SYDNEY, Sept 10 (Reuters Life) - Recession-hit fashionistas wanting to look a million dollars without paying so much are keeping up appearances and fuelling a new industry in Australia -- online fashion rentals.
Struggling with redundancy or lower salaries, many Australian women are following in the designer footsteps of their American peers and resorting to renting designer clothes and accessories from online websites or buying them second-hand.
"We have experienced a huge growth particularly in the last three months. It seems like the downturn has done wonders for business," said Simonne Santana, founder of Love Me and Leave Me (www.lovemeandleaveme.com), the first and one of the biggest fashion-borrowing websites in Australia.
"We've experienced record membership intakes and rental intakes. It's obviously a trend that people have warmed to," she said, adding the site now has 5,000 members who can also buy used, or new, designer wear at a discount.
The site is one of seven catering to clients that range from students to professionals, and which offer clothes, shoes and handbags from coveted designers such as Prada, Louis Vuitton and Chanel at reasonable rates.
For example, a Prada dress which retails for A$1,900 ($1,600) is available for rent on Love Me and Leave Me for A$149.95 ($129) a week or A$249.95 ($215) a month.
"I think in this tough economic time, everyone is having to rethink what they're spending and have to be a little smarter with their money," said Simone Marshall, a shoe store employee and avid party-goer who, like many women, doesn't like to wear the same dress to more than a few occasions.
"I have quite a designer palate and like having beautiful dresses. Now I can have four dress for the price of one."
Adele Juniper, a corporate employee, borrows dresses and accessories about nine times a year, for work and social events.
She says renting gives her variety without a hefty price tag.
"I like designer items but they cost a lot to purchase so borrowing allows me change around on a monthly basis or when I have a special events on for work," she said.
The recession has also boosted business for Stevie Dellamarta, who launched Indian Giver (www.indiangiver.com.au) earlier this year, specializing in high-end Australian designers including Willow, Kirrily Johnston and Camilla and Marc
Dellamarta credits the hit movie "Sex and the City," in which one of the characters admits she borrows all her designer handbags, for exposing Australians to the idea, but says borrowing is not really mainstream yet.
"While I think the borrowing revolution is coming, I don't think it's here yet. I think it's going to be a huge industry in years to come," she said.
Reporting by Pauline Askin, Editing by Miral Fahmy