Style that Changes with You: A Review of Le Tote

Thanks to Le Tote for providing me with a free three-month subscription. This review is not paid, and all opinions are my own.

Pregnancy: It Changes Things

I must say, pregnancy has been quite the sartorial and emotional adventure. Although my weight and shape have fluctuated over the years, never in my life has my body morphed to rapidly. So... frighteningly. When I put on 10 pounds in the first trimester, I immediately started to panic. My body was no longer my own. My life was overtaken by forces of nature I was wholly unprepared to deal with. Things were expanding and bloating and rearranging at an alarming rate, and I was powerless to stop it.

Of course I knew that pregnancy would mean gaining weight, but I hadn't expected it to send me into such a tizzy. It brought up a lot of deep-seated fears and insecurities (the details of which are for another post) that I worked hard throughout my twenties to overcome. And the control that it took so long to gain over my appetite, my physical fitness, and my body image? Well, it felt like it had all gone to hell.

Then, much like the morning sickness, the anxiety just sort of vanished.

I was surprised. Hangups like that don't magically disappear for me (I will agonize over an offhand comment or an accidental malapropism for weeks. Weeks!). But I think it finally hit me that I literally have no control over this. For the first time in my life, there nothing I can do to change my situation, to "fix" it. Because there is nothing to fix! Everything that's happening right now is good, and normal, and necessary. And knowing that is incredibly freeing.

Once I accepted my temporary state of awkwardness, I was able to have fun again. I started playing around with new silhouettes, going nuts with accessories, and embracing the "loose and flowy" aesthetic that I had formerly shunned. But I also didn't love the idea of buying an entirely new maternity wardrobe. I bought a few staple pieces, primarily from the ethical brands I scoped out, but I also didn't want to use pregnancy as an excuse to over-shop.

Enter: Le Tote

I had already been considering the clothing subscription service Le Tote when they got in touch with me with an offer to try them out for a few months. With both maternity and classic subscriptions available, Le Tote allows you to choose, rent, and return clothing each month kind of like raiding your roommate's closet but without the silent resentment. You also have the option to buy any of the items at a discount off the retail price. I really appreciate their model, and they were even selected for this year’s Sustainia100 list as one of 10 companies in the fashion industry working toward a sustainable future.

After two months of totes, here are my thoughts on the service. We'll start with the good, naturally.

Because of le tote, I was able to:

  • Push my comfort zone, without supporting fast fashion. As I've become more intentional about my shopping choices, I tend to shy away from trendier pieces. Overall I think this is a good habit, but it also means that I can get stuck in a bit of a style rut. With Le Tote, I've tried out harem pants, a leather choker necklace, a gingham oilcloth clutch, and a pair of jade, crystal-studded earrings. I also discovered that I'm really into tube dresses these days. Seriously, the tubier the better.
  • Scope out new sewing projects. I’ve been on a sewing kick lately, with several projects in the pipeline. But sewing your own clothes requires a major time commitment so again, I tend to stick with silhouettes I know and love without branching out much. What’s great about Le Tote it that it’s allowed me to try out new styles before I commit to making something similar.

  • Feel good about supporting a sustainable company. In addition to their model, which ensures that customers are only buying and keeping clothes that they'll actually use, Le Tote adheres to the "triple bottom line" principle adopted by many socially and environmentally conscious companies, ensuring that it meets certain social, environmental, and economic benchmarks. I'm particularly impressed by their turnover process. From Sustainia's review:

"Le Tote has de­veloped an ap­parel clean­ing pro­cess that utilizes biodegradable detergents, resulting in a 36% more efficient cleaning process, 43% lower elec­tri­city us­age, and 50% less wa­ter con­sump­tion than reg­u­lar clean­ing pro­cesses. The com­pany part­ners with char­ity and con­sign­ment or­gan­iz­a­tions that re­ceive cloth­ing after it is taken out of cir­cu­la­tion."

Now that I get behind!

Of course, this wouldn't be proper review without some constructive criticism. So..

If I sat in on a le tote board meeting, i would recommend that they:

  • Source from more ethical and sustainable brands. The majority of the brands Le Tote carries are still on the conventional side. From what I could glean, most of them don't have particularly transparent supply chains or social/ environmental responsibility models in place, and are only so-so on the quality scale. With so many awesome, fashion-forward ethical brands out there these days, I think Le Tote could step it up in terms of their sourcing. I know I would be more likely to continue the service if I could try out fair trade, U.S.-made, or otherwise conscientious brands, and I would feel better knowing that the service was sustainable from start to finish.
  • Allow more time for you to customize your totes. I learned this the hard way, but you only have a small window (about a day) between returning your first tote and customizing the next one. A selection of items will be chosen for you, and if you don't log into your account to customize the items within that window, the tote will be sent to you as-is. My second tote was a bit of a bust because I didn't customize it in time. I only ended up wearing one of the items before returning, which felt like a waste of shipping cost and materials.
  • Build out their maternity selection. On the whole, I felt like Le Tote's maternity selection was fairly limited compared to their "normal" subscription. I know that there aren't as many maternity lines to choose from, but still think they could expand the range of brands and styles they offer to us pregnant ladies. There are several cute, high-quality (even sustainable) maternity lines out there, and I would have loved to try out styles from Isabella Oliver, Hatch, or Storq, for example.
  • Allow you to purchase an item new. I know this goes against the reuse/ reduce model, but sometime you just want to buy something brand-new. Le Tote allows you to purchase any item in your tote at a discount simply by keeping it, but often the discounted price still doesn't feel worth it. For example, I really love the black dress featured in this post, but it definitely showed signs of wear. Even at a $14 discount off the full price, it didn't feel like much of a deal. However, I would have gladly paid full price to buy it new (especially since this Bellyssima dress was happily made in Canada!).

The Verdict

Overall, I've been happy with my Le Tote experience, and definitely recommend giving them a try. As the company grows, I hope they expand their sustainability practices even more and incorporate brands that have a similar philosophy. And to be honest, the service has been tremendously helpful in supplementing my limited maternity wardrobe. Getting dressed in the morning is now significantly more enjoyable!

Outfit Details:  Bellysima V-Neck Ruched Dress, rented c/o Le Tote / Imoshion Gingham Clutch, rented c/o Le Tote / J. Crew Panama hat (old; responsibly-made versions available from Pachacuti or Tumi) / Black Seychelles sandals (old; definitely exceeded 30 wears!)

Jacqui1 Comment