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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
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