Looking good sits high on most people’s agendas, and we spend enough money on clothing and accoutrements to prove it. Although there is nothing wrong with wanting to express ourselves by the way we dress, the way that we consume clothing is extremely unsustainable. We buy something new and may only wear it a few times before disposing of it (responsibly, I hope). What if there is a better way to do this?
During Stockholm Fashion Week, a group of ecofashionistas set up shop inside Kulturhuset and opened Sweden’s first clothing library: Lånegarderoben. It works just like a regular library — you sign a lending agreement and agree to return the item in the same condition you got it — except instead of bookshelves there are racks filled with fantastic, fun, responsible fashion. Participating designers included Myrorna, Ekovaruhuset, Revery, Julian Red, Lovisa Burfitt, Slowmotion, Indiska, Lager 157, Dream and Awake, Goodness, Righteous and Ekolådan. About 500 people an hour were said to have visited the clothing library, a tremendous success for the experiment.
It’s hard to imagine how a profit could be made on this business model — Lånegarderoben was funded by several cultural and educational institutions —but did anyone ever require regular libraries to generate a profit from lending books?
The purpose of the clothing library is to create a platform where more people can share a piece of clothing. It is returned after being used and then lent out again. This way, people have the opportunity to constantly change their wardrobes and save money and the environment at the same time. This is definitely a smarter way of consuming, any way you look at it. Ever-changing fashion trends have resulted in escalated consumption (surprise!); for example, the average Swede now buys 24kg of textiles every year (an increase of 9kg since 1994). The clothing library is an expression of how fashion and sustainability can unite.
“This may not be good for basic clothing like everyday jeans, but for party clothes and special occasion-wear this is is a perfect fit,” says Emelie Dahlström, Project Manager of Föreningen Medveten Konsumtion (The Association for Conscious Consumption). Pernilla Rozenberg, seamstress for Stockholms Stadsmission‘s reworked vintage brand Remake, agrees that borrowing clothes may get people to step out of their usual comfort zone.“The clothes we chose to bring were a bit crazier than what we have in the stores. Pieces that you may rather borrow than buy since you won’t want to use them every day, but for a special occasion.”
There are clothing libraries in place throughout the world. A great example is the Maternity Clothes Library run by the La Leche League in the UK. For a fee of about £2, expecting mothers can borrow maternity clothes for the duration of the pregnancy. The albright NYC Fashion Library is at the high end of the spectrum, lending the latest designer fashion to editors, stylists and celebrities, for a fee. The website Bag Borrow or Steal — where you can rent designer bags — have been very popular for quite some time (a mention in the last Sex and the City movie certainly may have helped there).
Lånegarderoben is also getting a permanent home, they expect to open the doors to a library located in Midsommarkransen outside Stockholm at the end of this summer. The founders, Lina Lundin, Hanna Nyberg, Ida Palmgren and Kim Jüllig Sedvall say there are still many details that need to be worked out. They will charge a membership fee, undecided as of yet but it will be affordable as they do not expect to make a profit. The rules will be just like those of a regular library, including late fees. They do not want you to wash the clothes before returning them, since they want to take care of that on their end to assure that it is done right and as efficiently as possible.
Who knows, maybe twenty years from now we will find it very funny that people used to buy special occasion clothing and spend all that time and money on caring for and storing it. We will never completely give up owning stuff, but we definitely do not need so much of it. The lending economy is here to stay, your wardrobe should welcome it.
“Only people who are moderately interested in fashion do a lot of clothes shopping,” said clothing professor Matilda Tham at the opening of Lånegarderoben, “those who really know fashion can create an interesting expression with very limited means.”