upr-header-1.jpg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Thank you for your support this fall! We are still working to meet our overall goal. Help us get there by donating now!

Women Turn to Online Rentals for Handbags

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Fashion handbags are now a $5 billion industry, and a growing number of women are renting bags instead of buying them. For the price of a single designer bag, women can rent a year's worth. NPR's Wendy Kaufman reports that online vendors are leasing everything from a $2,000 Fendi spy bag to a $350 bag for diapers.

WENDY KAUFMAN reporting:

To understand the handbag rental market, just think of the movie rental company, Netflix. That company's business model has been adapted to designer handbags. Thousands of fashionistas now pay a monthly subscription fee, order their handbags off the Web and, within a couple of days, have the hottest new bag to show.

Ms. NICOLE MAZZOLA FERRER (Handbag Renter): It's really fun. First of all, you get a package in the mail which is always fun. And it's easy.

KAUFMAN: Thirty-year-old Nicole Mazzola Ferrer has been renting handbags for about $50 a month for more than a year. She was hesitant at first, but quickly came around. The high-tech project manager says renting allows her to stay trendy without spending as much as she has in the past.

Ms. FERRER: Typically, I would have bought a bag like this, 1 or $200 every month. And so, economically, it makes more sense for me to have a purse club membership than it does to actually go out and buy the bag that I like. The sense of ownership of the bag is not such that I need to have it forever. I want it for right now, and I want to give it back.

KAUFMAN: When she ready for a new bag, she orders it online, pays a $10 shipping fee and only after the new bag arrives does she send the old one back. The Seattle-based rental company is called Bag Borrow Or Steal.

Ms. BRENDA KAUFFMAN (Fashion Director, Bag Borrow Or Steal): We've got a few bags here today that are samples of what we carry on our site. You can see how the leather is supple; it's soft. We've got the hardware which...

KAUFMAN: The firm's fashion director, Brenda Kauffman, shows off a cream-colored Balenciaga bag that retails for more than a thousand dollars. She speaks glowingly about an oversized copper tote designed by Francesco Biasia.

Ms. KAUFFMAN: It's got the signature buckle and flap on the front, magnetic closed pockets.

(Soundbite of zipping sound)

Ms. KAUFFMAN: The top has a zip close. Again, a very roomy interior with fabric lining.

KAUFMAN: The designer names may not mean much to you. But just as sports cars are a status symbol for many men, designer bags represent status for many women.

Ms. BONNIE McCRORY (Nurse): This is all on one little very trite...

KAUFMAN: But for nurse Bonnie McCrory, who works with high-risk maternity patients and their newborns, it's also a splurge that she can afford. She confesses to a weakness for elegant and classic handbags, and loves carrying them. She rents them from the much smaller online firm, Bags To Riches, which leases one bag at a time with no subscription or membership fees.

Ms. McCRORY: People at work are--`What do you have this week? What do you now?' They know me. I'm the bag lady.

KAUFMAN: There is one more reason beyond the price, of course, that some customers prefer renting to buying. Trendy bags often have a very short fashion life. Then, as Nicole Mazzola Ferrer notes, they often end up in closets taking up space. Renting, she suggests, carries less guilt.

Ms. FERRER: To me, it feels like a way also to stop the consumption of things I don't need because it goes back into circulation for somebody else to use. So it doesn't matter to me that it's not mine.

KAUFMAN: These handbag lovers aren't the only ones getting high-end goods off the Internet. You can borrow such things as golf clubs, even antique jewelry. All this reflects Americans' increased desire for luxury items. There's even a word for it: `masstige' or prestige for the masses. And the rental market makes it all a little bit more affordable. Wendy Kaufman, NPR News, Seattle.

MONTAGNE: And this is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP (Host): And I'm Steve Inskeep. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Wendy Kaufman