These Clever Companies Offer Clothes on a Subscription Basis

©. Kleiderei

Why buy if you can borrow? These companies show how the fashion industry can be kinder to the environment -- and your wallet!

The fast fashion industry is notoriously bad for the environment. It is a top consumer of resources and energy, and a main source of landfill waste. Many eco-minded shoppers have sworn off fast fashion because they do not feel comfortable supporting an industry that treats clothing as disposable.

For the shoppers who make this decision, the only real alternatives are thrift stores and independent, eco-friendly labels, both of which are great, but have some downsides -- namely, the limited selection at thrift stores and the high price tags on sustainable brands.

Now, however, some innovative entrepreneurs have come up with alternative ways to support the fashion industry. The following three companies specialize in sharing and borrowing high-quality fashion items through subscription services, which is exactly what the recent report on fashion by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation said needs to happen. Learn how they do it.

1. Kleiderei


© Kleiderei

This German-based company, founded by two friends Pola Fendel and Thekla Wilkening in 2012, charges members a monthly subscription fee of 34 Euros. In exchange, members receive a box with four items of clothing delivered to their home. They keep them for four weeks (or longer, if requested), then send them back for a refresh. Kleiderei owns around 4,500 pieces of women's clothing, which means you'll probably never get the same item twice.

In an interview, Fendel and Wilkening explained how they always seem to get their picks for clients right:

"Whoever signs up for this service has to answer a handful of questions about the size they were, their taste, personal style... and so on. The longer our subscribers stick with us, the more we get to know them and can pick pieces that match their style and taste."

2. Lena

Lena library

© Lena

Lena operates like a library for clothing in Amsterdam, where you can check out clothes instead of books. For a monthly basic membership fee of 25 Euros, members are given points that can be exchanged for clothing items in the store. For example, the basic membership has 100 points, which is enough to borrow a coat, whereas a T-shirt is 25 points. You can also purchase a premium membership that allows more points.

Co-founder Elisa Jansen told The Guardian:

"Our ambition is that borrowing is normal for everyone. There is some awareness of how wasteful fashion has become, but a lot of people don’t know what to do – there are sustainable brands, but they are kind of expensive, and what if you’re not sure about their style and end up throwing it, is it really sustainable? It’s hard for a consumer. We thought this would be a fun way of being sustainable."

So far Lena is doing well, although Jansen admits it's harder to keep subscribers than to get them to sign up. She attributes this to busyness and a reluctance to return an item and choose another. Still, the business is growing and Jansen has plans to expand throughout the Netherlands.

3. Le Tote

Le Tote

© Le Tote

Based in the United States, Le Tote will send you a tote bag full of clothes and accessories every month. You select what you want online and confirm the final order before it's shipped, and then you have an unlimited amount of time enjoy the pieces before shipping them back, free of charge. From the website:

"You can wear [an item] as many times as you'd like and then send it back when you're ready for a refresh. The best part? We don't limit you, get as many totes per month as you want for one flat price."

If you fall in love with an item, you can buy it 50 percent off. Monthly plans start at $69 and can be adjusted according to your needs.

Depending on how much one spends on clothing monthly, subscription services like these could end up being big money-savers, not to mention free up space in the closet and time spent shopping.

At the very least, they're fascinating deviations from the conventional retail model that's been proven to be wasteful and expensive. I suspect we'll be seeing more companies like this in the future.