aware_ writer Eliza Edwards sits down with Rune Orloff, the co-founder of POOL: the fashion rental service disrupting Berlin’s fashion landscape.
Rune Orloff harbours an insatiable optimism, a sentiment necessary when deciding to establish a fashion rental business during a global pandemic. Before venturing into the rental space, Orloff worked at Mykita, advised companies such as Parley and Ganni on sustainable strategy, and co-founded Sardin, an exploration in preorder e-commerce. In May 2020 Orloff turned his attention to rental, and together with co-founder Kristian Rix, founded POOL: a community-first fashion rental space based in the centre of the city.
As the rest of the team move around the 200 square metre concrete expanse – complete with a premium showroom, “Swap Box”, and shelves bearing a cornucopia of menswear and unisex rentable pieces – Orloff spoke to Edwards about why a physical space is a requisite in these times, the true meaning of a circular ecosystem, and why we should all be on our toes, ready to dive into the POOL.
aware_: Why did you decide to start a fashion rental company?
Orloff: That’s a good question for which I don’t have a short answer. There’s a space in the market that has emerged over the last ten years but it’s always been focused on short-term and occasion wear rental. But for us fashion rental has the capacity to go further. Combine the components of a shared economy and access to luxury, and then consider how young people are engaging with fashion: prioritizing convenience and the quick fix of wearing something new. We see it in fast fashion, people wear a piece three times on average and then they throw it away. So if that’s the attitude of young people, maybe we can create something with different environmental attributes but that still encourages a thirst for experimentation. I love the idea of wearing something forever, that’s part of my wardrobe, but the other part is the desire to wear something new. That’s one of the things that POOL is tackling: looking at resources in a completely different way.
aware_: In a way you are accepting the way culture around fashion has evolved, instead of fighting the force of newness.
Orloff: Sure, we’re not in this to kill creativity. I’m also an industry kid so I know we are not going to be able to do this by working against the brands. We have a serious problem with overproduction, that has nothing to do with creativity, it’s because brands are producing in a linear way – don’t forget working with seasons and having to plan so far in advance – a lot has to be tackled.
aware_: So how does POOL work?
Orloff: POOL is sometimes so simple that it’s hard to explain.
Look at POOL like a library, and we have three types of books: low, medium and high. 90% of our garments are placed within that middle range (products that retail between 100€ and 500€), it costs 29€ a month to have access to one item a month, which you can swap in for a different piece as many times as you like. We don’t want to predefine how people use the products, we want the members to tell us what they need and want. At the moment we’re seeing members come in to change their T-shirt from a hoodie to a jacket, to fit their needs. We find that interesting from an impact perspective, they didn’t come in and buy something else, instead they rent for a specific moment, a job interview or a date. They don’t need the pieces forever but have accessibility to the clothing they might not have had ordinarily or would have bought with a one-time use in mind. Right now, even with a small user base, we’ve had more than 40,000 rental days since we launched earlier this year, so this is just the beginning. Some members are fuelling their wardrobes with multiple rental slots and that’s all they’ve been wearing.
aware_: I’m going to be honest with you, I still find the idea of renting my clothing challenging…
Orloff: This process of changing mindsets will take time, it’s an education. Think of it like grabbing a Share Now: I get all the benefits out of it but don’t have the hassle of the responsibility that comes with owning it.
We’ve seen how other industries have been affected by this change in mindset regarding ownership. We used to be proud of our towers of CD’s at home, now we listen to music in the form of data.
aware_: How do you select the brands you work with?
Orloff: We are pretty strict in two fundamental areas. On the one hand, we only source products that have already been produced. Surplus, samples, deadstock, you name it.
On the other, from a tightly curated design perspective, we only want to work with brands that align with our aesthetic vision. It’s worth mentioning, there have been brands that are reluctant to work with us, either because they don’t have enough stock or they don’t see fashion rental as the future. Even still, we have a curation of brands that are high-end to contemporary menswear. Interestingly 20% of our members are women. We will expand into womenswear at some point. We want to become inclusive…
aware_: Whilst POOL chooses to align itself with the behaviours of the modern consumer, the pieces available to rent are often from old seasons. How have members reacted to this?
Orloff: I’ve never had someone come into our space and say “ah this is so last season”, even though members are fully aware. In Berlin there are almost 300,000 university students, who mostly don’t have access to all the newest trends, they are more interested in creating their own individual style. We can facilitate that here at POOL. We like the idea of working with brands that create great products that last, and move away from this idea of seasonal trends. For us, it’s about circulating the products as long as possible.
aware_: It’s interesting that you guys decided to have a physical space, tell me about that…
Orloff: When we started POOL everyone was telling us that we had to become a digital platform. But we saw things differently. Before we spent a lot of money building a digital platform, we wanted to see if anyone wanted to use it. Whilst bootstrapping we had to decide whether we wanted to create a bad app, or a good personal experience. It’s the classic start-up line: if you want to have a good online presence, you need to have a strong offline foundation.
We believe the members really form a bond with our concept because we are physical. That doesn’t exist in the same way with an online store. As we work with a subscription model the bond with our members is fundamental, as we need customers to come back.
aware_: It’s so special after a time of being deprived of physical experience. Is expansion to other cities on the cards?
Orloff: For sure, the dream is to have POOL spaces across the world. In 5 years, why not create similar ecosystems in the major cities across Europe?
aware_: Are you encouraged by the direction in which the fashion industry is headed?
Orloff: On the one hand there is a consumer movement towards minimalism and the desire for fewer possessions. On the other hand, the industry is suffering from a shortage of resources. Where are we getting our cotton in five years? What are we going to do about water shortages? As resources run out, brands will have to think of other ways to source materials. We already see so many brands working with recycled materials. I think in order to see real change governments have to implement new legislation. Think about the impact if governments told brands they had to monitor products until end of life. Garment tagging could be so interesting, what would come to light if garments were fully traceable?
aware_: I think we have everything, any final thoughts?
The one thing that’s really important for us is access. When we take a Share Now we don’t think about the fact we’re using a car that costs thousands of euros. For me, enabling that access is both crucial and fundamental to POOL.
POOL memberships are priced at 9€, €29 and €49 a month. Membership guarantees access to any equivalently priced item, able to keep it for as long as they wish and trade it in when they desire. No long-term commitment required, members are free to pause or cancel at any time.
by Eliza Edwards