Americans consign 10.5 million tons of clothing to landfills every year, and in Holland alone 240 million kilos of still wearable garments go to waste. These alarming statistics invoke concern over consumption patterns ignited by our throw-away clothing culture. But burgeoning clothes library initiatives seek to confront our desire for disposable fashion and project well-established concepts of borrowing on garments and accessories.

One of these clothing library projects is being run successfully in Amsterdam by four women entrepreneurs. LENA positions itself as “the fashion library of Amsterdam, where you have access to a high quality collection of the finest vintage, upcoming designers and eco labels, which you can swap whenever you like”. The message LENA founders are trying to impart is that one can wear beautiful clothing without harming the environment and putting people’s lives in peril. Borrowed clothes still evoke a feeling of possessing a new item but do not contribute to the customary cluttering of your wardrobes with unnecessary and unwanted items.

“A lot of people still associate second-hand with dirty and we want to show it can be different. We clean everything, we iron everything. It is important to show that second-hand can be very different because the items [we have] are great. Hopefully people buy fewer clothes [if they join such clothes libraries] and fewer clothes are produced as a result”, – Elisa Jansen, one of the LENA founders, suggested.

The idea of the clothes library was born 4 years ago out of desire to promote sustainable shopping and was partly modeled on Scandinavian fashion libraries. LENA opened its doors in December 2014 and now boasts 250 members. The concept of “reduce-reuse-recycle” is shared by similar organizations, but LENA developed a unique approach to its execution. The first step of joining the library is getting a membership card and selecting a subscription option to match your shopping appetite: monthly fees vary from 19.95 to 49.95 Euros, each being an equivalent of a number of points. Those same points determine a value of each item from LENA’s collection, based on their uniqueness, quality and style. One can use points fitting the subscription to shop in the library, within a range from 100 to 500.

“The lowest subscription rate is 20 Euros per month and you can have 100 points in your possession, that’s about 2 or 3 items and you can swap whenever you like. In theory you can swap every day but you can also keep things for months as long as you pay your monthly fee” – said Elisa. The LENA library made the process of swapping as convenient as it can be – subscribers can easily buy extra points if they exceed the capacity of their subscriptions and a special rule for clothes-related accidents doesn’t oblige them to pay for the first three unpleasant occurrences, such as a stain or a tear.

The library currently has 1200 items in stock that come from vintage stores, local eco brands and customers’ donations. Elisa showed much enthusiasm for the expansion of the clothes library project, in a hope to substitute traditional shopping with swapping initiatives and introduce better sharing practices.

“Some people live too far away from the library and can’t come by very often even they want to. We have been thinking of setting up swap points [around the city] with people indicating online what items they want to exchange. Then we can organize swapping events in different neighborhoods of Amsterdam once a week. We are also thinking of facilitating clothing borrowing system to other retailers and developing a map with all the borrowing points around the city.”

Visit LENA fashion library’s website for more information

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