Subscription Socks and High-Fashion Rentals

A blog about business and economics.
Dec. 4 2013 7:32 AM

Subscription Socks and High-Fashion Rentals

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The awesome future.

Screen grab, www.SockPanda.com

When I wrote on Monday about the idea of a future in which cheap delivery turns more and more of the economy into a subscription model, some folks just dismissed it out of hand. Would anyone really want to wear clothing this way?

I think you can actually see that it's already happening. The Wall Street Journal had a story this week about a European company that leases expensive designer clothing on a long-term-ish basis rather than selling it. And Andrew Adam Newman had a piece about sock-of-the-month-club businesses in which people subscribe to have a new pair sent to them each month to keep their sock wardrobe constantly fresh. In other respects the established business Rent the Runway is even closer to what I'm talking about. Most women would like to wear a fancy, expensive dress sometimes, but any fancy, expensive dress you buy will inevitably be sitting in your closet on the vast majority of days. So why not rent the fancy dress, and thus actually be able to afford to wear a fancier dress on that handful of fancy-dress days than would otherwise be possible?

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These kind of business models remain a bit niche for now. But if in the future either aerial drones or autonomous delivery vans make ordering some clothing as fast as ordering a pizza, then you'll see an explosion. It'd be a snap to have three dresses drones over to your house so you could try them on. Two would get sent back right away, one you'd wear and send back the next day, and then it's just charged to your card. In the aggregate you might wind up spending slightly more on clothing this way than under a traditional ownership model, but your wardrobe would be much improved and the reduced storage needs at home would bring down your housing costs.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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