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At This Fashion Library, You Check Out Clothes Instead Of Buying Them

You can put your own unused clothes on loan, too.

If you’re like the average American, you have hundreds of dollars’ worth of never-worn clothing in your closet, and throw out as much as 10 pounds of clothes in a year. Thanks to the rise of cheap fashion, you probably still own five times as many clothes as your mother did in 1980.

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It’s clear most of us have an appetite for collecting a never-ending series of new outfits. But it’s an impulse we may be able to indulge without actually buying anything new–or contributing to the social and environmental costs of fast fashion. At a fashion library in Amsterdam, customers can come in as often as they want to check out a new outfit. When they want something else, they can come back to swap it out.

Iris Rijskamp

“We believe we live in an over-consuming society,” say Suzanne Smulders, who co-founded Lena, The Fashion Library, with three other young entrepreneurs. “Especially when it comes to clothing. In Holland we throw away 240 million kilos of textiles a year, while there are very bad circumstances in the whole chain. Time for a change, we thought.”

With a membership, you get access to the library’s full closet of vintage and designer clothes. The library looks like any other boutique, but after choosing something, customers pull out a library card instead of cash. Each item is assigned points–a top is 25 points, while a designer piece might be 100. Depending on someone’s subscription, you can always have a certain number of points of clothing at home, and come in at any point to pick up something new. (If you really love something after trying it out, you can also buy it.) Customers can also bring in some of their own clothing to loan to the library temporarily.

Iris Rijskamp

In theory, the library could replace shopping at regular stores. “Some of our customers tell us they haven’t bought anything since they have their memberships, maybe some basics only,” says Smulders. “So yes, if you have an efficient wardrobe at home we definitely believe that’s possible. We also experience it ourselves–since we have LENA, we don’t go shopping anymore.”

Ultimately, the team believes that the larger fashion industry needs to shift to a sharing model, whether it’s more clothing libraries or Netflix-like systems like Rent the Runway.

“We need to make a change in the whole system,” Smulders says. “Even if brands start using eco materials, it is still about making as much sales as possible. Our opinion is that over-consumption is one of the biggest problems in the industry. There should be more focus on craftsmanship and quality in order to produce long-lasting items that we can all share together.”

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The library currently has 1,200 items in stock at any moment, and another 500 checked out to customers. Eventually, they hope to expand to other cities around the world. “Our dream is to go on holidays with some hand luggage and your library card, and have access to a big LENA wardrobe wherever you are,” says Smulders.

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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