Are they really a smarter way to shop? 🤔
How do they work?
There are two business models –
1/ Pay a monthly fee to be sent clothes + you can purchase those items at a discount – e.g. Vince Unfold, Le Tote, Rent the Runway (limited ability to purchase items).
Shipping, returns and cleaning are free. Send back the items you don’t want to keep, they’ll send you a new group of items. Depending on the company and the plan, the number of items ranges from 4 per month to unlimited.
2/ Get sent items to purchase, potentially at a discount. If you don’t want to buy, you’ll be charged a stylist fee – e.g. Stitch Fix, Trunk Club, Frank and Oak.
This is personal styling. So no real business model innovation here 🤔
As a consumer, which option should I pick?
I think it boils down to a simple question.
👀 Do you know what you want but don’t have the time to look for it?
If so, Business Model 2 companies. If not, Business Model 1 companies.
Well, Business Model 2 companies charge you a styling fee if you return everything, which tends to encourage buying something. And we all know how that goes…💸💸💸
I didn’t want to commit to buying anything, so I tried companies that offered Business Model 1.
First up was Vince Unfold.
Vince describes themselves as “elevated yet understated pieces for every day”, I would describe them as expensive basics.
I paid for a month (USD$160 + tax), picked out 4 garments (there’s no personal styling element), and waited for my clothes to be shipped. I didn’t receive any clothes until about 2 weeks later 🤨 In the mean time I contacted them to ask for a cancellation and refund. At time of writing, 3 weeks after I subscribed, I’m still waiting to get my refund.
So in summary, would not recommend 👎
Next was Le Tote.
Le Tote is multi-branded, and I would say leans more towards casual & department store labels.
I was referred by a friend so yay free 14 day trial! A paid month costs USD$79 + tax or USD$89 + tax for maternity.
They asked for my measurements, my style and what I was looking for. Their recommendation was to send me many pairs of jeans (I already have many pairs of jeans 😅) so I swapped all their recommendations for other items.
The clothes arrived in the promised 3 days.
However, 2 of the 4 items turned out to be made of polyester. This is purely personal preference, but I don’t like polyester clothing. Not only is it environmentally terrible, it doesn’t feel great to wear. To be fair, the Le Tote website does note fabric type in the Details section of each item, I obviously forgot to read that 🤦🏻♀️
I wore the 2 remaining items, they were ok, then packed everything in the USPS bag, and sent it all back.
So in short, it did what it was supposed to do.
Some parting wisdom – what problem do you want a clothing subscription to solve?
A. Occasion wear
Have a wedding or special event to attend, need maternity clothing, or insert short term scenario of choice. The use case here is straightforward and Business Model 1 provides a more cost effective solution. After all, why buy a $500 dress that you plan to wear once when you can rent it for $30?
B. Experiment with your personal style
If you’re not sure where to start, go with a company that offers an actual subscription service i.e. Business Model 1, and is multi-branded, so you have more choice. Based on cost and choice, Rent the Runway, seems to be the leading option, followed closely by Le Tote.
I think this is the larger and growing opportunity.
Used clothing has low to no resale value, a significant amount of clothing is worn a few times before being ‘decluttered’, and paying for a monthly subscription often works out to be cheaper than buying new items (obviously dependent on the individual’s spending habits).
I wouldn’t be surprised to see more people using clothing subscriptions as a way to add seasonal pieces to complement their core wardrobe.
So are clothing subscriptions a smarter way to shop? Yes, if you’re clear on what you want to get out of one.