Renting Designer Goods

Let's face it. We covet others' luxuries. We can't help it. As much as we accept our goods, no matter who designed them, we still wouldn't mind having a Gucci bag or Chanel sunglasses. OK, maybe I'm just that shallow. But sites like Bag Borrow or Steal are willing to loan me the latest Gucci bag so I don't have to shell out the $2,000 to buy it myself.

Luxury leasing sites launched a few years ago when it was realized that not everyone can afford to buy a designer bag but many still want to carry one. The model is fairly simple: Pay a monthly membership fee and you get to borrow (they stay away from the word "rent") luxury goods like high-priced handbags, sunglasses and jewelry. I was hard pressed to find much more such as shoes or clothing.

But with the monthly membership fees ranging between $10 and $100 plus separate rental fees at some sites and shipping fees for each item, I have to wonder if it's worth the money. Why not set that money aside every month and save up for your own spanking new Prada bag that you get to keep? I posed that question to Jodi Watson, chief marketing officer of Bag Borrow or Steal, a Seattle-based company that launched in April 2004.

"It allows people to enjoy a seasonal or trendy item without having to clutter their closet or explain it to their husband," she says. "They want to supplement their own luxury items."

With a Bag Borrow or Steal membership, you can borrow designer handbags, jewelry and sunglasses. Membership fees start at $9.95 for one month to $59.95 for a year-long membership. But you don't have to become a member to borrow. Borrowing as a guest just means higher rates. On top of the membership fee, members pay a weekly or monthly fee like $32 a week or $95 a month for a Coach Kiki Hobo handbag, which is about $600 in a retail store. Or a pair of Jimmy Choo Cher aviator sunglasses for $19 a week for members versus buying them from a retailer for about $230.

So let's run some numbers here: If you buy a year-long membership for about $60, pay about $10 for two-way shipping, you could rent that Coach hobo-style handbag for about six months before you paid what it sells for brand new. But of course when you borrow, you must return. So it's not economical to keep the bag so long that you're spending in rental fees what it costs to buy the thing.

If it's something you can't part with, Bag Borrow or Steal may let you purchase the accessory, if it's available for purchase, for a discounted fee. The site also has an outlet store where its inventory eventually ends up. You can get "gently-carried" and "never-carried" items for 20 to 50 percent off their original prices.

Clearly the concept of borrowing luxury items has caught on. Bag Borrow or Steal boasts more than 700,000 members and guest shoppers. And they're mostly high-income women who have their own luxury items but want access to more.

"Renting is the new buying," says Watson. "You can experience everything you want without having to make the commitment."

Similar sites exist. There's Adorn Brides, where you can borrow high-end jewelry for your wedding day or big event. For example, you could get your hands on a $45,000 sapphire and diamond necklace in white gold for a rental fee of $1,500. Just make sure you return the jewelry on time. The company charges a late fee equal to 20 percent of your total rental if you're one day late. Any later and you could be charged double to 200 percent of the rental fee. Yikes! Better not have that third glass of champagne.

BorrowedBling.com also offers jewelry rentals, as well as sunglasses, belts, evening bags and crystal bra straps. The site also sells $125 Havaiana flip flops with Swarovski crystals cemented across the straps. The membership terms are slightly different than Bag Borrow or Steal. The site offers three membership levels, all allowing you to keep the pieces for four months. The higher you go up, the more bling you have access to. The lowest membership fee is $30 a month, which gets you up to two items at a time and you're limited to certain pieces. The highest membership level is $100 a month, which lets you borrow three accessories at a time and you get to choose from their "awards night" premium items. BorrowedBling.com doesn't charge any additional rental fees but you do pay the $10 shipping fee. And you have to sign up for at least three months.

So do these sites sound like a good deal to you? If you've done your own luxury borrowing, tell us about your experience by posting a comment below.

Now on to other topics... where do you buy your meat? What about your seafood? Do you dare buy at the local grocery store or is the local butcher your best friend? Please tell me all about your meat and seafood buying by sending me an e-mail at shoptoit@washingtonpost.com.

By Tania Anderson |  May 15, 2008; 3:00 AM ET General Interest
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Comments

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I am continually amazed by peoples stupidity.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 15, 2008 9:38 AM

I heard of Bag, Borrow or Steal a few years ago. It's a good idea, but the prices are way too high. It's not worth it -- better to save up and buy something you can keep.

Posted by: tia | May 15, 2008 10:01 AM

Just buy the fake ones like I do.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 15, 2008 12:29 PM

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