Antwerp fashion projects rewarded for sustainable focus


The City of Antwerp has given a pair of projects that combine a fashion-forward focus with a sustainable approach €20,000 grants to take their ideas to the market

An alternative choice

Antwerp’s Duurzame Stad (Sustainable City) initiative aims to create the most appealing environment possible for residents and visitors and to demonstrate that cities offer a positive and long-term future. But it’s not just environmental issues that are being addressed. The funding initiative also recognises projects that can reduce waste and provide local employment.

During the most recent round of funding, two new fashion projects each received €20,000 grants. The money will allow them to test their ideas in real life. Both initiatives are likely to further Antwerp’s reputation as a centre for fashion innovation.

Founded by Emelie Vervecken and Veerle Spaepen, Les Rebelles d’Anvers (The Antwerp Rebels) is working to create a “clothing library” where you can rent contemporary fashion at democratic prices. “We want to see if Belgian consumers are ready for this,” says Vervecken.

To find that out, the women are opening a pop-up shop that will run from April to June. Although they considered establishing an online presence, they wanted to test out the idea in a real shop first. “It will enable us to get feedback directly from customers so we can get our pricing model correct and find out what types of clothing are in demand,” Vervecken explains.

Fashion at democratic prices

The shop will rent out clothing by both established and emerging designers. According to Vervecken, the concept holds particular appeal for new designers. “It gives them access to consumers and allows them to get the feedback they need to develop, without the need to create a full collection,” she says. “And because we’re not tied to the seasons, established labels can use our outlet to generate income from stock that would otherwise sit in a warehouse."

Vervecken and Spaepen intend to stock clothing for both men and women, with a focus on daily wear. They are considering different payment options – from a monthly subscription that would enable customers to borrow as many clothes as they want to a fee that would let them rent a maximum of 10 items within a fixed period.

As they say, everything has been done before – but not by us. Maybe we can do it better!

- Emelie Vervecken

“Once items have been rented a few times, we will sell them through the store,” Vervecken adds. “We will do this every month; that will provide additional revenue for the designers.”

The pair are in talks with a number of designers and labels as well as shop owners in Antwerp. Although the concept of a fashion library has been tried before, they’re confident it will be a success. “As they say, everything has been done before – but not by us. Maybe we can do it better!” Vervecken says.

By contrast, Maakbaar, the other Duurzame Stad recipient, is working with The Post-Couture Collective to create a library of digital designs that can be tailored to each customer. The designs will be shared via a website and produced in a local “maker-space” such as Maakbaar.

“Each piece is made only when someone orders it,” says Dutch designer Martijn van Strien, who started the project. “There is no need for unnecessary stock, and everything is made to fit. That prevents unworn clothes ending up in the trash. An additional advantage of local production is that it creates new manufacturing jobs in the city.”

Industry of excess

The project was born out of van Strien’s belief that the fashion industry is an industry of excess. “There is widespread overconsumption and a massive amount of generic product is sold,” he explains. “For me, the word ‘fashion’ stands for most of the irrational and amoral aspects of the garment industry: excessive runway shows, bloggers, perfumes, the need to bring in all this marketing just to sell more of a product nobody really needs.”

He is quick to point out, however, that he has nothing against beautiful clothes or looking good. “As long as we enjoy it consciously and without damaging people and the environment. But in order to have a positive influence on the choices consumers make, you have to offer them an alternative that is both more attractive and ‘better’ than the existing model.”

Van Strien has approached a number of recent graduates of the Royal Academy’s fashion department and asked each of them to create a look for the collection. “I’ve asked them to create a piece of wearable clothing in their own style,” he says.

In an earlier project, ONE | OFF, van Strien created a similar collection using fabric made from recycled plastic bottles. “This time we will take the designers to the Paris Fabric Fair to find the materials. Our focus will be on using sustainable fabrics.”

Photo: Les Rebelles d’Anvers founders Veerle Spaepen and Emelie Vervecken
© Abstrakt