Work Hard

CLOAN founder Rachel Cornick on how luxury fashion rental unites sustainability, savings and self-expression

CLOAN offers designer fashion at high street prices.

Written by Becky Hardy
Published 23.09.2023


For any of you that don’t already know, Fenwick Newcastle now have a Personal Shopping Suite just to the right of the tech on the second floor.

It’s a stylish hideaway that attracts footballers, CEOs and the other high-flying elite to this iconic department store. But it’s also available to anyone who just wants to add a little panache to their shopping trip.

It’s also where we’d arranged to meet Rachel Cornick – fashionista, North East ex-pat returning from London, and founder of the newest name on the high street, CLOAN – for a photoshoot.

And it’s a fitting location; CLOAN is fast becoming the style-savvy woman’s go-to destination for luxury occasion wear that takes their next outfit from safe to stand-out.

The only difference from other brands? You give the outfit back once you’ve worn it.

CLOAN is a fashion rental brand.

But the reason we’re getting together with Rachel here is that, after less than two years in business, she’s already breaking away from the outdated stereotypes of the rental industry and has established a concession stand in one of the most upmarket department stores in the North East, building on the space CLOAN already occupies in Fenwick’s York outpost.

And what seems apt about meeting in Fenwick’s Personal Shopping Suite is CLOAN’s simultaneous reaction to, and rebellion against, what is being termed ‘the death of the high street’.

‘I don’t believe in-person shopping is dead,’ says Rachel. ‘It all goes back to trust. It’s so valuable to customers to have somewhere you can try pieces on and figure out what suits you, especially with designer garments. And it’s hard to cut through the noise online to establish yourself as a brand people can rely on.

‘I’d love CLOAN to have a physical presence in most UK cities in the future.’

It’s this physicality, in part, that separates CLOAN from the rental crowd.

Offering carefully curated designer fashion brands wrapped in luxury packaging that, when shopping on their online store, is then delivered straight to your door, CLOAN is where rental meets luxury. Why? Because unlike other rental brands, CLOAN is entirely brand-to-peer – so there’ll be no lipsticks left behind in pockets or stains left uncleaned when it comes to trying your next rental outfit on.

Having this space in Fenwick for people to see the outfits for themselves and try different designers and styles before they rent only heightens that feeling of refinement for CLOAN’s customers.

Think rental, only better.

‘Fashion rental is such a new thing to so many people that to be aligned with Fenwick, especially here in the North East where it’s a local institution, brings such credibility not only to CLOAN but to what we’re doing as a concept,’ Rachel explains.

‘We’re on the radar of so many more people now, especially from older generations. A lot of my Mum’s generation, for example, have come up to me in Fenwick asking questions and telling me they think it’s an amazing idea. CLOAN wouldn’t necessarily show up on their social media feeds, but by being in Fenwick we’ve gained a real word-of-mouth reputation.’

The attraction of CLOAN is three-fold: sustainability, savings and self-expression.

The reduced carbon footprint of renting an outfit, and allowing others to rent that same outfit, rather than fuelling the demand to make multiple copies of that same item is perhaps the most obvious draw to CLOAN. Not to mention how this then impacts the ethical quandary of underpaid, underage workers making those clothes.

But while we’ve all been conditioned to perceive value as what we own, the financial benefits of paying £25 to wear a designer dress for a weekend rather than £1,000 for it to then remain in our wardrobes forever can’t be underestimated. We are living in a cost-of-living crisis, after all.

As for the self-expression element, this was something Rachel particularly wanted to see more of in the industry as a consumer herself.

‘I’ve always loved fashion, specifically luxury fashion,’ she tells us.

‘But I’ve never been able to get my head round spending loads of money on it. I would see my friends who would spend £1,000 on a handbag twice a year and couldn’t figure out how they’d justify that. But, at the same time, I’d also want it! I get bored of things quickly and, like loads of women, I feel like I change up who I am style-wise all the time.

‘I’ve had a rental subscription to a handbag rental service called Cocoon Club for ages now. You pay a monthly fee and you can have one handbag for that month. What I discovered by having that subscription was that I could have more fun with my style: I could rent a bright red Chanel or a zany orange Louis Vuitton, without committing all that money. If I was buying a handbag, realistically, I would buy a black one to make sure I got my money’s worth.

‘What I found was that renting gave me freedom.’

Think CLOAN, not clones.

If price point and wardrobe space are taken out of the occasion, it makes sense we would all become bolder with our fashion choices.

Especially now we’re seeing a new preoccupation with individualism, thanks to the rise of social media.

Celebrities have always been style icons, but it seems more of us are turning to the more relatable fashion influencers we see on our Instagram feeds to discover street style and occasion wear that works on our bodies, complements our colours, doesn’t hurt our pockets and feeds into styles like ours.

‘The inclusivity that we’re now seeing across the board in magazines and on TV is definitely the result of social media making it publicly acceptable to be bigger or have darker skin or be queer,’ Rachel reasons. ‘Edward Enninful has obviously made huge steps at Vogue, too, but I feel like that wouldn’t have happened if they didn’t see that it wasn’t a risk to include more diverse people in their campaigns.

‘I think there’s a psychology where, when you’re looking at social media rather than a print magazine, you almost feel like you’re getting a style tip from a friend. There’s something familiar there, because you know their life, what their house looks like, where they’ve been on holiday. Again, it goes back to that element of trust, and I feel like we have that at CLOAN, too. Women have been borrowing clothes from each other since the age of about 12 – we’re just making it more formal.’

It’s an area Rachel knows well. She balances managing CLOAN with heading up the Talent department of PR agency VARG, which helps to build the brands of digital fashion and lifestyle influencers.

In fact, it was by recognising this shift in the attention of style-hungry consumers to social media through VARG that first inspired Rachel to dip her toes into the fashion rental market.

‘VARG definitely gave me that awareness of how women specifically are being influenced by digital creatives now way more than magazines,’ she says. ‘Originally, I’d had the idea to expand our influencers’ brands further by making some pieces from their wardrobes available for their followers to rent.

‘But the influencers we represent are very Scandi and minimalist in style. We did try it, but their followers were looking to them for guidance on what to buy themselves and have on repeat in their wardrobe, not for a specific event. So renting wasn’t working.

‘I still believed in the idea, so I put a few of my own dresses up online. I’ve worked in the fashion industry for nearly 20 years now so have accumulated a few key pieces – Self Portrait, Preen – and they rented out straight away. I thought: ok, I’ll invest some more. It’s been so much fun.’

It would be easy to think of the woman behind a luxury fashion brand such as CLOAN as being aloof.

But in person, Rachel is as affable as she is passionate – a trend setter, a Geordie, a boss and a mum, (not in that order). A self-confessed ‘fashion magpie’ with an eye for a bargain and a weakness for a good hairband.

Northumbria University has one of the most prestigious Fashion departments outside of London, and it was here that Rachel first directed her love for styling into a career path.

But despite a firm grounding in the theory of fashion design, her first job in the industry didn’t quite go to plan.

‘I’d been applying to design jobs straight out of Uni, but I was impatient so I’d also applied to some buying jobs. My first job was on the buying floor in Arcadia as a Buying Assistant. It involved a lot of admin, which really isn’t something I’m good at, so it was pretty painful.

‘My Senior Buyer even pulled me to one side and said: “look, you’re really not very good at this job. But what I will say for you is, you know every single person on the shop floor. Have you ever thought about PR?” I’d never considered it before. But I took their advice, ended up working in the Arcadia press office for six years, and never looked back.’

It was a career shift that led Rachel, typically, to the bright lights and endless promise of London – where she happily rubbed shoulders with the creatives and eccentrics of the capital until her second pregnancy encouraged her to return to the North East.

Almost as soon as she settled back home, Covid hit.

But it was the pandemic that actually affirmed Rachel’s believe that a nationwide fashion brand could not only survive but thrive with a base here in Newcastle.

‘I already knew that there’s so much amazing creative talent up here that’s not shouted about enough,’ Rachel explains. ‘But everything is done over Zoom or email now anyway, especially after the pandemic. The office space in Newcastle is so affordable and London is just a three-hour train away. We travel down every other week with CLOAN as it is. You really don’t need to be in London anymore.

‘I actually met one of the girls I now work with on the school run. She’s so obsessed with fashion and was so interested in what I was doing, so would always be sending me links to business podcasts or fashion articles. You meet people like that all the time up here and the kind of team I want to build at CLOAN is made up of people like them.’

As Rachel transitioned from colourful outfit to colourful outfit in record time during our shoot – accompanying each metamorphosis with a steady stream of commentary on the fashion industry or a play-by-play of the accessories that could work with each combo she’d brought with her – we couldn’t help but smile when, at one point, she likened herself to a Duracell bunny.

But underneath the youthful enthusiasm, there’s a stability, resilience and drive in Rachel’s character which often proves to become the bedrock of any successful business owner. It’s a combination between a creative impatience with what already exists and knowing that your vision for the future is worthy.

‘The next step for CLOAN is to scale up,’ she tells us. ‘I need to make it what it needs to be. The brand has been completely self-funded so far (more self-funded than my husband probably knows!), and it can just tick over as it is, but it’s got so much potential. I really believe in CLOAN. So, it needs investment.’

And if she were to secure that investment, one of Rachel’s ambitions for CLOAN once again demonstrates her deftness at harnessing inspiration from the digital revolution for the purposes of real life.

‘My dream would be to have a network of showrooms across the North, which would incorporate office space and a stockroom with an eco-friendly dry-cleaning unit in-house. They would be spaces for people to come and try outfits on, like here in Fenwick, where we could deliver a premium and personal service with an incredible inventory of stock, that would also bring our online offering and our in-person offering even closer together.’

Making high-end, luxury fashion more accessible to you and me, flying the flag for individualism, boosting the sustainability of the fashion industry whilst rejuvenating the high street, and doing it all from the North East?

It’s enough to make us want to consume less and CLOAN more.



To find out more about CLOAN and rent your next luxury outfit, either visit the concession stand on the first floor of Fenwick or check out their website.

You can also follow CLOAN on Instagram for a daily dose of style inspo.

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Image credit: Christopher Owens

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