Renting versus Thrifting: Which is better for sustainability?

Tuesday, April 11, 2023


Renting versus Thrifting


photo by Vlada Karpovich

Sustainability has received all the buzz as brands and consumers alike slap ‘natural’, ‘organic’, ‘sustainable’ on almost every item under the sun. When it comes to clothes, we’ve also noticed a mindset shift in how people approach their wardrobes and personal style. Younger generations are encouraging a circular goods economy through repairing, social media activism and secondhand shopping. While many of us are familiar with the concept of thrifting, a new option has recently captured attention in the sustainability game: renting. 

While most common for formal wear, renting casual clothes are also becoming the norm as many sustainable influencers craft rentable wardrobes. But is thrifting or renting more sustainable? How is that determined? Let's define the terms.


“Thrifting is the act and process of buying used items from second-hand, charity, or antique stores.” 

Instead of buying from a regular retail chain, many people visit local secondhand stores to find interesting items. The perks of thrifting include:

  • Affordability – especially compared to buying new

  • It helps to eliminate waste

  • Thrifting offers unique, vintage or limited edition pieces for consumers with an existing history, life, and character

  • often the profit goes to NGOs or various charities




It’s a great way to be more sustainable as you are buying used or old items that can be reworn or upcycled. Thrift stores were, in part, created because of the quick trend cycles which fast fashion produced, and while they got their start catering to low-income communities, thrifting has become more popular to a broader audience over time.

Because of these sustainable and accessible goals, individuals – specifically fashion influencers – creating ‘hauls’ of thrifted clothes and bringing a fast fashion mindset into this secondhand setting, ultimately defeat the purpose of thrifting. This can, and often has, lead to the gentrification of thrifting, where people who can afford to purchase from a thrift store, at accessible price points, only to resell items at a much higher markup. This introduces a few cons to thrifting, such as:

  • Overconsumption through haul culture

  • Quality of clothing isn’t regulated (missing buttons, stains etc)

  • Stores are less easily navigated and organised differently than a standard retail outlet

  • It can time and investment to find good pieces

  • Vintage or well used/worn items don’t always fit your body the way you might expect or want 

  • Second-hand clothing is not often size-inclusive

  • Many second-hand stores present accessible difficulties – i.e. stores that may require a car to visit, stores that don’t have adequate wheelchair entrances, that are difficult to navigate for unfamiliar visitors or those using a mobility aid, and the likely presence of dust and other more unpredictable allergens like animal hair and various fibres, metals, etc. 


Now, on the other side of the coin we have renting.

“Renting is borrowing high quality and well maintained clothing from a company for a fixed time, then returning it.”

Renting offers a way for us as consumers to stay more in vogue than thrifting often does. It also offers a budget friendly option when you have special events – we can’t always have a ballgown, tuxedo, or party-ready hot-Gandalf costume ready to go. Consumers are able to select an item online, pay a rental fee, and have access to an item of clothing for a few days before returning it in the same packaging. Rental companies usually also manage everything from storage to dry cleaning and taking photos of rentable items which makes things easier to get.

photo by Vlada Karpovich 

Young adults are increasingly leaning toward renting rather than purchasing clothes, primarily to reduce overconsumption.  There are a few pros to renting clothes:

  • Access to different trends without committing to them

  • Saving money as rental fees are almost always less than buying new

  • It expands the use of an item

  • Saves closet space (great for fans of minimalism)

  • Suitable for most budgets

On the flip side, as with thrifting, there are also a few cons:

  • Returning items always poses problems. It’s not always convenient, you’ll be billed for late returns, and you might have to drop a package off personally

  • Subscription access only – a lot of rental stores require a monthly subscription even if you don’t rent anything in that period

  • Not always available in your area

  • And the big one – damages. Be careful drinking that coffee, or you’ll have to pay for the stain it leaves behind

photo by Vlada Karpovich 

All in all, sustainable fashion has a long way to go, but we’re always developing new and better options. Nowadays, there are so many ways to make more sustainable choices, the best of which usually involve re-using and sharing what we already have – like with both thrifting and renting. 


Which do you think is more sustainable: renting or thrifting?

 Do you have any special borrowed or pre-loved pieces? Tell us your thoughts in the comments and follow us on Instagram!