Is the fashion industry coming unstitched?
Oh the world of fashion, glamorous but cut throat. Sitting at my desk montages of The Devil Wear's Prada flash before me as I think about who really controls the fashion industry.
At present, the industry is at pivotal stage trying to keep up with customers' demands whilst not losing its integrity and ethics in doing so. There has been much debate over the rise of fast fashion and its effects on traditional fashion seasons but it seems the next frontier to confront will be hire boutiques.
We’ve always had a soft spot for local Perth fashion designer, Natalie Rolt but her recent influence on the local scene is far reaching and sets an example in the current retail landscape that has earnt her many accolades and a spot on the NYFW calenderer.
“Every piece is created in our Fremantle studio, I make each pattern from scratch and then my team and I sew the garments right here too,” says Natalie, unphased that she is one of the last standing in Australia to do so.
“My mum and nan would always tell me about their experiences in making their own outfits for events and everyone loving them, especially as there were no outfit clashes with other girls. Now I can do the same”
But Natalie’s unique take on fashion has landed her dress and designs in hire businesses. The catch is, Rolt hasn’t approved their use.
“A lot of hire boutiques try to request wholesale or discounts on purchasing our designs, however, we don’t offer wholesale and when you think about it, it sounds crazy because they are going to be making a bunch of cash off our designs! Sometimes they just turn up though”.
In combatting the controversial hire industry designers like Natalie are starting an in-house service of their own.
“We have to look at it as a positive of more girls wearing Natalie Rolt Designs. I would only hope they would want to explore my designs more with coming directly to us. Once they learn more about my label they will then realise we offer a hire service and a whole lot more!”
Leading the way in Hire Boutiques is Mia Theodoropoulos, founder and owner of national hire boutique chain, Something Borrowed. Originally starting from her parent’s spare room Mia has now opened three stores nationally and has plans to keep expanding. “My friends were always wanting to borrow my dresses for events, and I thought why not make this into something,” she says.
In Australia alone, there are countless dress rental stores and informal Facebook Groups adding to the consumers’ choice in securing the latest style for a night out, without the need to purchase the garment.
“It's a saturated market, with hire boutiques popping up everywhere, and operating in the wrong way,” says STM former Fashion Editor Zoe Van Zanten.
“I’ve witnessed people ravaging local designer clearance sales, only to set up a hire boutique directly opposite said designer’s permanent store, and proceed to hire out the pieces they paid virtually nothing for.”
To give some perspective in the late 1990s CD Hire businesses were all the rage until new copyright infringement laws were introduced to protect the recording artists’ intellectual property. However, to this day there are no legal protections offered to the fashion industry. The hiring and replicating of garments is a big issue for the local fashion industry and it’s been suggested by many legal academics that there is scope for protections to be put in place for designers.
As the saying goes, the consumer is king and while no one can deny a wish to look your best at every event, as consumers we need to remember this convenience comes at a cost to the fashion industry.
“I can only see these two working together well when the hire boutique and the designer work together so that the designer is benefiting from having their stock available to hire,” said Zoe. One example of this occurring is Hire boutique, Your Closet.
“I’m really proud to say that we work exclusively with our designer partners so have their full consent for every dress that is on our website,” says founder of Your Closet Briella Brown.
After appearing on Channel 10’s Shark Tank the savvy young entrepreneur is finding a way to bridge the gap between designers and consumers without the detriment caused by other hire boutiques. “They even make small manufacturing changes for us to make particular garments more durable for renting by changing zippers or certain fabrics. As far as I know we are the only one that deal exclusively directly with the designers and it’s something we are really happy about and proud of.” But this ethos is based on morals rather than guided by law.
Contemplating the current issue Natalie Rolt said “unfortunately there is only so much you can do as the growth of backyard hire boutiques have definitely sky-rocketed over the past year with the owners purchasing under personal, friends or family details – this eliminates you knowing if they are a business wishing to on-sell or hire out our designs. Sadly, it is so common now that taking legal action comes at a time-loss to us.”
So where does this leave consumers? As a patron of the fashion industry but also as a customer of designer brands Zoe Van Zanten finished our conversation with wise parting words, “Between fast fashion, online shopping, ethical labels, brick and mortar retailers of various calibres, and hire boutiques, I think that the consumer is spoilt for choice. I wouldn’t ask more from the fashion industry for the consumer, instead, I would ask something of the consumer for the fashion industry. If they want the designer dress, but can’t afford the designer price tag, they need to know that it is okay to live within their means, rather than rob the fashion industry for the sake of a good selfie on Instagram.”