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
As we learn more about the damaging effect waste is having on our planet, is it time to go rental?
The Friday night Blockbuster experience was a cornerstone of a 90s, early 2000s childhood. Stores laid with worn blue carpet, plastic buckets bursting with bags of sweets and popcorn, and rows upon rows of VHS tapes, patiently awaiting their fate. Hours spent running fingers along the shelves, letting the plastic sleeves slide past, waiting for a title to jump out. Once the tape – later DVD – is chosen, up to the counter it’s marched. Loyalty card in hand, the final decision handed over to the Blockbuster gatekeeper. After being scanned by the blue hoody-wearing student, that’s it, homeward bound. Just one thought niggles: “we’ll have to return you tomorrow”.
In the 20 years since, VHS and DVD’s have suffered a sorry end, unable to compete with modern streaming services. DVD players have been pushed to the back of the attic, to be replaced by the smart button on a television remote. Nowadays some films even circumvent the cinema and land straight on our televisions. Away from Hollywood, whether it’s a washing machine or mobile phone, rental has seen a resurgence. With modern life moving at a faster pace – tomorrow you could find yourself on the other side of the world – we are looking for less financial commitment, ease, and generally less stuff. Has the Blockbuster Friday night fever taken over, is the world going rental?
Are rental cars stepping up a gear?
As we learn more about the lasting effect road noise, rising pollution levels, and transport congestion have on our physical and mental wellbeing, cities are under mounting pressure to become increasingly bicycle and pedestrian-friendly. With the number of vehicles in a city rapidly outweighing the needs and requirements of residents, recent years have seen a rise in popularity for car-sharing. A study carried out across Europe proved a positive shift in the modern approach to renting a vehicle. With the launch of car-sharing schemes, the Netherlands saw a reduction of 30% in the ownership of private vehicles and the number of kilometres driven by private vehicles reduced by up to 20%. Research carried out in Germany showed that 27% of respondents said they would not use their own vehicle in the future. Each city-based study showed a considerable reduction in CO2 emissions: the cars are usually younger, more efficient, as well as being hybrid or electric. The research “guaranteed the reduction of substances harmful to the atmosphere by nearly 50%” (MDPI). SHARE NOW, a popular car-sharing service in Germany, claim: “A SHARE NOW vehicle is moved up to six times more frequently than a privately owned car” (SHARE NOW), thus freeing up considerable space within the city.
Rental bicycles to be borrowed not shared
Data demonstrates that over a billion bicycles currently exist in the world (world o meter); in this year alone 134 million bicycles have been manufactured. As many avoided the use of public transport during the pandemic, bicycle sales saw a dramatic rise and cities were busied building pop-up bicycle lanes overnight (Forbes). Cyclists reluctant to make the financial commitment made use of bike-hiring schemes however, as supply quickly outgrew demand, cities became inundated with broken bicycles, left deserted on the pavements or dumped in rivers. In China – a country that is proven to have the highest volume of bicycles in the world (450 million) – bicycle “graveyards” have been photographed; thousands of share-bikes piled on top of each other. But Dutch start-up Swapfiets has a solution: borrow a bike but don’t share it. With monthly subscriptions starting from 16,90€, the membership offers your very own bicycle, free delivery and repairs within 48 hours.
Rental fashion moving beyond the wedding venue?
On a trip to her motherland Rajasthan, Eshita Kabra-Davies was overwhelmed by the devastating effects of textile waste in India. Through founding her clothing rental platform By Rotation, Kabra-Davies encouraged consumers to continue a passion for clothing whilst creating a circular system in which to enjoy it. Rent The Runway, a US-based competitor, was founded after co-founder Jenn Hyman caught wind that her sister had spent two thousand dollars on a dress for a wedding, as a guest. The company – which launched in 2009 and offers customers clothing for rent on a subscription basis – was valued at $1.7 billion in October of this year. Whilst rental services have experienced a dramatic increase in popularity in recent years, once the clothes are shipped, returned, washed and perhaps repaired, is the net result less damaging to manufacturing clothing from scratch? A study on the “environmental implication of casual wear rental services”, proved that for a garment that requires less frequent washing – such as occasion wear – “renting leads to a significant reduction of the environmental impacts by the avoided production of new clothing”. However, in the case of renting a T-Shirt, “there is a slight increase in climate change due to additional transport”. Working to combat this particular area of impact, Pool Berlin, the Berlin-based clothing rental service, delivers pieces by e-bike to its Berlin customers. Learn more about the community-first rental platform in an interview with co-founder Rune Orloff, coming soon to aware_.
by Eliza Edwards