Le Tote, located at 3130 20th Street, is one of several subscription services that offer consumers a new way to outfit themselves. Instead of visiting brick and mortar dress shops, trying on garments in changing rooms and buying items that occupy dwindling closet spaces, Le Tote vends online subscriptions in which patrons rent clothes that’re shipped to their residences.
The idea for Le Tote germinated in 2012 when the founders’ – Rakesh Tondon and Brett Northart – wives successfully participated in clothing swaps with their friends, in part because Tondon’s, Le Tote’s chief executive officer, spouse was unsatisfied with her wardrobe while pregnant with their second child. The business model may be attractive for consumers who want a variety of outfits to wear but prefer not spending a lot of money only to have last season’s pieces sit idly, no longer worn. For expectant mothers especially, maternity wear quickly loses its usefulness.
“The moment the lightbulb went off was when I realized what my wife was doing to get a\variety for maternity clothes when she was pregnant,” Tondon told the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center in an interview. “She was sharing with close friends and her siblings. This is also something I saw my sister and some of her close friends doing; borrowing and swapping with each other to get variation. I realized that these were different women, in different phases of their lives, in different geographies, yet they all wanted the same thing: variety. And they were getting a degree of variety by sharing/swapping clothing and accessories.”
The Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center article described Le Tote as one of the first clothing subscription services on the market. The company has received $62.5 million in investment funding.
Many clothing subscription services are now on offer, such as Stitch Fix, Rent the Runway, Trunk Club and Lootwear for Her. Services geared toward men also exist, including Bombfell and Trendy Butler. Amazon recently launched its “Prime Wardrobe” for men, women and families with Prime memberships.
Le Tote supplies clothing for women beyond just maternity wear. The most popular items rented are outfits for the workplace, core wardrobe basics – everyday garments that can be easily paired with other clothes to produce a greater variety of ensembles – such as jeans, t-shirts, crew neck sweaters, summer dresses and tops. The company has two base membership arrangements, starting at $69 a month for the Classic plan; $79 monthly for maternity. The base plans provide roughly 13 outfits for the month; more items are available for higher dollar membership schemes.
Once a plan is chosen members select styles they’re interested in – such as denim, wrap dresses, and jackets – and provide information about preferred size for each garment variety and the types of settings in which they’ll wear the clothing. Le Tote also rents accessories, including purses and earrings. French Connection, Calvin Klein, Kate Spade, Loft and Banana Republic are on offer.
When ready, shoppers browse selections of textiles based on their interests, and choose what’ll go in their “totes” for the month. Boxes of the garments are shipped to the customer, who can wear them as often as they like until it’s time to send them back in a pre-paid envelope. Members can purchase a favorite item for 50 percent off the retail price. In between renters apparel is laundered and jewelry sterilized by Le Tote staff. Service users can pause or change their memberships at any time, and rent items as many times as they’d like.
“Renting for work is very popular amongst our members,” commented Emily Fox, director of marketing communications at Le Tote. “We also find women renting trend-forward pieces that they wouldn’t want to buy for keeps but are excited to rent without commitment. We also see a lot of wardrobe\staples — like denim, blazers, blouses, knits and athleisure — are popular as well. Many of our members work, many are moms. The beauty of Le Tote is that each member can pick what ships, so she can tailor her box to her agenda. And we strive to offer a breadth of options that appeal to a wide demographic.”
Le Tote makes recommendations based on a member’s product ratings and their answers to a “style quiz”. Customers can also leave reviews for their “totes” and suggest what style options they want to see. According to Fox, it’s not just the ability to rent or buy at a discount, but the combination of the two that sets Le Tote apart from its competition.
Stitch Fix offers clothing for men, women and children under a system in which customers fill out a comparable “style quiz,” garments are shipped to them, they purchase the ones they like and send back the ones they don’t. Rent the Runway is a fully rental women’s clothing service that has a variety of plans to choose from. The company’s marketing includes environmental sustainability information about how rental wear reduces production of new garments that’re either discarded or are underutilized. Trunk Club, a purchase-only service, has clothing for both genders. Under Amazon’s Prime Wardrobe service, Prime members can order a box of garments to try on at home, purchase those they like and return the others.
In May, Bloomberg reported that Le Tote cut 50 jobs — about one-third of the company’s roster — to increase profitability amidst an increasingly competitive subscription service market. The layoffs affected San Francisco workers as well as remote staff. The move followed the company’s decision to expand service to China this past January.