Les Rebelles d’Anvers: rebels against fast fashion
Amazing designer clothing for only €20 per month. A neverending wardrobe and always something to wear. Unique items from the newest talents in fashion. All this is not a dream, but the near future thanks to Les ReBelles d’Anvers who will open a clothing library in 2016. They entirely rethink the way we approach fashion so that we will own less, but wear better clothes.
We had a chat with Veerle Spaepen, founder of Les ReBelles d’Anvers.
TIA: There already are a few international examples of clothing libraries. How did you come up with the idea and how do you want to tackle it?
Veerle: It isn’t a spectacular story. My current employer Plan C, Flanders Fashion Institute and Stadslab 2050 wanted to do something with sustainable fashion. We started looking for possibilities in Antwerp and we came up with the idea of a clothing library. I was immediately very excited about launching this concept because I was tired of only wearing high-street fashion. So, I signed up for the job. Emelie joined the crew a little later. We actually started with four people, which you can still see on our website, but two of us couldn’t combine the project with their busy work and family schedules so now it’s just the two of us.
We worked very hard at the business plan. Now we’re doing lots of meetings - and we’re drinking a whole lot of coffee. We first only wanted to offer Belgian labels, but that idea was too difficult to realise. Therefore we decided to also collaborate with other cool and new brands from all over the world. We want to give room to original concepts, but also to young fashion graduates. It’s very hard for them to find stores that want to sell their clothes, so we want to offert them a chance to bring their clothes to the people. We’re also still searching for a good location for our pop-up bar that will open in Spring 2016.
TIA: What did you do before you worked for Les Rebelles d’Anvers? Does your job give you an advantage?
Veerle: We still work full-time at our ‘normal’ jobs and work for Les Rebelles d’Anvers after hours and in the weekends. I am a project manager for Plan C. We develop and support ideas that fit the circular economy, which is the idea of making raw materials last longer or preventing that they will become waste. I work out projects within the subject fashion. Emelie is a PR specialist. Once we have opened the clothing library we will start looking for more people to work with and turn it into an actual organisation.
TIA: I can imagine there are a lot of people who will rent clothes for special occasions, but not for their daily lives. Isn’t it expensive to have a subscription of 20 euros each month?
Veerle: We do not only have extravagant clothes, but also items for daily use. For 20 euros per month you lend an entire designer outfit that would normally cost hundreds of euros. The subscription is therefore actually very cheap. If you want to lend more clothing the fee will become more expensive, though.
If you only want to lend something for memorable occasions, you can buy a pass for 10 turns. These passes are especially developed for men because we can’t imagine them coming in every day to lend a new outfit.
TIA: Who do you want to reach?
Veerle: Everybody, but especially women between 17 and 70 years old. We also want to reach the conscious customer who doesn’t want to shop in the high street all the time. Above all, we keep the fashion aspect in mind. Durability is one of the aspects, but for us the main function of the clothing library is that we can give people beautiful pieces to wear.
TIA: You are working hard at gathering clothing for the library. Can people make a contribution or help in another way?
Veerle: Fashion designers can donate items from their collections to get more exposure. The clothes have to be wearable all year round, though. We also need helping hands for the pop-up store, both during the day and in the evenings when we entertain guests with drinks and snacks. When the store has opened, visitors should give us a lot of feedback so we can determine how long we should keep the store open. And finally, we want to meet investors who are thrilled about our concept.
TIA: How did you come up with the name Les ReBelles d’Anvers?
Veerle: First of all, we rebel against the fast fashion industry. Yet, there’s more: the ‘belle’ refers to the fact that people will leave the library looking beautiful. ‘Re’ emphasises the idea that the items always return to the library. Lastly, we are grateful that the city of Antwerp supports our plan and we wanted to emphasize that in our name.
TIA: Is your daily life as rebellious as your name suggests?
Veerle: Not really. We are conscious citizens who think before they act. We try to question everything. So yes, we are rebellious in the way that we criticise the status quo, but you will not find us drunk in the gutter or break any laws.
TIA: What does the ideal future look like? Can you achieve that dream?
Veerle: In the ideal future, the fashion industry and consumption pattern are slowed down and in sync. The current situation can no longer be attained, especially for the people who are at the bottom of the production chain. We all need to distance ourselves from the more-is-more attitude.
We are hopeful that this change will happen because you can already see the same evolution in the food industry. Restaurants and stores work with products that are sustainable for the environment and the people involved. Hopefully, slow fashion will just like slow food become the new standard.
TIA: Do have any advice for creative entrepreneurs who want to realise an ambitious project like you have done?
Veerle: You need to start out with a good team because it’s hard to cope with a big undertaking on your own. Working in group also has several benefits: there are others who can critically evaluate your ideas, but they can also motivate you when times get rough.
It’s best to find a person or company that can mentor you, such as KBC’s starters’ program Start It. And a final advice: be realistic about whether you can really handle all what the future might hold.
TIA: Thanks for your time and best of luck!
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Text by Helen & Tine Van den Poel
Pics by Helen Van den Poel & Tine Van den Poel