More Parents Are Renting Their Kids' Clothes Online

Internet-based thrift stores are booming, too.

little girls in wardrobe

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If you are a parent or guardian, you are likely familiar with the scramble to buy clothes before a baby's arrival. Perhaps you know, too, the surprise that ensues when that baby does not fit any of the newborn clothes you so carefully selected and washed in advance – or grows out of them within weeks. Meanwhile, the clothes are in pristine condition.

That's where a new approach to clothes shopping could come in handy. Subscription and rental services aimed specifically at parents and young children are popping up across the United States and Europe because they meet a number of needs: (1) They keep clothes in circulation longer, which is good for the Earth; (2) they make financial sense for parents who save money on purchases and may want to earn extra by selling old clothes; (3) they are convenient.

While thrifted clothes and hand-me-downs have been a part of many childhoods for years, everyday children's wear has not entered the online shopping world in any major capacity until recently. Many of the well-known online rental operators cater only to women or focus on luxury-brand, formal-occasion wear only. But now with many parents expressing a desire to make more sustainable fashion choices, it makes sense that they'd want to extend it to their children.

Elizabeth Bennett writes for Eco Age that reselling children's clothes can save up to 75% of the carbon footprint associated with producing an item of clothing. Considering that children go through at least ten sizes before the age of three, and an average of 900 items in total throughout an entire childhood, there is great potential to reduce the environment impact of clothing with the help of these new services. There are different approaches.

Circos is a Europe-based company that ships internationally and rents out clothes for babies and pregnant mothers on a pay-by-month basis. You get a basic subscription and pay for whatever items you want to rent on top of that. Circos says its pieces are used by eight to 10 families on average, which is considerably more than the typical two- to three-month lifespan of baby and toddler clothing.

The site reads: "Circos’ members help save an average of 242 litres of water and 6 kilos of CO2 emissions per month compared to parents who buy all of their children’s clothes, according to a lifecycle assessment done by Danish consultancy firm, PlanMiljø."

Other companies function as online consignment and thrift stores geared specifically at children. Kids O'Clock sells kids' clothes at 60-70% less than new retail value, and you don't have to be a subscriber unless selling clothes. It's based in the United Kingdom but ships throughout Europe and the United States. 

Company founder Laura Roso Vidrequin told the Guardian, "There is nothing new in buying old and selling old. I’m just shouting about it and making it accessible." She sees it as an extension of the sharing economy, a fashion equivalent of Airbnb and Zipcar, that's only going to get bigger as years go by. "Those kids who use Depop will be parents in five to 10 years from now. For them, [buying secondhand] is just everyday life," she adds.

Bundlee is another U.K. clothing rental subscription service for children age zero to four. You pick a monthly plan based on your needs and budget – either basic items chosen by Bundlee or brand-name pieces selected by you. With no time limits on swaps, you can use the pieces until your child is ready for a new size. The items are used by at least three families and the company estimates that renting one bundle saves 21 kilograms of carbon and the equivalent of 3,500 liters of water, according to Eco Age. 

More conventional online thrift stores, like thredUP and Poshmark, have greatly expanded their children's wear sections in recent years, due to public demand. They have an impressive range of options and should be the first stop for any parent looking to add an item to their child's wardrobe before heading to a new clothing store. eBay, which was one of the first online sellers of children's wear, does not have the strong branding that many parents look for, but did say there was a 76% increase in secondhand kids' clothing sales in 2020.

While rental subscriptions and online thrift stores still don't beat the savings (both monetary and carbon-wise) of visiting a local charity-run thrift shop in person and stocking up on a season's worth of clothes for your kids, they're still a better option than shopping online for new items. Indeed, prioritizing rental schemes was a suggestion offered by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in its 2017 report, "A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning Fashion's Future." It singled out children's wear:

"For garments where practical needs change over time, for example, children’s clothes or those for one-off occasions, rental services would increase utilisation by keeping garments in frequent use rather than in people’s closets."

Kelly Drennan of Fashion Takes Action said something similar in her list of 7 Rs for sustainable fashion. Renting is perfect for the "variety addict who wants to be more sustainable but cringes at investing in a slow fashion capsule" – but those same qualities make renting ideal for baby and children's clothing that can only be used for a short period of time.

Some parents may be worried about rental clothes getting damaged or worn out, but the companies are prepared for that. They reassure customers that wear and tear is a normal part of infancy and childhood and that if an item suffers damage, it could be re-listed at a lower price than before. The goal isn't to keep the clothing circulating forever, but just longer than it would if each household were buying it independently.

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