Four years ago, if a couple wanted to have a fancy night out on the town in Perth, it may have looked something like this: the woman would start looking for the perfect designer dress about a month beforehand. Some shopping around would be necessary, and appointments for fittings would be made, not to mention a large dent in her bank account.
Her partner may look for a hotel in the area they’re visiting, but alas, in trendy areas the price tag is so high. He notes to himself to plan further in advance next time to get a better deal. On the night, the taxi costs them a fortune.
Nowadays, things are much easier. Just two days out from the event, while sitting on the couch, the woman opens up her Instagram app and searches a few hashtags. Within half an hour, she finds another woman online who will rent her a trendy designer dress at a fraction of the price.
The man jumps on Airbnb and finds a chic studio apartment in the CBD where they can stay for only $70 a night. After a few instant messages back and forth between him and the owner, their stay is all booked and paid for. He has the owner’s name and mobile number, so he can send her a quick text at a moment’s notice should any problems arise during their stay.
When the night is upon them and the couple decide to leave, the simple tap of a screen orders an Uber which picks them up from their door. It arrives in five minutes instead of the 20 a taxi probably would have taken, and the driver even offers them bottled water and mints for their journey.
The ‘high life’ is now more accessible. No longer does it take months of saving and planning for the average person to have a luxury night out. This is all thanks to the sharing economy that has democratised the trading of goods and services between regular people.
Faith Choularton is the owner of Frockfinder, a designer dress rental shop in Perth’s CBD. In the years since she opened the doors, she’s found steady success.
“Girls shop differently [now]. Rental places are popping up left, right and centre,” Choularton says.
“There’s obviously a need for it, because it’s just going berserk as a trend or whatever you want to call it. It’s just moving in leaps and bounds.”
Choularton says social media is driving the democratisation of luxury economies. Many women don’t want to be seen repeating designer gowns and find it difficult to wear them again after photos of their nights out have done the rounds on their friends’ newsfeeds.
“There are so many more events out there now, so it’s too expensive to buy a different dress each time,” she says.
Australian Hotels Association of WA chief executive officer Bradley Woods says he is not opposed to the “sharing economy”. But he believes Airbnb is potentially unsafe.
“The existing legal frameworks require updating,” Woods says.
“In many cases, the appropriate regulatory controls do not exist, or where they do, they can be easily evaded.
“Sharing platforms offer guests little consumer protection and that comes at a cost to hotels of millions of dollars.”
Woods admits there is room for Airbnb in the market.
“But there needs to be greater transparency achieved through rental registration to ensure that all taxes are paid,” he says.
“Hotels make a significant investment in legal and legitimate accommodation to provide guests with safe and innovative guest experiences.”
Ensuring short-term online rentals adhere to the same regulations is crucial, Woods says.
“An economic level playing field is also necessary to ensure the continued development of the tourism sector and to ensure that hotels can continue employment and training,” he says.
Frockfinder stocks designers from Australia and overseas, including gowns by popular brands Zimmermann, Alex Perry and Aurelio Costarella.
“I just sort of buy as I see, a one-off here and there,” Choularton says.
“I know of one particular Perth designer who doesn’t want their dresses rented, so I don’t buy them. They’ve been quite vocal about it so I just don’t do it – that’s their right.”
Alvin Fernandez, designer of Ae’lkemi gowns, says he can’t control what people do once they buy his dresses.
“I work with a rental boutique named Something Borrowed,” he says.
“If I have a girl wearing a design that weekend, I can contact Mia and she will take it off the site for that weekend. She is really good about that.”
Choularton says she understands designers’ desire to maintain the exclusivity of their brand, but also reasons that she can’t see the difference between renting a designer dress and an exclusive Ferrari.
“I can understand [designers] put a lot of love and blood, sweat and tears into their work,” she says.
“I can’t tell them how to run their business but then they can’t tell me how to run mine.”