(last updated July 2019)
What has been happening in the clothes hire sector
For many years there has been a steady demand to hire wedding (and civil partnership ceremony) clothes, ball gowns, graduation gowns and dinner jackets. More recently though the clothes hire sector has grown as demand for hire clothes has widened to include designer dresses, maternity wear, kilts, children's formal clothes, period outfits and fancy-dress costumes. These all represent potential opportunities for clothes hire businesses to expand beyond the traditional market for wedding outfits and formal wear. There are several online clothes hire businesses which hire out top-end designer dresses and other exclusive women's clothing, posting the garments out to customers and providing them with pre-paid packages to return them.
Although there have been modest ups and downs over the years, government figures show a long term decline in the number of marriages from a high of 426,000 in 1972 to fewer than 250,000 by the second half of the 2010s. The figures relate only to opposite sex marriages but the number of same sex marriages does not add greatly to this figure. There are no indications that the long term downwards trend will be reversed in the future.
When thinking about stock levels, you'll need to take account of the fact that weddings are not spread evenly throughout the year or throughout the week. As would be expected, July and August are the most popular months for marriage, with a total of about 30% taking place then, followed closely by June and September (total about 25%) and then by April, May and October (total about 26%). The least popular months are January and February.
More than 50% of marriages take place on a Saturday. The next most popular day, following a long way behind Saturday, is Friday, when about 20% take place. The remaining marriages are spread more or less equally over the remaining days.
While the number of weddings taking place in the UK has declined, they still represent a steady source of income for many hire businesses.
The last two decades or so have seen a huge increase in the number of students in higher education - this is good news for graduation gown specialists.
The suit hire chain, Moss Bros, enjoyed a 21% surge in profits for the year ended January 2016 and reported that that the introduction of lounge suit hire had boosted sales at the start of 2016. They also said that traditional morning suits continued to be popular for Ascot, although lounge suits were generally worn for the rest of the racing season. The company did less well in 2018, when it had to issue a profit warning, blaming stock shortages, a 'challenging' market for hired clothing used for formal events, such as proms, and a fall in High Street footfall.
According to government figures, UK consumers spend around £1.0 billion each year on cleaning and hiring clothing. However, the number of parties, shows, festivals, conferences and other events which can potentially boost demand for clothing and costume hire is influenced to a certain extent by the state of the economy.
After the financial crisis in 2008 the economy was very weak. This continued for several years until 2013 saw something of an improvement. The recovery continued throughout 2014 and into the first half of 2015 before slowing again during the second half of the year and into 2016. The vote in June 2016 to leave the EU led to a great deal of economic uncertainty. Confidence in the economy, which started to decline towards the end of 2016, continued to fall throughout 2017 and was given a further knock by the election in June resulting in a hung parliament. Consumer spending in 2017 and 2018 was at its lowest for several years. Little change is expected during 2019.
Keeping up to date with developments
Joining a trade association is an excellent way of staying up to date. The Textile Services Association (TSA) represents several sectors of the textile industry, including textile hire. You can find out more about the TSA and its services to members on the TSA website. Several other trade associations may be relevant to your business activities, depending on the type of garment hire business you intend to run and the range of services you decide to offer.
UK Fashion and Textile Association (UKFT) represents clothing retailers in the UK, while the Guild of Launderers and Dry Cleaners represents businesses in the UK involved in textile cleaning. Visit their websites for more information.
Wedding and fashion magazines can be useful for keeping up to date with the latest designs and trends. Although these are aimed mainly at consumers rather than business, they'll give you a good idea of what sort of styles people are wearing for weddings - and what sort of services other hire businesses are offering.
You can get a lot of useful information by visiting a fashion show, wedding show or trade fair. You will be able to meet with clothes manufacturers, suppliers and designers and plan your future stock buying. Information about forthcoming trade shows can be found on the Exhibitions UK website.