Leipzigers love secondhand stuff. They call it “vintage”, swap it at a “Kleidertausch”, buy it by the kilo, pick it up from cardboard boxes on the street. Yet nothing beats that special feeling when you try on new clothes. It’s slightly stiff, it smells fresh, the colours are sharp and the fit is perfect.
That’s because your size means something different from that same size in the 1990s: people are getting taller and heavier. And of course, secondhand clothes have had plenty of time to shrink in the wash.
How to have the best of both worlds? It just happened.
On a busy street corner in the western Leipzig neighborhood of Lindenau, the new sustainable concept store Again offers new clothes to rent or buy. You can hire them for a day, a week or a month. Then if you really want to keep them, you can pay the rest of the price with your rental fees deducted.
This is not really a new concept, since the city centre arcades are full of ball gowns and tuxedos for hire to VIPs who go to high-society events. The difference is that these are things you could wear every day: pants, hoodies, shorts, shirts and dresses. I see that they come in natural organic fabrics with bright, exotic prints or warm earth tones to suit all genders and skin colours.
There are smart-casual options, too. One of the first customers hired black pants and a white shirt for a job interview, and brought them back the following day. Why pay 130 euros for an outfit that you only need on one occasion? Again’s for-sale prices are pegged high enough to be truly “fair trade”, but it costs a lot less to take clothes for just a week – perhaps a holiday – or until the season changes.
“We stand for fair and ecologically-sound clothing. What marks us out is that it’s possible to rent things. That gives you a much, much more sustainable wardrobe because the things aren‘t just hanging there. We can rent them out again and really get good value for the resources invested in them,” says Johannes Schrem, the founder of Again.
Making new clothes is actually a dirty business in many ways.
Greenpeace estimates that 85% of the textiles bought and sold in Germany don’t conform to international standards on chemical pollution and fair conditions for textile workers. Kirsten Brodde, Greenpeace Germany project lead for the “Detox-my-fashion” campaign, says on their website: “The textile industry is still not doing enough to eliminate hazardous chemicals and improve factory working conditions. This is unacceptable.”
Dangerous, overcrowded factories and sweatshops mean that garment workers – mostly women and girls – have to risk their lives for low pay.
In the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, at least 19 people died in March 2019 when fire swept through their workplace. That’s despite new safety regulations that were introduced after the 2013 Rana Plaza tragedy which, as the ILO reports, “killed at least 1,132 people and injured more than 2,500.” A fire damaged part of the factory complex, but workers were ordered to go back to work the next day. When the generators were switched on, the whole building collapsed.
Crowded, unhealthy conditions also exist in European garment factories, as shown by the Corona virus outbreak in the English town of Leicester in June 2020. It triggered a new lockdown in the city and shone a spotlight on how the exploitative working practices behind the fashion industry do not only exist in developing countries.
That is the dark side of the clothes in our wardrobe. But the founder of Again wants to offer a silver lining:
“In spite of the COVID-19 crisis, our startup is attracting customers. So much so that we’re already thinking of opening a second store in Leipzig – this time for kids. Because kids grow so fast, it makes sense to rent their clothes and bring them back whenever they are outgrown,” says Schrem.
As a new kid on the block, he is confident that Leipzig will soon cotton on to the concept – even in the post-Corona slump.
By Jane Whyatt