Stuck in a fashion rut? Loathe the mall? Or maybe just strapped for time? Good news: Online shopping is becoming faster, smarter and easier, while rental services and subscription boxes are upending traditional retail. Here are the latest innovations in shopping.
1. Clothing subscription boxes
You can get a subscription for pretty much anything these days, from meal kits to tampons. According to a 2018 McKinsey & Company survey, the U.S. subscription market has grown by more than 100 percent each year for the past five years, with curation services, such as clothing and beauty boxes, proving the most popular—and for good reason. “I love that I can bring the store to my closet and try on items with pieces that I already own,” says 34-year-old Sarah Barr from St. Albert, Alta., who has subscribed to Frock Box for three years.
The try-and-buy subscription service was founded by three Alberta-based moms in 2015 and features clothing and accessories. It’s an especially great option for those who don’t live close to a mall. “We have so many rural women as customers, and that’s a huge part of our business,” says Jenna Hill, owner of Frock Box. “We use Canada Post, so we can ship to anywhere in Canada, including PO boxes.”
How subscription boxes work
1. Create a profile
You typically start by providing a slew of information, including your measurements, colour preferences and other personal details (like your occupation) that can inform your personal style.
2. Wait for your box to be curated
In-house stylists and/or artificial intelligence technology will select clothing—plus accessories and shoes, depending on the service—to be shipped to your door.
3. Preview your haul
Many services, like Frock Box and Frank and Oak, allow you to pre-approve the contents of your box before it’s shipped—with the opportunity to swap out pieces you absolutely don’t like.
4. Try it on
Ultimately, you decide what to keep, sending back whatever you don’t want within a specific period of time (typically a week). Two-way shipping is generally covered by the service.
Subscription boxes we love
With an inclusive size range (0 to 3XL) and thousands of styles—including pieces from Canadian labels like Saskatchewan-based Rebecca King—Frock Box has something for everyone. You’ll receive five items a month (which range from $30 to $300); keep at least one, and the $25 subscription fee is deducted from your total.
Describe your favourite activities and receive seven athleisure pieces (in sizes XXS to XL) from this Montreal-based company as often as you like. You’ll be charged an initial $25 styling fee, which is credited toward any purchases; prices range from $35 to $250.
Frank and Oak
This sustainable Montreal-based brand is known for its minimalist aesthetic. As part of its monthly service, you’ll receive three items (XS to XL), typically ranging in price from $29 to $150. There’s a $25 fee if the entire box is returned.
2. Clothing rental services
Love the idea of a minimalist closet but always crave something new? Consider renting your wardrobe. Yes, that’s right.
You may be familiar with special-occasion rentals, which have recently experienced a boom. “The growth of the sharing economy is helping change mindsets,” says Julie Buczkowski, co-founder of The Fitzroy, which ships dresses across Canada. “I attend so many functions where different outfits are required,” says Tamara Bahry, a Toronto-based artist and philanthropist, and long-time Fitzroy client. “Renting has encouraged me to push my fashion choices; it’s also eco-friendly and doesn’t break the bank.”
You can also rent everyday pieces, thanks to new subscription services from Canadian companies like Rent Frock Repeat and Dresst. “There’s a point of mass accumulation with subscription boxes,” says Kristy Wieber, co-founder of Rent Frock Repeat. “They’re not as sustainable as a rental subscription.” Both services feature contemporary brands and work similarly to traditional subscription boxes, except for the fact that after one month, everything gets shipped back. Monthly rental costs vary depending on the number of pieces; both brands take care of any loose buttons and other repairs, as well as dry-cleaning. You also have the option to buy‚ at a discount, any pieces you can’t bear to part with.
How special-occasion rentals work
1. Find a dress
Up to four months before the event, select your dream look from a bricks-and-mortar location or website, and book your rental date.
2. Consult a stylist
Unsure about the precise fit of your chosen style? Most services offer stylist consultations either in person, over the phone or by email.
3. Select a rental period
You’ll likely have the option of renting for a four- or eight-day stint, with an extension for an additional cost.
4. Look amazing (and send it back when you’re done)
Two-way shipping isn’t always included, so double-check the total cost before you commit.
Rental services we love
Lightly worn casual, work and formal wear from brands like Smythe and Club Monaco, in sizes 00 to 14, are put up for rent by their owners and managed by the Reheart team. Rentals start at four days (and around $45) and can run as long as 30 days; shipping is included.
A $99 per month membership to Dresst (Ontario-only for now, sizes 0 to 14) lets you choose three pieces from labels such as Joie and Vince. After 30 days you return them, and you’re sent three more; shipping is included.
With thousands of dresses (in sizes 0 to 18) available online or at its Toronto studio, you’ll find an option for every occasion. Depending on the designer (including Rachel Zoe and Needle & Thread), prices range from $75 to $140 for a four-day rental; shipping is an extra $25.
3. Instagram shopping
The mall of the moment isn’t something you stroll through— it’s something you scroll through, thanks to Instagram’s transformation from photo-sharing social-media app to global shopping centre.
You may have noticed that IG has a sixth sense about your style, based on what you’ve bought in the past and which accounts you’ve been checking out on the regular. There’s a plethora of brands on the platform that you’d never encounter in a Canadian shopping mall, including online-only retailers like Chicwish and Réalisation Par. Because Instagram’s aesthetic is typically more casual than a brand’s retail site, you’ll often be able to see how the clothes are being worn in the wild (on happy customers, styled with other pieces from different brands).
“Instagram is a place to be inspired, to enjoy the act of shopping, versus the chore of crossing errands off a list,” says Erin Taylor, communications manager for Facebook and Instagram Canada. While you currently need to click out of the platform to make a purchase, that’s likely about to change. Earlier this year, IG enabled in-app checkout on shoppable posts for U.S. residents—with the ability to securely store your credit card information in your profile—and hopes to expand this (dangerously simple) shortcut to other countries soon.
How to shop Instagram
1. Be skeptical
If you’re trying a newly discovered brand, do some Googling first and read reviews before making a purchase—some may have issues with customer service or counterfeit designs.
2. Be patient
Many popular Instagram brands are located on the other side of the world. Make sure to budget ample time for delivery, as it can often take three to five weeks—or longer!
3. Be warned
One of the biggest drawbacks of shopping on this platform is running into poor customer service. Some brands don’t cover the cost of returns, which can amount to the same as the original purchase price.
Instagram storefronts we love
Oak and Fort
Launched in 2010, this Vancouver-based brand has amassed a devoted following for its breezy, clean designs. Womenswear (XXS to L, $10 to $288) seems to be available in every imaginable shade of neutral, making it a safe space for the colour-averse.
This online fast-fashion retailer, with offices in China and San Francisco, offers an eclectic mix of clothing that’s constantly updated. Prices are affordable, ranging from $20 to $150, but sizing is limited (S to L) and delivery wait times vary from two to five weeks.
San Francisco–based Everlane produces sustainable fashion in ethical factories with transparent pricing. It’s your one-stop shop for sleek, pragmatic and minimal clothing (sizes 00 to 16), accessories and footwear, from $15 to $250.