The world has come a long way from cassette tapes by mail from Columbia House. From true-crime-inspired bath products to osteological specimens (read: skulls), there truly is a subscription box for everything.
And people are gobbling them up: Roughly 15 percent of online shoppers—mostly younger, affluent urbanites—have signed up for one more or these subscriptions on a recurring basis, according to McKinsey & Company. The subscription e-commerce market has grown by more than 100 percent each year over the past five years, with the largest among them generating more than $2.6 billion in sales in 2016, up from a more modest $57 million in 2011.
Subscription startups, driven by venture-capital investments, have sunk their claws into every product category imaginable: food and drink, cosmetics and personal care, feminine hygiene, video games, contact lenses, razors, children’s toys, vitamins and underwear.
So why not sustainable fashion?
Think of And We Evolve (AWE) as Stitch Fix with an eco-friendly twist. Launched in 2017, the Philadelphia-based company describes itself as a “style club and re-commerce fashion” subscription-box service for secondhand clothing in like-new condition.
As with Stitch Fix, new members first fill out a questionnaire that susses out their size, shape, style and favorite brands. They can choose to receive their products, which may include shoes and jewelry, monthly or quarterly, though “perks abound for members who commit to a long-term membership,” AWE writes on its website.
For $99 per month, subscribers receive a box of six items—four if they’re from designer labels—plus access to the company’s Style Club, a private group of subscribers. Springing $149 four times a year nets members a six-item “capsule wardrobe” every quarter, along with entry into the Style Club, where they can “enjoy the benefits of free clothing swaps and community with other members.”
A standard box, AWE promises, has an original retail value of $300 to $400 and can feature products from brands such as Anthropologie, Club Monaco, Express, J.Crew, Loft, Topshop, Urban Outfitters, Zara and “so much more.”
All items are for the members to keep, although subscribers with yearlong or quarterly memberships are able to trade items from their boxes with other members in twice-monthly virtual swap sessions via the messaging platform Slack.
“We do things a little differently here,” AWE admitted on its “Our Story” page. “We made the decision to pivot from the standard ‘try-on’ service subscription model that most are used to. We want to outgrow the disposable culture around clothes. Instead, we want to create fashion-conscious women who try something new. It is our hope that this change can help foment a more sustainable business while disrupting the current throwaway culture that comes along with the standard subscription service. It’s our intention to maintain a customer base to whom we can provide true concierge-like service, getting to know your style and preferences closely in order to provide pieces you will love.”
AWE said it traffics in gently used clothing rather than true sustainably made garments because the latter can be expensive, while the former makes use of an existing commodity in a more accessible way.
“In an ideal world, we’d be able to buy all our clothes from ethical fashion designers,” it noted. “Unfortunately, clothes that are made in America or made from environmentally sustainable fabrics tend to be pretty expensive. Since secondhand prices are 50 to 70 percent off that of retail prices, shopping secondhand is a way to shop both sustainably and affordably.”