I’m a little embarrassed by how many Fabletics items I have in my wardrobe. Fabletics is the online workout clothes retailer fronted by actress Kate Hudson — it releases monthly collections of clothes that “VIP members” can buy at discounted prices. I actually bought my first Fabletics outfit last fall when I needed a new pair of decent-quality workout leggings and balked at paying $90 for Lululemon ones. In comparison, Fabletics seemed like a reasonable deal. I was pleased with what I got and decided to keep my ‘membership’ with the site.
Later, of course, I put workout clothes on my spring 2016 shopping list, and bought a few more outfits from Fabletics. I began wearing a lot of my workout clothes as part of my everyday wardrobe — they integrated well with my daily staples, adding a new punch and kick to my generally kicky/casual vibe. I’ve found the gym-to-street mentality really just works for my job-crazy, toddler-wrangler, word-smithing on-the-go life these days. Athleisure is REAL, people!
Joking aside, a lot of the Fabletics pieces I’ve bought are versatile, most have been well-made in high-performance fabrics and shopping online is super-convenient, especially now that I’ve figured out the general sizing guidelines and what works for my shape.
Of course, any curious Googling will bring up some bad press about Fabletics and their business model, which I’ll address in a bit. Plus, it’s always a little leery-making when you buy from an online-only shop, though I know Fabletics is opening brick-and-mortar stores now. So I thought I’d put together this post to review the brand in general, help people make an educated decision on whether or not to join Fabletics and offer some sizing/styling tips and recommendations on what they do buy.
(Just FYI, this isn’t a sponsored post and I’ve bought everything that I talk about or photograph here. I do use my membership link, though. This is just my feedback and perspective, and I’d be happy to answer any questions in the comments if I can. This is all offered in a spirit of helpfulness and education and information!)
How It Works
Basically, most people come to Fabletics to take advantage of its killer promotional offer — usually $25 for an entire workout outfit, usually a top and leggings. (Some outfits do cost more — my first was a three-piece set of a parka-like puffy coat, a tank and long leggings, and altogether it was closer $50 — about 50% off the Fabletics member price. It was a great deal, considering how much I wore them!)
The catch, though: you have to sign up for a “VIP membership” to get this introductory offer. Once you do, you become part of Fabletics VIP monthly subscription service. The word ‘subscription’ doesn’t quite capture what Fabletics is, though — that makes me think of something like Birchbox, where you pay X amount of money a month and you get sent a box of goodies every month.
The Fabletics monthly service doesn’t quite work that way. Instead, it goes like this:
+ At the beginning of a month, Fabletics releases a new slate of outfits. They select some ‘picks’ for you, but you are free to buy any other outfit, or buy separate pieces, or buy nothing at all.
+ Between the 1st to 5th day at the start of the month, you login to the Fabletics website to peruse the outfits.
+ If you don’t like anything, you click a “Skip This Month” button under your Account tab. (As you’ll see, it’s muy importante to do this if you don’t want to buy anything.) You can’t just log in, go “Ok, no go” and then not check back in — you have to click that dang Skip button.
+ If you do want to buy something, your VIP membership gets you heftier discounts on items — basically, you pay full-price Target/Old Navy prices for workout clothes that rival Lululemon, Athletica, Under Armour, etc. for quality. You are only charged for what you buy.
+ There is no minimum to spend per month. There’s no requirement to buy anything at all every month. You don’t have to buy anything. You can officially skip every month for the rest of your life if you want!
+ You are required by default, though, to login to Fabletics to officially skip if you want to avoid automatic charges for $49.99. If you don’t login or forget to officially skip, you will be charged $49.99, which gets you an outfit credit you can apply to future purchases. (This automatic charge is the part that gets people annoyed with Fabletics because a lot of people forget to officially skip. And when they see they’ve been charged $49.99, they get hella pissed.)
Basically, for you old-schoolers, Fabletics is a bit like Columbia Record Club or Disney Movie Club, but for workout clothes.
Workout clothes are tricky in terms of fashion — they have to be highly functional, thoughtfully designed and of a certain quality, since working out demands so much of them. People do ‘cheap out’ when it comes to clothes, but cheap workout clothes ‘cheap out’ especially fast, since you’re moving and sweating in them so much. And sometimes you get a cheap sports bra whose seams chafe, or a pair of workout leggings that creep down as you run — and that is just no good at all, and makes working out a drag. So you want to strike a balance: you want great quality and performance, but you don’t want to completely break the bank.
Where does Fabletics sit? In a nutshell, I’d say it’s generally Lululemon quality at Target prices. I find the fabrics and quality to be, for the most part, pretty excellent in terms of value, especially for the bottoms and tops. Though the leggings are some of the pricier items offered by Fabletics — abotu $50 at VIP prices, compared to $80-95 Lululemon ones — they’re well worth it. The Salar legging’s fabric, for example, is non-see-through, durable, thick, and has great compression. It holds you in at the right places but doesn’t constrict or chafe in the wrong ones (EEK!), and they generally don’t sag or fall with vigorous cardio. And they come in a wide variety of patterns and colors that cater to a wide variety of tastes. (Though the popular prints often sell out on the site! Wah! That’s very frustrating.)
So far, my Fabletics leggings have held up under multiple laundry washes without a loss in elasticity. (In the interest of full disclosure, though, I bought a pair of leggings in a great ‘black paint’ pattern and the black seemed to fade after a few washes. Those are the only item I’ve found that haven’t quite held up in my personal experience. I still love them, though!) I’ve also bought a skirt to layer over days when I can’t change out of my leggings but want some bottom coverage. I like it a lot — it’s very casual and surprisingly versatile.
My favorite Fabletics items, though, have been the tops in general. The sweatshirts are durable and often really stylish and different: I have a sweatshirt with a cutout in the back, one with mesh inserts in the shoulder that I always get compliments on and I also picked up a very cool semi-cropped turtleneck-y one that is almost deconstructed/Japanese-y. (The latter two are in my ‘elevated sweatshirt’ rotation.)
Fabletics also has a lot of tops with coolio back details: cut-outs, interesting straps, etc. Again, the fabrics are generally really solid and for the most part, they’re cut thoughtfully. I have this Aviana top, which I love enough to have bought in multiple colors — the fabric is super-soft and the cut is unique and striking.
I also bought the Aventura tank, which is a great basic that comes in a soft pima-like cotton. I sized up a bit on it so it’s very drape-y, and the armholes are cut low enough so that you need to wear a sports bra or layer another tank underneath — but it’s very flattering nevertheless. I often mix in my Fabletics tops with jeans or other pants, and I always get a lot of nice comments — so something must be going right.
In general, I’ve also found everything to be cut nicely and sized consistently. It’s a bit tricky ordering from an online-only (or online-mostly) retailer, but their fit guides are generally excellent. The site makes a note of how something is meant to fit — for instance, whether something is form-fitting, semi-fitted or relaxed — and sometimes suggests what size to order if you want a particular fit. (I tend to size up for form-fitting pieces and order true-to-size for relaxed pieces…but usually I just order relaxed pieces!) The customer feedback and reviews on items is plentiful and often detailed, so you can get a sense if an item has issues from reading reviews. It is nice that the company doesn’t censor their reviews — some items have THOUSANDS of reviews you can skim through.
I waited to publish this post until I had some actual experience with their customer service ‘workflow’ and representatives. I was a little worried because there’s nothing more disappointing than shoddy customer service — but in all honesty I have to report that I had no problems in my experiences with Fabletics.
My first experience was exchanges for a different color for one item and store credit for another — I did it entirely via their website, no muss, no fuss. Fabletics uses SmartPost, which was a bit of a drag because it took about 5 business days to send items back to their processing warehouse and then another day or so to get credited for a store credit. So it took about a week to send everything back, get credited for any credit and then be able to use it to get something else. (However, the exchange for a different color happened much faster — once it registered that the item was in the mail, Fabletics sent my replacement item right away.)
My second experience was with their customer service reps via telephone. (My particular order this time used both store credit and my card, so I needed to call in to do the return.) I had no problems with call wait times (and this was Thursday night around 5pm, so I assume it was a fairly busy time). The rep I talked to was very pleasant and knew what she was doing. They didn’t upsell or pressure me into any other services or purchases. Again, dealing with the SmartPost slowness was a literal drag, but overall it was no muss, no fuss again. Since then I’ve done a few more exchanges, and have had no problems. My most recent purchase was during some Memorial Day sales and I found the shipping to be delayed by a few days, which was slightly annoying — but they did send an email to let us know of the delay.
The only thing I haven’t done is cancel my membership, mostly because I’ve been pretty happy with Fabletics so far. I’ve read nightmare stories on the Internet and Facebook comments about going through the process, so this is just a note to ‘caveat emptor,’ especially if you sign up thinking you’re going to just get the intro offer and then cancel.
From a fashion perspective, the great thing about the monthly model is that it’s almost like capsule wardrobes each month, so there’s no one style that dominates. Every month seems to be a different spin in terms of colors, patterns and themes. If you just want basic blacks and greys, they have it. But if you want to experiment with neon brights, floral patterns, arty geometrics, festive metallics or retro-abstracts, splatter paint prints — Fabletics has tried those as well.
This is a little different from some premium athleisure companies who stick with a general ‘vibe’ or aim at a specific customer. But Fabletics’ aesthetic versatility is great in many ways: there’s usually something flattering for a wide variety of body shapes, and the sizing is aimed at a broad range of sizes and shapes. Sometimes you get a month you’re not into, but it’s easy to skip and wait for something else.
One thing that’s been unexpectedly fun about Fabletics and perhaps workout clothes in general is that it’s a fun, easy way to experiment with colors, cuts and styles. To me, gym clothes are a bit like Las Vegas — what you wear in the gym is like a parallel world that has no bearing on your life elsewhere! Of course, this isn’t true, because people wear their gym clothes everywhere now. But it’s like wearing stuff for the gym gets you a bit of a free pass to be a little more bolder and more flamboyant than you would in everyday life — if you’re so inclined to boldness and flamboyance, of course. If you’re not, Fabletics does offer basics in grey, black and white.
Fabletics is also diversifying lately, adding dresses and swimwear to its offerings. The dresses seem to have done well overall, but the initial foray into swim seems a little hinky, judging from the general item reviews. (I ordered a one-piece to try out and was a little surprised at how ill-conceived the design was — though the fabric was absolutely superb. I ended up tailoring it a bit — yes, I’ve tailored swimsuits, it’s quite the process!)
Fabletics has a nice and generous rewards program — basically, you gets points for purchases and even product reviews, and then you can use those to buy extra little items. And it doesn’t take much for points to accumulate.
In general, the community on the site is quite active when it comes to reviews and feedback. I don’t like to buy from online shops where there isn’t a lot of feedback published on the products — I like to get a sense if customers are generally satisfied or not– so it’s great to see all the reviews.
One thing that people say annoys them is the amount of promo email they get from the company — from my sense, it’s about one email a day. You can unsubscribe, but I haven’t, because I just want to get that monthly reminder to login and either buy or skip.
Is It For You?
Fabletics’ product feedback is pretty good generally, but the overall company feedback is a bit problematic as a whole. There are a lot of “Fabletics is a scam!” articles on the Internet — and I do think its monthly model and how they execute it is a bit confusing.
Just speaking as someone who’s designed and programmed user experience and user interfaces for my previous work as a web development and coding nerd, Fabletics has made a lot of effort to make it clear how their VIP membership works. It’s in multiple places on their site; it’s mentioned in their e-mails. They send a lot of promo e-mail, and they do remind you when a new month has rolled around and that you need to login to choose something or skip.
But could they do a better job? Absolutely. They could do better at helping people opt-out monthly — they could have a little button in the top-of-the-month email that links directly to an opt-out page. They could put the button in a more prominent position in the navigation or at the top of the site — or even use a dreaded pop-up — not just under the Account section. They could use their social media to remind people more often. They could remind people a little more explicitly that not opting out will result in being charged $50.
A lot of people claim that their model — which I think is called ‘negative option billing‘ — is not clear when you sign up. And honestly, they do this kind of “You have one hour to get your introductory VIP deal!” tactic when you first sign up that I don’t think is very cool, which feels like rushing you into this commitment.
But personally, I was never confused about being charged monthly if I failed to skip. One can argue that they can just do away with the monthly default charge, but of course, that’s their model and it’s something you need to decide if you can deal with. The tactic of monthly check-ins to skip or buy is likely designed to drive people to visit the site in the first place, so really, the big decision when it comes to signing up is whether or not you can deal with the business model. You can argue that the model sucks — and many busy people don’t have the mental bandwidth to keep the ‘chore’ of logging in and skipping on their radar, it will suck. But this kind of a monthly charge is a model that other services in the past have adopted — and until the FTC or other governmental body steps in, I doubt it’ll change.
It’s a pity the company has wrinkles to work out when it comes to their user experience and customer service, because they have a generally excellent product that hits that rare sweet spot in fashion of quality and value. Not every item is a home run and it’s always tricky to buy online. But I’ve been pleased with most of my items, and as long as I avoid problems — and get decent service for the few I do have — I’ll keep buying.
To sum it up: I think it all comes down to self-knowledge. If you’re high on the conscientious tip in terms of personality and temperament, then it’s not an onerous burden to check in once a month to skip a month. If you’re super busy, scatterbrained or absentminded at times, or if you’re just an occasional buyer or need just a few items and have a sneaking suspicion that you’d forget to check in, then don’t sign up — there are plenty of other athleisure retailers out there for all kinds of price points and catering to all kinds of aesthetic viewpoints. Athleisure is a big market now and there are always new competitors on the horizon. But if you’re looking for fun, great quality workout clothes at a decent price — or just comfortable, mostly well-made items that keep up with an busy, on-the-go lifestyle — check Fabletics out.
(Again, this is just my experience. But I hope it’s helped out anyone seeking more information!)