This Fashion Library Lets You Check Out Clothes

Every day, it feels like fashion keeps moving faster and fasterto adopt trends quicker, to keep up with demand, and to satiate ever-changing tastes. Many consumers are responding to the crazy pace (and taking note of the negative environmental impacts) that characterizes retail nowadays by searching for answers in the opposite direction. There's a 150-square-meter space in Amsterdam's Westerstraat that wants to be that solution. The concept? A library for checking out clothes.
Photo: Courtesy of LENA Fashion Library.
The masterminds behind LENA Fashion Library: Angela, Diana, and Elisa Jansen (all sisters) and Suzanne Smulders. The Jansen siblings opened a vintage store in Amsterdam called Doortje in 2008, eventually adding two more locations in the Netherlands (in Eindhoven and Rotterdam), as well as launching e-comm. Smulders joined the company in 2011 after freelancing in sustainable fashion.

While they were running the secondhand shop, the Jansens and Smulders (all of whom had experience and an interest in eco-minded style) thought a lot about clothing waste, and specifically about over-consumption. (The fact that we only really use 20% of our closets, according to The Wall Street Journal, was particularly striking to the foursome.) The idea for LENA — a shared walk-in closet that's a way to get more wear out of clothing you already own — came in 2013. They then spent the year developing, researching, and working out the kinks. "We wanted to test if there is a need for this concept, and gather input from experts in the field, as well as potential consumers," Smulders told Refinery29. So, they rolled out a pilot store; LENA finally opened its doors in December 2014.
Photo: Courtesy of LENA Fashion Library.
It's the first of its kind in the Netherlands. The concept of a fashion library has been around for a while — most notably at the legendary Albright Fashion Library in New York, a clothing and accessories archive that serves as a resource for stylists, costume designers, and editors looking to borrow pieces for jobs. LENA, on the other hand, focuses on providing clothing for everyday wear — more like an offline Rent the Runway or Le Tote.

Smulders estimates that LENA has about 900 items total in its system — and at any given time, roughly 700 pieces are being loaned out to customers. About half of the inventory is vintage, sourced from the same network as the clothing at Doortje. They've set up a consignment-like structure that also allows for collaboration with emerging designers and brands that believe in LENA's mission.

Customers buy a monthly membership (packages start at 19.95 euros, or approximately $22) that allots a certain number of "points" on their library card, and each item is assigned a rental price in points. To keep track of so many moving pieces, LENA developed a software system that registers who's checked out an item and how long they'll have it.

As for the venture's scale, LENA reached 280 members in January. Its demographic is much broader than the founders had originally anticipated: All of their clients are female, Smulders says, but they range from 16-year-old students to women in their 60s (and beyond), each with her own reasons to borrow clothing, from budgeting to changing taste, to wanting to consume more consciously.
Photo: Courtesy of LENA Fashion Library.
"When we started out, our goal was to create a fashion library," Smulders tells us. "Our focus was much smaller then." Now, the entrepreneurs behind LENA have their sights set on changing how we consume fashion and retail by supporting other sharing initiatives. "We get a lot of requests from people worldwide who have interest in our concept," Smulders says. They're working on developing a software that folks can rent in order to set up borrowing systems similar to what's been established at LENA.

Smulders and her cofounders think personal style is very important, but don't believe in the transient, ever-changing nature of fashion these days. With LENA, the goal is to get people thinking about ownership and clothing — and to embody the phrase "sharing is caring" through sustainable dressing.

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