothes to exchange for someone else’s. We had a lot of feedback questioning if the quality of some clothes was good enough to swap, but we didn’t want to limit what people could bring because there are many people that need it from every socio-economic background, not just people that are wealthy.”
Since 2009 and the inception of US company Rent The Runway, the fashion rental market has seen impressive year-on-year growth to an estimated market value of $3.9 billion in 2020, and is expected to double by 2025. In America and across Europe, new companies have launched competitor sites – GlamCorner (Australia), It’s Re:Leased (Sweden) and Panoply (France) – with a targeted focus on more formalwear for special occasions and designer pieces.
“The other rental platforms are doing a good job at targeting their female millennial audience,” Lucy says. “We’re much more gender-inclusive – we’re very focused on diversity and inclusion – and it’s also all about creativity and sharing.” One component of the app that encourages users to engage with their innovation and artistry is ‘Loan A Look’, where users can style two or more pieces from the app together to create custom outfits. Users can then follow one another and comment on their style, allowing them to find and form their own organic fashion tribes. “It’s what we’ve been missing in fast fashion for so long,” says Lucy. “Whether it’s Zara, H&M or whoever, there’s this mono-style that means everyone’s wearing and styling these garments the same. There’s no creativity, it’s been lost. We want to bring that back with LOANHOOD & get people to re-connect.”
Aside from the sustainable benefits that renting can bring eco-conscious Gen-Z customers, the LOANHOOD founders have discovered additional ways that the platform can have a positive impact on fashion’s future: “We’re really passionate about supporting emerging designers and recent graduates to support their career growth and provide them with the creative platform they’ve been looking for.”
Beyond education barriers, another major setback for many aspiring designers is a lack of connections to those in the industry and an inability to network or advertise in such a notoriously elitist space.
Lucy adds: “We have some LOANHOOD rails at our London-based PR agency, Rich London that we’ve filled with emerging designers from the platform. We just had a call-in for a Vogue cover shoot and we were able to send these designer’s outfits to New York, and that felt amazing! We can create these opportunities for our community of designers that wouldn’t have the money to pay for a PR agency in London or have celebrity stylists and top fashion media see their work.”
“Jen and I are both from the North East, so not from London,” Lucy adds. “We both moved here to work in fashion but you should be able to be a part of the fashion industry wherever you are, and by creating these hyper-local communities, you can have a fashion business from anywhere. It’s a key point of difference for our platform – it’s not just about supporting designer names that have been around for ages, it’s the people that are making from their bedrooms, that started out in the pandemic and who didn’t have any other option but to make. It’s like, here – use our platform to get yourself out there.”
It’s not just about supporting designer names that have been around for ages, it’s the people that are making from their bedrooms, that started out in the pandemic and who didn’t have any other option but to make. It’s like, here – use our platform to get yourself out there.
To protect rented garments, LOANHOOD works with repair company The Seam (“It’s like Uber for seamstresses!” says Lucy) and can offer rental protection of up to £50. “We would love to have insurance to cover everything, but this is a new concept, and insurance companies don’t move as quickly as we’d like them to. We’re in talks with lots of other people in the sharing economy to get this implemented so we can cover items. What we’ve learned from the other platforms who have a lot more data than we do is that as little as 4% of rented garments are actually damaged beyond repair.”
Launching the platform has meant that the trio have had to pick up new skills along the way at every stage, from social media marketing to app development. On top of that, they had to deal with a pandemic, working from different cities and halting their IRL swaps. But Lucy’s eternally-positive attitude didn’t see this as a setback: “What an amazing time to give yourself space just to think as much as possible about what you want from life and what impact you want to make. We could get granular in the business about what we wanted to do and could learn so many different skills. Obviously, we have no tech background so we built a website, then the app. It was an amazing opportunity to be able to do that despite all of the closed doors.”
This time reaffirmed that for Lucy, Jen and Jade, making change in the fashion industry is needed now more than ever. “When I worked in the fashion industry [before], you know this stuff but you don’t want to think about it. There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors, and once you’re in an echo chamber of ‘sustainability’ you think everyone knows how the industry operates but they really don’t. And if they did know more, and they had proper options like LOANHOOD, then maybe we’ll see real change. But until this point it’s been difficult because there hasn’t been an alternative. We need solutions that don’t just tell people to stop consuming, but give them alternative methods to consume fashion in a more sustainable way.”
We need solutions that don’t just tell people to stop consuming, but give them alternative methods to consume fashion in a more sustainably way.
At its core, LOANHOOD understands that what is vital to the fashion industry – and more importantly, what it’s been missing – is a sense of community, the same community that Lucy knew when she shared her clothes with her friends at university. No thanks to the lingering after-effects of the pandemic, more than three years’ worth of university students, who have worked remotely from their bedrooms, have lost this quintessential student experience that for many of us lucky ones was when we first began engaging with conscious fashion consumption.
“100 per cent, we are only as strong as our community,” affirms Lucy. “From the very beginning when we were doing the clothes swaps, we’ve been learning from our community, and have been trying to provide what they feel is missing from the fashion rental space. Especially when you think about what we as consumers do, we shop a lot and spend our disposable income, feeding into this linear system that goes to the same three fast-fashion channels up the top which are run by one guy making him billions. Whereas with Loanhood, we’re empowering communities and feeding that money back into communities. So if you’re going to spend money on fashion, it can go to somebody who lives down the street from you or in another community across the country. You’re lifting these communities up and empowering them to create their own sustainable future. That’s what we’re really passionate about, changing people’s communities, not just feeding into the fashion system.”
To find out more and download the LOANHOOD app for iOS and Android, visit their website or scan the QR code below.
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