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The Design Dialogues site houses all online publications from the School of Design Strategies at Parsons School of Design.

This site is funded by the Stephan Weiss Lecture Series on Business Strategy, Negotiation and Innovation. This lectureship was launched in 2002 to commemorate the life of the late artist and sculptor Stephan Weiss, husband and business partner of the fashion designer Donna Karan. Weiss co-founded Donna Karan International in 1984, and was instrumental in every significant venture the company undertook: launching and structuring new brands, most notably the Donna Karan Beauty company; signing new licenses; establishing in-house legal and creative departments; devising its computer design technology; orchestrating the company’s initial public offering in 1996; and negotiating its sale to the current owner LVMH Moet Hennessy – Louis Vuitton.

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Section 3: Case Studies

CHECK OUT SOME FASHION: Clothing Libraries in Sweden

Alessandro Esculapio
In the past few years, clothing libraries, like toy and tool libraries, have emerged in many industrialized countries, their establishment a reaction to clothing overconsumption and environmental concerns connected with the fashion industry. The phenomenon is spreading especially quickly in Sweden, with clothing libraries operating even in small cities such as Malmö, Umeå, and Norrköping. 1 Lånegarderoben in Stockholm and Klädoteket in Gothenburg provide good examples of this increasingly critical attitude toward fashion production and consumption.

Lånegarderoben and Klädoteket were established in 2010 and 2012, respectively, and are similar in structure and aim. Both require users to buy a membership that allows them to borrow clothes for a limited period of time, and both are open only at certain times during the week. Additionally, both libraries maintain blogs that keep readers and members up to date on their activities and on issues and initiatives related to sustainability. In this sense, the libraries’ ambition is to contribute to a long-term cultural shift in our relationship to clothing consumption, by promoting alternative consumption practices and by contributing to a democratization of style through facilitating broader access to fashionable clothes.

While “conspicuous consumption” was long ago identified by Thorstein Veblen in relation to wealth display by the upper classes, 2 a much more widespread habit of clothing overconsumption has manifested itself with the advent of fast fashion: cheap, low-quality yet trendy clothes produced by big global retailers such as H&M, Forever 21, Zara, and Uniqlo, among others. Fast fashion has contributed to a sharp and accelerating increase in the total number of garments being bought and sold worldwide, a trend that is expected to continue at least through the remainder of the current decade. 3

Journalist Elizabeth L. Cline provides a clear picture of the current situation in Western countries, with particular attention to the United States. Referring to a 2008 statistical analysis by the American Apparel and Footwear Association, Cline observes that “Americans buy an average of sixty-four items of clothing per year, a little more than one piece per week.” 4 As both she and fashion scholar and consultant Kate Fletcher have pointed out, this pace is not sustainable for our planet. 5 What needs to change is the premise of the system, the model that determines our patterns of clothing consumption. Fletcher writes about “paradigms, or accepted models of how ideas relate to one another” as being “the sources of systems,” including the mainstream industrial fashion system. She goes on to argue that “if we influence things at the level of a paradigm, then a system can be totally transformed …. Fostering this new way of seeing is the ongoing biggest challenge of sustainability for the fashion and textile sector—to build a more convincing, reflective and ethical paradigm that is more sustainable by design.” 6
The libraries’ ambition is to contribute to a long-term cultural shift in our relationship to clothing consumption, by promoting alternative consumption practices and by contributing to a democratization of style through facilitating broader access to fashionable clothes.

The Lånegarderoben and Klädoteket libraries focus on the concept of sustainability by offering members the opportunity to rent clothes instead of purchasing them. On the Klädoteket website, the founders describe the library as “an alternative to the consumption hysteria in today’s society” 7; similarly, Lånegarderoben was established with the idea that “one can renew one’s wardrobe without contributing to further consumption.” 8 As Fletcher writes, the act of sharing a product increases its efficiency because it then meets the needs of many people. 9 Emelie Dahlström, spokesperson for the cultural association Kulturföreningen Kreativitet, which was responsible for the establishment of Lånegarderoben, stated in an interview that “[clothing libraries] may not be good for basic clothing like everyday jeans, but for party clothes and special occasion wear it is the perfect solution.” 10 Whereas it can be problematic to argue in favor of the renting of basic t-shirts or underwear, it is much easier to promote the sharing of clothing items that are not worn on a daily basis. The typical consumption pattern of such special-occasion garments is a good starting point for promoting new behaviors and motives, beyond the consumerist “desire for pleasure, new experiences, status and identity formation through buying goods.” 11

The Swedish newspaper Expressen recently published an article featuring an interview with a member of Lånegarderoben who works as a spokesperson and moderator: “I go to many meetings and I find myself often on stage, so I need a large wardrobe. But I don’t need to own everything I wear. I want to protect the environment and it’s also cheaper [to rent clothes] than buying new things that one might perhaps wear only once.” 12 The principle behind Lånegarderoben seems to be shared by its members, as it allows them to have access to a variety of items, a requirement that is clearly of primary importance for many people. The key characteristics of fashion as a concept, namely, change, novelty, and variety, are thus honored by the libraries, but without necessitating separate purchases by individual end users. As Fletcher puts it, “fashion … can, and must, play another role that helps us both identify the causes of sustainability problems and cultivate new aspirations.” 13 Clothing libraries, as part of fashion in the sense of a broad cultural phenomenon, are to some extent contributing to this positive change.

Figure 1

The Lånegarderoben clothing library, Stockholm, Sweden.

The concept of fashionability plays a very important role in our dress practices. Fashion is clothing imbued with symbolic value, which is what makes it so appealing. It satisfies needs that differ from those satisified by simple clothes, such as the need for protection from the elements. According to Fletcher, alternative fashion practices must remain attuned to the symbolic meanings of fashion in addition to the more mundane practical purposes of clothing as such:

On the one hand we have to celebrate fashion as a significant and magical part of our culture (while divorcing it from rampant material consumption). And on the other hand we have to produce clothes that are based on values, on skill, on carefully produced fibres; clothes that are contentious, sustainable and beautiful. 14

Looking at the items of clothing that can be checked out at Lånegarderoben and Klädoteket provides a better understanding of how the sustainable aspect of the libraries’ activities meets the need for the aesthetic, symbolic dimension of fashion. The most striking difference between the two libraries is that Lånegarderoben stocks clothes designed specifically by Swedish brands, whereas Klädoteket focuses more on secondhand and redesigned clothes. This difference seems to mirror an ideological difference between the respective managers and members of the two libraries.

Figure 2

The Lånegarderoben clothing library, Stockholm, Sweden.

The attention that Lånegarderoben shows to brands, whether well-established ones like Filippa K, J. Linderberg, or Nudie Jeans Co., or upcoming ones such as Matilda Wendelboe and Uniforms for the Dedicated, is relevant to its Stockholm location. 15 As Sweden’s fashion capital, Stockholm is famous for its cool, fashion-conscious residents, people who, more than other places in Sweden, value branded clothes and the public, performative dimensions of style. The presence of a biannual Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, 16 as well as a vibrant night scene, are contributing factors to the central role of fashion and fashionability more generally in the city.

Figure 3

The Lånegarderoben clothing library, Stockholm, Sweden.

Attention to sustainable practices is the thread that connects the brands that donate clothes to the library (this being the primary source of Lånegarderoben’s inventory). Bigger companies like Filippa K and J. Linderberg have signed the Code of Labour Practices of the Fair Wear Foundation, an independent nonprofit organization that works mainly with European companies and their Asian factories to improve labor conditions for garment workers. 17 The other, generally smaller, companies and designers all produce their clothes locally on a small scale and employ, for the most part, organic materials.

Figure 4

The inventory at the Klädoteket library, Gothenburg, Sweden.

Figure 4

The inventory at the Klädoteket library, Gothenburg, Sweden.

Figure 4

The inventory at the Klädoteket library, Gothenburg, Sweden.

Klädoteket, by contrast, does not carry branded clothes, but rather vintage or redesigned pieces. Unlike Lånegarderoben, this clothing library currently relies mainly on donations from individuals and “redesigners,” not from companies. 18 In this sense, Klädoteket’s activity is less restricted by the concept of fashionability as articulated through traditional fashion media. Instead, it promotes a more personal and creative approach to the concept of fashion, one that does not necessarily lie within the parameters of the mainstream industry. This different approach seems to mirror, in turn, the attitude toward fashion and clothing of people living in Gothenburg, who are often characterized as being more “relaxed” and “alternative” in comparison to Stockholmers.

Figure 5

Inside the Klädoteket library.

With a focus on issues of sustainability and consumption, Lånegarderoben and Klädoteket are proving the impact that consumers can have on fashion. However, there are more opportunities yet to be explored.
The key characteristics of fashion as a concept, namely, change, novelty, and variety, are honored by the libraries, but without necessitating separate purchases by individual end users.

Members of Lånegarderoben are required to wash the clothes they check out before returning them, and the library also reserves the right to have items dry-cleaned and charge the cost to the borrower. The practice of dry-cleaning, however, is anything but sustainable, mostly because of the use of perchloroethylene (perc), a petrolchemical-based solvent, as detergent. Fletcher points out how sustainability is a key factor in clothing maintenance, even more than in production: “… even though the typical garment is only washed and dried around 20 times in its life, most of its environmental impact comes from laundering and not from growing, processing and producing the fabric or disposing of it at the end of its life.” 19 The library could raise its sustainability standards by adopting alternative cleaning processes like hanging garments in a steamy space or by providing members with instructions on how to wash the garments by hand.

Figure 5

Inside the Klädoteket library.

The establishment of clothing libraries is a signal of how our relationship with dress can be explored in unexpected ways. New attitudes toward fashion result from a shift of our ideas and feelings, which, as Fletcher noticed, are usually hard to challenge: “The more radical innovations [in fashion] focus on consumption patterns and bring the biggest benefits because they are based on cultural change and shifts in consumer consciousness, although they are both difficult and time consuming to influence.” 20


Katrin Sörbring and Henrik Ek, “Unna dig något du inte har råd med,” Expressen, April 25, 2013, www.expressen.se/nyheter/dokument/unna-dig-nagot-du-inte-har-rad-med.


Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007 [1899]), 49.


Arvind Singhal, “Global Changes in Clothing Consumption by 2020, and Their Impact on Fibre-Manufacturer Supply Chains,” www.technopak.com/files/ITMF_06Nov12.pdf.


Elizabeth L. Cline, Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, (New York: Penguin, 2012), 5.


Cline, Overdressed, 5.


Kate Fletcher, Sustainable Fashion and Textiles (London: Earthscan, 2008), 73.


Fletcher, Sustainable Fashion, 155.


Johanna Björk, “Clothing Libraries: A Shift from Wasteful to Resourceful,” March 31, 2010, www.goodlifer.com/2010/03/clothing-libraries-a-shift-from-wasteful-to-resourceful.


Fletcher, Sustainable Fashion, 117-118.


Sörbring and Ek, “Unna dig något.”


Fletcher, Sustainable Fashion, 118.


Fletcher, Sustainable Fashion, 120.


On the concept of redesign, see e.g. www.redesigndesign.org.


Fletcher, Sustainable Fashion, 75.


Fletcher, Sustainable Fashion, 80.

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