Written by Andrew Seale

Global textile production has more than doubled in 15 years, while the number of times an item of clothing is worn before its retired has plummeted 36 per cent. It was this simple stat courtesy of the circular economy-focused Ellen MacArthur Foundation, that let Samia Syed and Zoey Wen, co-founders of FreshRents, a locally sourced fashion rental service, know they were on the right track.

“We knew we were contributors to that problem,” says Syed adding that “more research has been done around the impact of the fashion industry on climate change and there's a lot of scary stats.”

The idea for FreshRents’ Fresh Fashion Library run out of the Centre for Social Innovation wasn’t plucked from thin air; Syed has fond memories of digging around in her sister’s closet and borrowing clothes. But FreshRents brings the concept to the community, a hub where members can go to rent occasions wear for a fraction of the price or purchase a membership that lets them borrow a revolving wardrobe, swapping pieces out to stay fresh.

Simply put, FreshRents offers a solution to textile waste, one that’s sustainable and community-building.

“We've met so many people who are curious and asking the right questions and they're really delving into this topic of sustainability and climate change – they want to be part of the solution,” explains Syed. “Toronto was a great city to start this venture because there is a demand for it.”

The basic membership allows for checking out three items at any given time and rotating them with other items at the library as much as they’d like, explains Wen. “Essentially, you get a whole new wardrobe for $30 a month.”

“On top of that we encourage members to lend us their own clothing items and with each piece of accepted item, they get a certain dollar credit that they get each month for the item that's loaned to us,” she says. “They can get a maximum of up to 50 percent off their membership value if they loan us enough nice items.”

It’s about re-envisioning clothes as the resources they are, not just static products to be thrown away. FreshRents’ mandate fits nicely within the overall vision of the Climate Ventures incubator at the CSI, of which they’re a member.

The pair initially stumbled on the CSI while attending a Sustainable Fashion Circle event there. They loved the overall experience and started getting engaged with the community there, says Wen. 

“We really fell in love with the people here, the culture and what collectively they're trying to achieve in the community,” she says. “When Sami and I were considering a physical location CSI was the first place we really thought of and we're really glad that it worked out because we have a really amazing community there who is so supportive of ventures like ours.”

Neither Syed or Wen have a background in environmental studies so tapping into resources at Climate Ventures has been key to their growth.

“As social entrepreneurs especially, it's easy to feel lonely and it's really important to see that there are other people who are in it with you and going through this together,” adds Wen. “There are real changes happening and it very exciting to see that as a community

Eventually, the FreshRents founders would love to see the concept spread beyond Toronto to other cities around the world. “Zoey and I really want to empower and enable people to open up their own libraries in their neighbourhoods,” says Syed. “We're hoping that once we perfect a solution in one city, that model can be replicated with some alterations in other cities by other entrepreneurs.”

Photo Credit: Cameron Bartlett (www.snappedbycam.com)