With an estimated $500bn value lost every year due to barely worn and rarely recycled clothing. For us, this is why we constantly write about the importance sustainability in the fashion industry and the role that technology is playing. With a lot going on in this space, sometimes keeping it simple can also be the way forward, as demonstrated by Dutch startup Lena, a library where you can borrow clothes instead of books.
Could Borrowing Be Better Than Buying?
A great alternative to fast fashion, the ‘borrow for a week’ concept was dreamed up by three sisters and a friend. Encouraging people to borrow instead of buy, Angela, Diana and Elisa Jansen and Suzanne Smulders’ idea is based on a point system. Bearing in mind that a simple T-shirt is 25 points and a coat is 100, subscribers pay around £22 per month for 100 points or £44 for 300 points. Should you fall in love with a pair of jeans that you simply must have, Lena also gives customers the option to purchase outright.
“There are sustainable brands, but they are kind of expensive, and what if you’re not sure about their style and end up throwing it away?”
Although online, those who prefer shopping in a brick and mortar, their flagship store is located in the quaint Westerstraat. Bragging stripped-back walls, hip sofas and a fridge full of healthy juices, it is no wonder that the Lena store appeals to the hip and cool sustainable living Amsterdammers. With Eminem playing in the background you will find exciting vintage dresses, vegan handbags and new stock from local designers such as Alexandra Frida, Filippa K and studio JUX.
With six stores in Amsterdam and a further four in other Dutch cities (participating in the service), co-founder Elisa Jansen says, “Our ambition is that borrowing is normal for everyone. Our dream isn’t to have 1,000 Lenas. We’d like to facilitate a whole borrowing system for other companies, in fashion, toys, tools – it doesn’t matter.” She continues, “There is some awareness of how wasteful fashion has become, but a lot of people don’t know what to do – there are sustainable brands, but they are kind of expensive, and what if you’re not sure about their style and end up throwing it [away], is it really sustainable? It’s hard for a consumer. We thought this would be a fun way of being sustainable”.
Small Innovators, Solving Big Problems
Launched in Amsterdam at the end of 2014, the founders of Lena have shown that they are unafraid of testing out alternative business models. With a recent investment of €150,000 (£133,000), the past winner’s of the Dutch best startup award in 2015, admitted in an interview with the Guardian that they are “almost at break-even” point. Adding, “The biggest problem is keeping subscriptions. It’s not that hard to get new subscribers, but keeping them is harder. When people borrow something, it’s nice, [they] wear it at home but then comes the point they have to return it and choose something else – in the beginning, people are enthusiastic, but they are so busy. We are still working on optimising this.”
Taking part in an Impact Hub Amsterdam accelerator programme, Lena has the capability to create a social sustainability community feel among fashionistas. Imagine walking down the street and spotting someone in a jacket that you were wearing three months ago. This is something that Gwen Cunningham, who leads the Dutch social enterprise Circle Economy, believes this could be the future of sustainability in business; “Fashion is more experimentation and we do not need to have so many clothes”, she says.
Naturally, there is going to be hiccups, like merchandise being returned damaged or never coming back, but Rob Opsomer of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation thinks that this is a hurdle that should not deter people from adopting this business model. “For customers desiring frequent style changes, subscription-based models can offer an attractive alternative,” he comments. “Subscription models are already disrupting the market, with brands such as Le Tote, Gwynnie Bee, and Kleiderei. The American start-up Rent the Runway had revenues of over $100m in 2016 [and] YCloset in China secured $20m investment to scale up in March 2017.” I am sold on the idea, well at least when it comes to borrowing statement coats that will keep my winter wardrobe interesting.