Courtesy of Fat Lama.
Imagine you’re a freelance photographer and you’ve been asked to do a photoshoot for an up-and-coming musician that requires specific equipment (maybe a camera or a particular lens) you don’t have. A camera can cost thousands to buy, if not more, and even a basic wide-angle lens can cost hundreds. And you’ll only need it for a day—so what do you do?
Launched late in 2016, Fat Lama is looking to solve this dilemma, allowing artists and creatives the ability to temporarily rent equipment—cameras, video equipment, lenses—from their peers for short stints and low costs. Described by co-founder Chaz Englander as “Airbnb for stuff,” the London-based Fat Lama serves as a middleman, letting those looking for equipment rent from people whose often-expensive gear is otherwise collecting dust. The company makes its money from the 15 percent cut it takes from both parties.
Along with equipment for artists, it offers everything from guitars to drones to turntables to bikes to cameras, all insured by a third party for full market value of the rented equipment should anything break.
Englander, along with classmates Rosie Dallas and Owen Turner-Major, conceived of the company when frustrated with buying items for one-time use at a co-working space. Englander said Fat Lama enables creators to earn supplemental income through putting their equipment on the site and also save more by taking advantage of the lower prices. The company said that the prices it offers are on average 30 percent less than brick and mortar stores that offer equipment rentals. (Fat Lama also offers other benefits over its traditional competition, like not requiring a deposit.)
“Creatives are always scrapping around for more work”—if not for enjoyment, then for subsistence, Englander explained. Creative freelancers constitute about 47 percent of the cultural sector, and according to a Creative Industries Federation Survey, earnings can be as low as £18,000 a year, while the all-too-present specter of unpaid work looms. For this cohort, sharing items though sites like Fat Lama could provide needed support.
Initially brought to the site in search of specific camera gear, freelance photographer and Fat Lama user Usman Dawood said he and his wife now primarily rent out their own equipment, resulting in a 25 to 30 percent increase in their household income. Englander reported that company has provided some freelancers with up to an extra £3,000 per month, allowing them to make a living just off of rentals.
“I wish it existed when I was a student,” said videographer Eleonora Cecchini. Many facets of the sharing economy appeal to and incorporate a younger demographic—in age and experience—with less access to the disposable income required to make purchases. Today, a large number of users are students, according to the company.
Dawood and Englander both think it has the potential to make a major impact in the market for equipment. “By incentivising people to lend out their things, we’re speeding up the move towards a circular economy where products are repaired and reused instead of disposed of,” Englander has said.
Fat Lama, which received £1 million from angel investors in April, has continued to grow. Englander reported that there are currently tens of thousands of London users of the company’s photography category.
Currently, the company doesn’t have strong presence beyond the United Kingdom. And a few complaints of return-condition have also surfaced online, though this isn’t an uncommon occurrence for online retailers. But Englander notes the sharing economy’s peer-to-peer aspect has prompted users to treat each other well to garner positive reviews (users also meet in person to exchange gear).
Cecchini said she hoped the company would stick around well into the future, but expressed concern with growing popularity increasing supply and lowering rental prices. Englander maintained that Fat Lama operates on the basis of both price and convenience. “50% of rentals are same day or within 24 hours,” he said. Englander argued this immediate, often last-minute, need for equipment in close, often constraining, proximity should limit renters’ ability to search for only the cheapest option and allow those renting equipment to continue to see reasonable returns.
Looking to the future, Englander sees his company not only as part of the larger sharing trend, but as a precursor to an “essentialized” digital system where physical objects also are circulated online. Englander predicted a website where everyone will have digital inventory, hopefully kickstarted by Fat Lama.
“It’s a difficult market to be in but we believe in it really strongly,” he said. “We’re believers that one day everyone’s items will be taken online.”