IT’S the most unlikely trend the fashion world has seen yet, and it looks set to stick around far longer than the velour tracksuit.
If you don’t like online shopping because you can’t see and try on your purchases, this is even stranger: you don’t even know what you’re buying. But just as digital retail has become the norm, mystery deliveries could be our future.
Style-savvy companies are now sending boxes of specially selected clothes or beauty products straight to customers’ doors.
Some firms send out standard offerings, but the more sophisticated ask customers for details of their size, appearance and taste and pick out the perfect pieces. You then have the opportunity to return anything you don’t like.
The idea works for both fashionistas looking for something different, as well as fashion-phobes who want to look good but can’t stand shopping.
It’s the next logical step as subscription boxes become increasingly popular for everything, from cook-it-yourself daily meals to wine, coffee, books and gardening products.
Her Fashion Box, which focuses on accessories, is one of the most popular of these companies in Australia, and has sent out more than 30,000 boxes worldwide in the past two years. Customers choose from classic, trendy or feminine, and then answer 20 questions about their look and personality: hair, skin type, age, lifestyle, interests and job.
“I like how they know fashion and always look for products that are on-trend as well as beauty brands that are rising in popularity,” Nicole Sembrano, a 20-year-old advertising and PR student from Sydney, told news.com.au.
“My top three loves from HFB are my grey felt fedora, beige clutch and round sunglasses. I feel like those three are worth way more than $39.95 [the monthly fee] if you buy them in the shops and it’s definitely worth it, considering I also get a handful of beauty products to try.”
For these companies, it’s vital that the branding is just right, so customers can trust they’ll like their deliveries. HFB sends a printed magazine along with each box and users can visit the online boutique to buy additional fashion items — which Nicole does.
She subscribes to the “trendy” box, but says that even more personalisation would make the offering even better. “I’ve had one or two beauty products sent to me that aren’t relevant to me considering they have an 18 to 28 demographic. For example, one month I received anti-ageing cream samples, which I wouldn’t use since I’m only 20, but nevertheless, my mum sure loved them.”
That’s not unusual. Many customers give items they are less keen on to friends and family.
Kath Purkis, who set up the company two years ago after starting a fashion e-commerce business at 21, says her customers are predominantly aged 18-30, but she does have customers in their 50s. “Some share items with their daughters, which is really cool,” she told news.com.au.
She noticed the growing trend in America for subscription boxes, kicking off with beauty box Birchbox, and loved the idea of getting excited by a surprise in the mail.
Beauty boxes are now everywhere in Australia. Emma Bradstock, a 23-year-old student from Perth, subscribes to The Parcel by Marie Claire and Violet Box, after getting hooked on the popular BellaBox.
“There were heaps of advertisements on Facebook for BellaBox, and they have cheap discounts on your first few so I thought I would see what the fuss was all about,” she told news.com.au. “I’ve been doing it for a about a year now. I like it because I get random beauty products that I wouldn’t normally get to try. I don’t think of subscription boxes like shopping because I don’t know what I am getting, it’s not like you order the contents of the box. I still go and get things I need.”
It’s clearly an enormous market. But Kath noticed that most of the boxes available were focused on beauty samples and often didn’t get them right. “I have red hair and I’m pale and I was receiving dark fake tan, it was untailored to me and I felt I was wasting my money,” she said.
She now runs a team of young stylists who are in tune with what’s on trend and who wore what to fashion week. “This month, it’s a chunky knit scarf or a beanie,” Kath said.
Customers will receive slightly different items and colours depending on their profile — if it’s a necklace, it could be silver or gold depending on your preference.
HFB is expanding the concept to more specialised groups. Kath, 29, noticed that many of her customers were interested in yoga and the gym, so she now offers a quarterly fitness box, which might contain “a skipping-rope, a cool tee, protein shakes and a cute sweatband”.
Nick Warth despises shopping, and a fashion box has been the perfect solution for him, too.
“I have a 30-minute limit and then I crack it,” said the 37-year-old, who works in marketing. “I work long hours and this saves me wasting time.”
He signed up to Kent & Lime, initially answering questions about his sizing, the type of clothes he wore and the sort he wanted. He then tells them via email or an online form when he is looking for something, and gets a delivery through the post. He can return anything that he doesn’t like or doesn’t fit him.
“Last week I sent an email saying I need clothes for work — pants, shirts — and some shirts for the weekend. It’s only a couple of times they’ve not got it right.
“They’ll send a couple of other things too. They send me things I would never normally look at or think would suit me.
“Particularly when I first started using them, people would say ‘wow, you look good’.”
Kent & Lime have now partnered with Victor York for custom suits, and for Nick, it “makes things a hell of a lot easier”.
He’ll still buy his own sportswear, but his long-suffering partner no longer has to endure his impatience in real-life stores.
In the US, “fashion tech” companies like Golden Tote, Tog + Porter, Stitch-Fix, Le Tote and Trunk Club are taking this trend to the next level, using algorithms and detailed profiling to get their stylish deliveries just right. And it’s been particularly popular with fashion-fans living in remote rural areas, of which Australia has a few.
After the roaring success here of online brands like ASOS, The Iconic, Missguided and Boohoo — as well as international stores such as TopShop shipping overseas — this could be the next frontier.
It’s a counterintuitive trend, but it makes sense, and it could soon become as normal as clicking away at your favourite online store.