The University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and fashion rental marketplace The Volte have launched a research partnership that will analyse the environmental impact of the peer-to-peer clothing rental model. 

Bringing together leading experts across fashion, design, business and sustainability, this world-first research collaboration is led by the UTS Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Fashion & Textiles (CoE) – a partnership between UTS and TAFE NSW.

The new study will assess the environmental impact of The Volte’s peer-to-peer clothing rental model and its role in promoting and encouraging sustainable consumer behaviour in fashion. 

“Fashion rental has a vital role in transitions to sustainability in fashion, and The Volte is leading the way in this critically important work,” UTS associate professor Timo Rissanen said.

“While every garment has carbon emissions attached to it, the more you utilise an individual garment that figure goes down, and the unit of measure we are researching is impact per wear.

“We’re looking at the intensity of use and some of the dresses on The Volte are being worn more than 30 times, than if they’re just languishing in someone’s wardrobe.

“Because these dresses are high quality and on the more formal end, there is already a big investment in the quality of fabric and construction of the garment, which often doesn’t get used to its full advantage when worn a handful of times by just one person.”

Rissanen works in the School of Design, Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building at UTS.

The Volte is reportedly the world’s largest peer-to-peer fashion rental site. It specialises in occasion wear with an emphasis on the high-utilisation of quality fashion. 

“As a result, we use fewer resources on the manufacturing side and reduce the number of garments that are disposed of each year,” co-founder and CEO Bernadette Olivier (pictured, left) said.

“We are thrilled to be working with UTS on this research project as from day one we spoke the same language. The UTS team had a clear understanding of the change in consumer behaviour The Volte is driving.  

“We know Australian consumers are embracing peer-to-peer rental so to be able to quantify and qualify the sustainable impact fashion rental is having on the environment is an exciting prospect and we look forward to reading the final report.”

The quantitative analysis measurements of the new study include what materials were used in producing the garment, where the garment was produced, and where the rentals are coming and going.

It will also cover how the dresses are laundered. This is because of the key differences between dry cleaning, machine washing and hand washing, and certain dresses can have different requirements.

UTS Centre of Excellence director Dr Lisa Lake said The Volte is pushing the boundaries and challenging what fashion consumption looks like.

“We'll be measuring the impact, and at what point in rental versus ownership we see the big sustainability benefits of keeping dresses in circulation,” Dr Lake said.

“There’s no need to take away the fun and beauty of fashion – we’re looking to prove that renting takes away the guilt and shame that can often come when you talk about sustainability in fashion.”

Rissanen’s interdisciplinary research team for the project includes associate professor Maruf Chowdhury from UTS Business School and Dr Taylor Brydges from the Institute for Sustainable Futures (ISF). 

The Volte connects borrowers and lenders to more than 70,000 designer dresses from size 6 to 20+. The online platform allows individuals to earn income from their closets, and borrowers to rent a designer dress for a fraction of the retail price. 

The rental marketplace was founded in Perth by Olivier, Genevieve Hohnen, Kym Atkins and Jade Hirniak.

The CoE is a partnership between UTS and TAFE NSW with a remit to transition the Australian fashion industry towards a sustainable future through education, research and thought leadership.

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