Clothing rental industry adapts as pandemic cancels weddings, special events

Clothing rental industry adapts as pandemic cancels events
Posted at 11:21 AM, Feb 01, 2021

Fewer weddings, parties and special events means less dressing up. So, clothing rental companies that rely on customers attending big events have had to get creative.

“Lukh is an online rental service for Indian fashion,” said Rajul Parekh, CEO of Lukh Studio.

Parekh and Karen Desai are co-founders of Lukh Studio. It started last January after Desai realized at her own traditional Indian wedding that the cost and inaccessibility of Indian clothing was something that needed to change.

“Last year, I went to six different weddings where I had to wear 18 different outfits, and each of these outfits costs about $500 and up,” Parekh said.

Formal clothes for all types of events can get expensive, so in came clothing rental companies like Rent the Runway, which was recently valued at $1 billion in 2019.

“A lot of that really was spurred because of the Great Recession in 2008, 2009. That caused millennials as a demographic to really not have the same disposable income that previous generations had to purchase apparel,” said Shawn Grain Carter, Fashion Business Management Professor at Fashion Institute of Technology.

She said the rental industry has boomed from there.

“They gave consumers of every income level the opportunity to dress in luxury goods just for the day, for that moment in time,” she explained.

“In general, prior to COVID, it’s clear that the rental space was booming. Rent the Runway was the prime example of who was really capturing the market,” Desai said. “They went from a model of focusing on just occasional wear to everyday wear.”

Then the pandemic hit -- no more weddings, special occasions, or even church to attend in many places. COVID-19 came right as Lukh was launching.

“Unfortunately, when COVID hit, we knew that all of those weddings were getting rescheduled or postponed,” Parekh said.

“The first month, I recall a bunch of cancellations came in and each week would go by and it actually would be a stab to the heart,” Desai said.

Instead of a warehouse, they transitioned to working out of their apartments. In-person events and showings turned into virtual styling sessions. Lukh was still getting off the ground, but Desai said their flexibility was what helped them survive, as some rental clothing companies like Le Tote filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

“What this time is doing during the pandemic is it’s allowing smaller, more nimble, more agile innovators to come into the space and really make an impact,” Desai said.

As for the bigger players in the industry, they simply pivoted to other types of apparel.

“Well we’re not going to offer a gown, let’s offer something that's more relaxed, in terms of what customers want right now,” said Shawn Grain Carter, meaning more athleisure and comfort clothes, and fewer church dresses.

As the number of people getting vaccinated for COVID-19 increases, and people reschedule weddings and other events, the women at Lukh are preparing for more business.

“We do expect the demand to double down next year,” Desai said.

“I think third and fourth quarter of 2021, it’s on and poppin. People are going to dress up probably just to go to the supermarket, because people are just tired of dressing down,” Shawn Grain Carter said.