For many years, I lived in the kinds of American cities where owning a car is not completely necessary and is, instead, a bit of a hassle. Back then, I lived alone so there was rarely a need for massive shopping trips, save that first big one each time I moved from one place to another. Since these were the days before Uber and Instacart, bumming a ride, hauling a wagon, or springing for a taxi were the only ways to get both the impossibly big jug of laundry detergent and 48-roll toilet tissue pack home in a single trip.
Then I moved to a southern city in which I have not yet found a way to survive without a car. This move coincided with a household expansion that now included two of us, and eventually five (if you count my doggo, which I always do), and for many years it felt as if most of my day was spent negotiating parking spots, getting more gas, waiting in multiple checkout lines daily. Suddenly, I had no idea how other adults had time for anything else — work, family, friends —if they were like me, seemingly spending endless hours procuring stuff.
I’m not sure how it happened, likely having babies and finding that I always seemed to be out of diapers, but slowly I found relief by becoming more comfortable with online shopping. Generationally, I feel as if I’m just at that cusp between those who don’t remember a time when it wasn’t possible to order anything online and my mom, who was dismayed a few years ago to hear my doorman advise me I had 9 packages waiting for me in the mail room. Despite my mother’s objections (“Nueve paquetes? Es que ya no hay tiendas?”), it seems I was not the only one ready to let someone else do the queuing and driving.
I was definitely not alone. Right around the time I was too sleep deprived to remember to buy diapers, web shopping was in the throes of a transformation. While the original kind of online purchase in which we browse, we buy, and then we wait at least two days for the item to arrive is less than helpful when the baby just pooped the last diaper, subscription services, which according to Forbes were inaugurated by Birchbox in 2010, basically saved my babies’ butts.
The Roots of Subscription Craze
Birchbox targeted women directly by offering a membership service designed to keep us from running out of health and beauty products. The response they received was so overwhelmingly positive they have since begun a similar service for men and remain among the most popular services of its kind. Birchbox’s success has inspired plethora other subscription services, some which have come and gone, with around 600 of them currently in use in the United States alone. And while subscription services began as competitors to the big box and department stores, their vast success has inspired giants (like WalMart) and high-end brands (like Lancome) to follow suit and offer a version of this service.
Now, almost a decade into the evolution of subscription-based commerce, competition is high and only the services that deliver the most seamless and high-quality experience tend to survive. While the pressure to compete against other similar services and companies is universal, the types of subscription vary, depending on the intention of the company. There are three main categories of subscription services: memberships that bestow special perks and discounts, replenishment services for household items (like my diaper savior), and curated subscriptions like Birchbox. While membership services comprise around 19% of current subscription programs, replenishment programs make up 38%, and the curated subscription — the fun, party girl of the bunch— accounts for over half, at 55%.
Though women are heading the list of consumers of curated subscriptions, we didn’t get stuck in the days of make-up and wrinkle cream. We have only become wiser as customers, more demanding in our expectations. The curated box differs from the utilitarianism of the replenishment program and the frugality of the membership program. It relies on blurring the distinction between want and need just enough that one single package can include both first necessity items (hygiene products or food) and luxury goods (candles, fragrance, jewelry), the fulfillment of both duty and desire.
The Link Between Psychology and Curated Subscriptions
The same mechanism that drives kids to watch, breathless, as other kids unbox toys on YouTube, similarly, the act of opening a collection of goods tailored to our taste is the best kind of surprise. Sure, you can go for a run or take a yoga class for the rush, too, but what’s the harm in jumping for joy over new threads you didn’t have to try on in a fitting room, four times a year? While the jury may still be out on the overall value of a subscription service, all studies agree that the surprise factor of curated boxes is a big draw.
What happens when the thrill is gone, though? Or what about different types of subscriptions, like Blue Apron and other home cooking services, popular with both men and women? Surprise plays a lesser role here as few will squeal with delight when uncovering seared salmon and spinach. In these cases, convenience is one of the largest motivators behind subscribing, plus the added value of having the ability to make a fresh meal without wasting time shopping. Here is my diaper example again, except much tastier than diapers. Considering how many single mothers are raising kids and working in the United States today, it is not surprising that even the most frugal householders find value in subscription boxes.
A list of the most popular subscription services for women in the United States reveals that the vast majority of them are devoted to refreshing wardrobes, makeup and skincare, and jewelry. The popularity of these types of programs, (brands like Ipsy and Roxbox, the daughters of Birchbox) as well as the more adventurous plans offered by meal services, also have the hidden value of providing an education. Now, instead of seared salmon, the subscriber is introduced to lesser-known ingredients, complete with instructions on how to use them, more a Chopped mystery box than a chore. In addition to the lipgloss, a brow kit and instructions provide a make-up subscriber the opportunity to learn a new skill. The best of these boxes are able to keep the client happy within its confines because the theoretical boxes are always expanding to include different and better.
Amongst Latinos of any gender, the top subscriptions list includes, primarily, food and antojito programs. There are also various Latino “culture” subscriptions, which tend to do well within our demographic. These programs are appealing to other demographics for their “newness” factor — the education we just discussed. For Latinos, the curated programs provide the regular endorphin rush of the surprise plus the warm, fuzzy aftertaste of satisfying a bout of nostalgia or getting to us products from the motherland that are harder to come by in the United States. But despite all of the reasons why hard-working Latinas might just be the perfect client for these services, we are typically the most underserved clientele by these types of companies.
Why We Love Spiritú
Enter Spiritú, the most well-rounded expression of the curated experience in a box for Latinas who, whatever their reasons, prefer to be shopped for seasonally and the ease of a subscription. Its name, a blend of the Spanish word for spirit and the most personal of our pronouns, the one we whisper in our BFF’s ear, this service seeks to take care of us in mind, body, and soul. Somehow combining all of the best elements of the curated subscription box — wants, needs, surprise, comfort, and an education — Spiritú boxes provide members four seasonal boxes a year plus a membership to shop a la carte on their website.
Access to Spiritú’s Instagram, doesn’t just grant members an opportunity to shop. Spiritú’s page is also a place for creative types and those who love them to find out more about the kinds of Latinas whose work is featured in each collection. That is perhaps what makes this service different from so many others: Spiritú focuses on the modern Latina experience both inside and outside its boxes. Quite literally, each collection of products is gathered in a box that features the artwork of an up-and-coming Latina artist. Inside the box is more information about each of these artists, as well as about the manufacturers of the products inside, many of them Latina entrepreneurs.
Imagine opening a box full of fashion and wellness items, such as earrings, nail polish, a tote, and an essential oil, knowing all of it comes from our community and benefits other Latinas. Imagine also the satisfaction of knowing that all items included in Spiritú boxes that come from Latin America are fair trade products. Spiritú is a community and a company created in support of Latinas, both sourcing and serving us with useful luxurious selections, all for $40 per season. Suitable for so many of us in diverse walks of life, Spiritú brings us together as a collective creative force and a crucial segment of the consumer population, all in the comfort of our own home.
The emergence of the subscription box system may well be a sign of the times. In an age of busy lives and social media influencers, the easiest thing might seem to be shopping with the click of a button. In fact, only easier is not even having to research and choose the items we need (or never even realized that we needed). That a subscription like Spiritú has arrived is a vote of confidence in our demographic, an acknowledgement that we are a force to be reckoned with, both as producers and consumers. Spiritú women walk the talk, and the company uses a community-based model of inviting their clients to become brand ambassadors. There is no better way to showcase the artistry, ethics, and the value of a product than to show it in use by real women, in real life.
The project that the women behind Spiritú have undertaken blends the best of all our worlds. Unlike other services that limit themselves to categories like food, make-up, or clothing, Spiritú is more interested in a type of person than a type of product. As Latinas, we are strong-willed, hard-working, informed consumers, deserving of a little pampering and a lot of attention, especially at the pocket-friendly rate of $39.99.