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The diligence of the rental market makes headway once more in a post-pandemic era, battling for the attention of Gen Z and a step forward to help protect the planet. 

Is the era of ownership as we know it ending? An American basketball coach at a women’s college in Tennessee once motioned to her team the words: “responsibility equals accountability equals ownership. And a sense of ownership is the most powerful weapon a team or organization can have.” What does ownership mean in today’s society, than simply proprietorship of a material possession?

The movement in consumer behavior

This seismic shift, resulting in a reshaping of the economy comes as Generation Z continues to show an unabating relationship with digital assets and a more pragmatic approach to their consumerism. The precedence falls on access, rather than freehold, reverting from the attitudes of previous generations conditioned into thinking if you need something, you’ll buy it.

The transparency behind consumption for this younger generation is imperative and often results in the analysis of a purchase and the purpose behind its creation raising questions like: what does it mean to possess it? Instead, the paradigm of consumerism motions towards one of access, rather than ownership. Particularly as sustainability veers closer up the agenda for Gen Z, collaborative consumptions gain new traction as products become services, and ultimately services connect consumers.

The expansion of rental programmes

Over the past year, the pause in production in the fashion industry shone a light on the voracious pace of fast-fashion, and by result, the rise in ethical expenditure through rental clothing. Through brands such as Hurr and By Rotation offering seamless omnichannel shopping experience through peer-to-peer rental apps, more expensive labels became accessible to an audience typically more tentative around making larger investments in products. Despite current controversy over the reliability of rental, with incurred costs for cleaning, damages, wear and frequent returns, rental is considered a key component in reaching a circular economy. 

This repositioning of attainable luxury has been slower to take flight in the watchmaking industry since its early introductions over the last decade. But in a recovering market made sterile from the effects of the coronavirus, predictions for a rise in rental is set to occur with the resurface of the experience economy. Facilitating this change, the meaning of ownership embodies a new meaning; whereby we assume a sense of responsibility for lowering production and protecting the planet by increasing a watches life cycle and its renewed sense of value as it passes from wrist to wrist.

A switch in perspective and deconstructing luxury

In spite of rental contention in the garment industry, watch brands are combatting the solution with longer subscription services, for instance, MontLux offers subscription services for a minimum of 6 months starting at £150/month with the opportunity to switch timepieces each month or try before buying. Breitling meanwhile became the first luxury watch brand early this year to emerge on the retail market with an annual subscription service, Breitling Select. This includes a one-time fee of $450 and then a further $129 a month for three watches a year. 

With plenty of programmes in existence, in order to dilute the competition, brands are tasked to go even further now, which for Fears, a UK-owned brand, manifests in free watch hire for job interviews. With accessibility at the forefront, rental programmes are not only shifting the meaning of ownership in and our cultural responsibility for the environment by minimizing production, but removing the barriers to an industry notoriously associated with privilege turning lifelong heirlooms into fleeting moments. 

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Scarlett is a writer, editor, and creative consultant specializing in art, fashion, culture and digital strategy. Drawing on her work from previous titles including Dazed, LOVE Magazine, The Perfect Magazine, AnOther and 1 Granary, as the Editor-in-Chief of The Next Hour, Scarlett is leading the editorial vision toward new territories providing an alternative lens of social commentary to recontextualize the world of watchmaking for the next generation.