Subscription, a better way to overconsume?


Purchasing a lot of products, without really needing them: the subscription, a form of recurrent purchase, causes the risk of overconsumption.
Women unboxing clothingKetut Subiyanto

"It doesn't push me to buy, it forces me!" Elisa, 24, thought she was getting a good deal by taking the "VIP" service from Fabletics, which offers a monthly subscription to be used to buy sportswear at a discount.

The company allows its subscribers who wish to do so not to pay their monthly fee, but Elisa forgot several times to "spend the month". So she paid 200 euros, which she now has to spend because she can't get a refund. "These are things that I would not have bought if I did not have to," she says.
girl in orange shirt unboxing jacketSHVETS production

In a fashion industry already highly criticized for its environmental impact, companies like Fabletics "use the subscription to do hidden promotion," says Elisabeth Laville, founder of the consulting firm Utopies, which specializes in sustainable development consulting for companies. "You are encouraged to consume, under the pretext of getting a good price," she said to us. Fabletics could not be reached by us.

The consultant Elisabeth Laville is also severe towards another mode of subscription: the subscription boxes.

A concept born in 2010, which allows the customer to receive each month a package of products, often surprises, according to a defined theme. Even if they don't always receive what they need or want. "This goes completely against what we would like to promote, the fact of choosing better, of making reasoned and conscious choices", she sighs.
A couple unboxing vaseKetut Subiyanto

Yet some companies are trying to use subscriptions as a way to move towards more sustainable consumption. Subscriptions for shared cars rented appliances or even pairs of shoes... The company then owns the product and seeks to encourage its use, rather than its possession.

"The company knows that it must act over time. It needs the best possible products and thus goes against the model of programmed obsolescence," says Michael Mansard, director of business model transformation at Zuora, which provides services to help companies manage their subscription offer.

Greener to rent clothes?

In recent years, shared wardrobe companies have flourished, inspired by the model of the American company Rent the Runway, which offers to rent clothes every month, buying only those you want to keep. The motto: "wear more, buy less". At first glance, the idea seems to lead to more responsible consumption: the clothes are used by several people, instead of sleeping in a closet.
Women shopping clothesCottonbro

"I was looking for a more eco-responsible behavior. I felt guilty about seeing all these clothes in my closet when I always wear the same ones," says Sixtine, 27, who subscribed nearly a year ago to Closet, a French start-up that has taken up the concept.

This idea of a shared wardrobe does have some limitations. In a sector as competitive as textiles, with rapidly changing fashions, there is a risk of "consumer pressure to change the stock regularly," warns Alma Dufour, a campaigner with the environmental group Friends of the Earth. "This would end up creating an increase in stocks anyway, and therefore a significant consumption of clothing," she explains.

There is also the problem of the ecological impact of the transport of clothes, which make many trips back and forth between customers and the company, especially to be washed, and that of their end of life, once they are damaged.

Last July, a study by researchers at LUT University in Lahti (southern Finland), published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, looked at the subject: it argues that renting clothes if done on a large scale rather than locally, has a greater impact on climate change than a basic purchase, where clothes are thrown away at the end of their life.

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