Clothes-sharing app Le Tote

Clothes Sharing — The Death of the Retailer and the Future of Apparel

Macy’s, Nordstrom, Lord & Taylor and now independent apparel retailers — here today, gone within a decade? It is widely known that the large department stores our grandparents and parents were loyal customers of are in big trouble. From selling off real estate to heavily subsidizing (aka losing money on) e-commerce and free shipping offers to attract online shoppers, big box retailers are nearing its end.

But even independent retailers that have thus far successfully catered to millennials with savvy marketing, customization, and sustainable sourcing and design, may soon be in big trouble.

The consumer technology infrastructure of our generation is built on the sharing economy. From homes to cars, we have grown extremely comfortable with the concept of sharing our belongings with others — even complete strangers. Now, a growing number of companies have capitalized on this concept and extended it to the sharing of clothes, to the point that no one even needs to own any of these clothing to begin with.

The decision to share clothing is based on more than just people wanting to save money while having the flexibility to have endless new outfits. More individuals than ever before are aware of the tremendous toll on resources, both human and natural, needed to manufacture apparel.

From the sweatshop backlash that companies like Nike and Gap faced in the early to mid-2000’s to the anti-animal cruelty campaigns associated with sourcing leather and fur, to the growing focus on natural resource (cotton and water among others) depletion, the social and economic cost of wasting clothing has gained more prominence. According to a PBS article, Americans throw away 13 million tons of textiles — about 85% of their clothes each year, accounting for 9 percent of total non-recycled waste. In the same article, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that, in terms of carbon emissions, the amount of worn clothing already recycled each year into new apparel is equivalent to taking one million cars off the road.

How many millions-equivalent of cars can we take off the road if we not only recycle but also share clothing with each other?

Clothes sharing for special occasions like prom or a cocktail party have gained popularity through Rent the Runway, a New York-based company that provides designer dress and accessory rentals. Rent the Runway also launched a new subscription service that allows customers to rent unlimited batches of 3 designer items at a time for a monthly fee of $139.

Le Tote has taken clothes sharing to another level by selling subscriptions to unlimited totes of 5 casual articles of clothing and accessories at a time. The company even offers a maternity line. For a flat fee starting at $39 per month, customers can select items from over 100 designers including Kate Spade, Free People, and Rebecca Minkoff. Subscribers can browse through the selection, with new items added periodically, and add items they like to their virtual closet. As soon as they send back their last tote, they get a quick notification via text and email to choose the items in their next tote.

With free shipping, the option to cancel anytime and no need to do laundry, clothes sharing companies will revolutionize the future of the apparel industry and potentially cut out retail players altogether, working as the middle person between manufacturers and the consumer.