Wear & share

Now you don't have to buy your own clothes – at Cleo De Laet's Ethical Fashion Library you can just borrow some and return them when you're done

Blågaardsgade, in the heart of Nørrebro, is known for its mix of greengrocers, hipster cafés and the occasional gang-related transactions. As of last month, it can add another business to its resumé: the Ethical Clothing Library.

The concept of the store is fairly straightforward – like any other library it’s all about lending. Only instead of books, you can borrow clothes. Ethical ones at that.

“Everything started really spontaneously,” says Belgian founder Cleo De Laet, who explains the idea arose during an internship with renowned Danish designer Henrik Vibskov.

“I was doing research on sustainable fashion and I was shocked to find out how things are produced. I learned that it’s actually really hard to find clothes that are sustainable through all the steps in the chain of production,” she explains.

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The deeper she researched corporate social responsibility (CSR) policies and environmentally friendly production, the more she discovered just how unethical and murky the waters of the fashion industry were.

After a trip to her native Belgium, she got inspired to give the ethical library a go.

“My goal is to keep it simple,” she says. “You basically pay a specific amount, depending on how long you borrow the clothes for, and how much of the collection you want to choose from.”

Alternative to fast fashion
The library is stocked with a number of different designers that, despite being fairly obscure names in the fashion industry, all share their commitment to be ethical and environmentally conscious – requirements that the designers must be able to document.

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“It’s very important for me to make sure that the designers pay their workers fairly, treat them with respect and don’t mass produce and leave a big environmental mess. This is also why the collections in the Library are all unique and limited,” she explains.

Since launching, she’s been surprised by which people have chosen to use the Ethical Clothing Library.

“I thought it would be students, who were just making ends meet and couldn’t afford to spend that much money on new clothes. But I was surprised to see that instead it is women in their 30s with kids, who are mostly drawn to the concept,” she says.

De Laet reckons that the lack of a younger target group is due to the impact of fast fashion. Young consumers have become accustomed to spending nearly nothing on high street clothing, which has distorted their perception of the relationship between quality and price.

“I understand that the initial thought is ‘why should I borrow something when I can just buy it?’ Customers have also told me that it’s very intimidating to wear ‘someone else’s clothes’, but I don’t know what the big deal is – once the clothes are washed they are as good as new,” she says.


Far from boring
As far as the future goes, De Laet has an ambition to expand her collection of brands, while lowering the prices as more people start using the library.

“At the moment everything that is being lent out is brand new, but the prices will obviously be lower once the clothes have been worn more. And hopefully that can attract a younger segment of borrowers.”

For Cleo De Laet, the message of her fashion project is threefold. For starters, she wants to show a more diverse image of sustainable fashion.

“People usually think that sustainable fashion is a boring organic cotton t-shirt. But there is no limit to the design or the material. I want to show exactly that with the designers I work with.”

There is also a social aspect to the Library, in which the transparency of fashion production in general is made accessible and uncomplicated.

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“It’s a way for people to exercise their right to know where their clothes comes from,” she explains.

Lastly, there is the sociopolitical idea of a borrowing system, which makes people think about how they consume.

“We see this sharing-economy becoming more and more visible in everyday life. Just in Copenhagen we are used to GoMore and Airbnb. Why not try this with our clothes as well? People are always afraid of what is new, but after some time it becomes socially acceptable and you realise that you can have a different approach to spending,” she says optimistically. M

The Ethical Clothing Library

Blågårdsgade 15, Nørrebro


By Hana Hasanbegović

Originally from the Balkans, Hana has a Master's degree in English, with a focus on literature and linguistics. @hanahasanbegovic

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