n old colleague’s face turned up when I was flipping through my Fast Company backlog the other day: Katrina Lake, CEO/Founder of Stitch Fix, Harvard Business School grad, and former Polyvore intern. Reading about subscription retail services in FC reminded me that I had two invitations to try out such services (for free – that matters), and since my wallet’s on a strict for-wedding-only diet, I decided to finally give ’em a spin.
Le Tote – $19 monthly Jewelry Box fee (3 accessories) or $49 monthly Boutique Box fee (3 garments, 2 accessories; unlimited totes per month
For no other reason than an employee had reached out to me around the same time and the message floated to the top of my Priority Inbox, I registered for Le Tote first. Le Tote is yet another fashion startup from San Francisco, delivering you a “tote” (box) of hand-picked items that gets replenished as rapidly as you can try them on. Pick your favorites from their constantly refreshing assortment, receive them, try them, ship them back, and pick your new favorites again; it is the Circle of Style, and it moves us all. The expediency of Le Tote’s fulfillment is really something to marvel at. Thanks to the USPS, every box is just a revolving door of styles to try on in the comfort of your own home.
I’m about to receive my third tote in just two weeks this week, and so far I’ve received brands that already hang in my closet, including Saint Grace, which you can find on Revolve. Overall, though, the totes have left me disappointed. (I tried really hard not to write “totes disappointed.” Oops, guess I just did.) The quality of the clothes are decent to good. The selection is limited to the young urban woman who works in an office much stodgier than mine.
Le Tote merchandising seems to adhere to the idea that statements largely belong in your jewelry, and not in your apparel. (And seriously, if you just want to play with statement jewelry all day, sign up for RocksBox. Not joking. I’m not a huge jewelry person and my free subscription to RocksBox ended months ago, but I know it serves a great need for the bauble-obsessed.) Prints don’t get too crazy (and I love crazy prints!), fabrics are fairly safe (and I love daring fabrics!), and overall it’s the very typical American fashion blogger: skinny jeans on bottom, layered moto jacket “for just a little bit of edge” on top. (Or lots o’ spiky chains to offset the romance in a lace cutout tee. You know what I’m talking about.) It’s not how I dress every day. It’s too plain, expected.
Unrelated to the clothes itself, but worthy of its own note: Le Tote gives out the second best canvas tote I have ever received as a freebie. It’s black, silkscreened with simple non-embarrassing logos, and has multiple pockets – not common for the manufacturers of the world who think “tote” just means “two pieces of fabric sewn together.” (First place was a ModCloth Geek Girl Dinner insulated shopper.) Details!
Stitch Fix – $20 styling fee per fix (credit toward purchase), receive fixes on-demand or automatically
Next up was, obviously, Stitch Fix. I had to forage through my email for a dusty old Klout Perk, but found it just in time to receive both services in relatively the same time frame. I just got my first “fix” last night, and despite knowing the founder casually, I must say I’m still impressed! Stitch Fix’s methodology differs from Le Tote’s in that a personal stylist drills down on your survey responses (which are quite elaborate! And yes, all these surveys involve sizing specifics to accommodate for the variances of the female body – though I question any such business’ abilities to cater to plus or petite.) and carefully crafts you a fix. The rate of delivery is not as rapid as Le Tote’s, but the care seems to really show through.
Each fix includes two outfit ideas per item (Perhaps a nod to Lake’s Polyvore days?), and overall the quality of the fabrics blew me away. I’m a girl who got bummed out when Costco stopped carrying multipacks of thongs, but has simultaneously memorized when NET-A-PORTER’S semi-annual sale kicks off, okay? I know good quality when I see it, and by holding Stitch Fix’s selections in my hand, I could also feel it.
Most importantly, my Stitch Fix Stylist Kate did a great job picking pieces for me. I’m in awe of how she did it, because I like to think I’m a unique free spirit like the girl with the dream catcher tattoo on her thigh. (It’s the new butterfly tramp stamp, didn’t you know?) I wish I had reason to keep two of the pieces for myself, but I simply don’t at the moment.
Why it’s not for me.
Thus far, I have bought a total of zero of my Le Tote and Stitch Fix hauls and their enclosed contents. The membership perks of subscribing to these services include discounted rates on the pieces you keep, though for Stitch Fix you only get a discount for purchasing the entire collection at once. Le Tote offers “member price” discounts on each of its wares, making it more in line with a shopping club.
Still, I haven’t bought anything, and here’s why:
I’m just not the target.
Both Le Tote and Stitch Fix kick off with style surveys to hone in on your tastes, but no algorithm could accommodate for preferring to march to the beat of one’s own drum.
- I actually like the hunt. I don’t shop in brick-and-mortar stores that often, but when I do, something has to really scream at me to get me to notice it. Even if it’s just a basic, it has to be a really well-crafted basic. I like the discovery of a fantastic good. It’s as if I’ve accomplished something (often with a side of instant gratification). And I don’t want someone else telling me I’m predictable enough that they’ve found what defines me for me. (And not a more Millennial statement was ever written…)
- My primary hunting skill is online shopping. Web shopping isn’t for everyone. If your first reaction is, “But what if it doesn’t fit correctly?” I don’t have time to get you on my level. I know my sizes, but more importantly, I know my body type, so the fear of receiving something off-measure or unflattering doesn’t limit me. I love online shopping because I’m great at finding the best deals online and even scheduling my purchases for whenever they go on sale. Have I created calendar reminders for myself for key sale dates? Yes. And sometimes I don’t need to. (Also, Pinterest sends you sales alerts now, so, you know, power to automated enablers.)
- I haven’t grown since high school. Okay, laterally, yes, I have fluctuated, but by and large, I am the same height and size as I was when I was seventeen. I am so serious about this. When your favorite pieces from high school still fit, you end up accumulating decades worth of stuff. (And yeah, I had signature pieces in high school. That should say something for my selectiveness, which brings us to…)
- I’m really picky. I believe there’s kismet in closets just as there is with people you meet at the right time, or books that turn up just when you need them. Like I mentioned before, I have to handle a product, research its brand, and mull over its place in my wardrobe before I can fully adopt it. Craftsmanship! It’s something that I’ve found cannot be picked for me; I have to witness and evaluate it firsthand. Having this Portlandia-level obsession with creative intention has led me to actively seek independent designers who often produce limited runs and are difficult to find. But that’s what makes them gems.
- I have to pay for a wedding. It is expensive. I am incredibly excited. We are excellent planners and budgeters. It is expensive.
Who would love a style subscription?
If your work requires you to dress in “business casual” and above, and you find shopping to be a chore, try Stitch Fix or Le Tote! Seriously. For people who don’t have the time to meander through malls, live far from on-trend shopping centers, or aren’t natural overplanners who stave off their spending sprees for sale season, these services are great. Staying up to date has never been so passive.
Do you love J. Crew? Then you’ll love subscriptions.
Style-wise, these subscription services can only subsist at scale. They aren’t going to be able to buy, send, and sell to “indie,” anti-fashion mongers. That’s just the nature of the business: Indie designs decidedly aren’t meant to appeal to a mass market, and safe designs are simply not going to appeal to someone who purposefully goes against the grain. As a result, the closet that best benefits from a subscription injection is a relatively mainstream, on-trend closet. It’s stylish all the same (assuming you can dress yourself fairly well), it just depends on what kind of customer you are.
Finally, let it be said that if you just love treating yoself and getting stuff in the mail, subscription services are pretty great. Thanks to the combination of introductory style quizzes and generally reliable curation, you’re bound to be delighted to receive that box every month. It’s like a present. And though it’s filled with surprise items, you can be sure it won’t include a scratchy sweater.