Sustainable fashion makes a lot of sense in Amsterdam. The capital of a well-off nation that is proactive in tackling climate change and promoting progressive social values, Amsterdam has a strong ecosystem of impact entrepreneurship. Sustainability is one of its non-negotiable cornerstones. And the city’s also home to a thriving fashion industry. The Dutch have always been picky consumers, wanting clothing that is not only fashionable but also functional and as economical as possible. Put these factors all together and you get the best possible starting point for impact enterprises in the fashion field. With their work, they are contributing as much to the world of fashion as they are to the world’s greater-good sustainability goals. Here are five ways in which Amsterdam-based businesses make fashion sustainable. 

1. Sustainable and circular retail startups

Amsterdam is a hotbed for startups focused on circular and sustainable design, including in the fashion and retail industry. To name just a few, Project Cece is an online platform that pools together some 25,000 products from over 100 ethical fashion stores and over 200 fair trade brands. This startup is the brainchild of two sisters and a friend who, while studying physics and economics in Amsterdam, decided to answer their own need: a single website that would easily let them find accessible and fun sustainable fashion. Loop.alife is a 100% circular Dutch clothing brand. Everything they create is made from recycled waste textiles and produced without water and chemicals. The company works with production partners in the Netherlands and Portugal and ensures that their manufacturers offer fair and responsible working conditions to all employees. Renoon is another digital platform that aggregates sustainable fashion products, both new and pre-owned, reworked or rentable. Users of the website and app get a strikingly diverse category of social and environmental priorities through which to filter their product search.

2. Direct-to-consumer luxury goods

Not without reason, sustainability-conscious consumers have become sceptical of luxury brands with enormous factories, transnational supply chains and inflated prices. The husband-and-wife team behind Crafted Society have recalibrated the luxury business model by creating a direct-to-consumer brand that gives fairer pay and appreciation to Italian artisans. Established in the Netherlands with a permanent fitting room on Amsterdam’s iconic Prinsengracht, Crafted Society sells limited-edition hand-crafted shoes, bags and accessories made entirely in Italy with Italian components. Items are sold without a middleman, thus cutting out price mark-ups. They are also co-branded with the names of their actual makers, who often work in family-run workshops. In the luxury industry, such individuals’ names usually go unmentioned and, for related reasons, their craft has become less transparent and accessible for succeeding generations to learn. The company’s related Luxury for Good Foundation has plans to establish scholarships that fund apprenticeships.

3. New technologies for repurposing textiles

Behind the scenes – or perhaps more precisely, behind the seams –, one Dutch company is accelerating the transition to a circular economy. Wieland Textiles, which began in the 1960s as a rag-sorting business run by three brothers in Amsterdam, is now processing 9 million kilos of post-consumer materials in a factory in the nearby town of Wormerveer. Much of the materials are used clothes collected by Dutch municipalities and organisations such as the Salvation Army. Using sophisticated new technology, Wieland sorts these textiles to be sold as second-hand clothing or, especially when lower quality, to be recycled and repurposed. Wieland’s mission is to promote a global market that, within a decade, sees all new garments manufactured from at least 20% used fibres. In 2020, Wieland and several major Amsterdam denim brands signed the Denim Deal, pledging within three years to make three million denim garments containing at least 20% recycled material.

4. Making denim sustainable

Amsterdam takes pride in holding the title of denim capital of the world. No wonder: some of today’s globally renowned denim brands began in the city, including G-Star Raw, Scotch & Soda, Kings of Indigo, Kuyichi, Denham and MUD Jeans. Promoting ownerless consumption, MUD was a pioneer in introducing Lease A Jeans. This circular clothing programme allows customers to get a pair of jeans by paying € 9.95 a month for a year and then deciding whether to keep the jeans, trade them in for a new pair or send them back. Back at MUD, the used jeans get upcycled into vintage models or recycled into other products. Meanwhile, helping promote what the organisation calls denim diplomacy, the House of Denim Foundation is an Amsterdam not-for-profit working to make the industry more sustainable, smarter and cleaner. It promotes collaboration, education and networking among denim experts and industry players. 

5. Education and mentoring: support for fashion innovation

The name says it all. Fashion for Good is an Amsterdam-based organisation that supports and accelerates brands, retailers and funders that work in and with sustainable apparel. Three programmes are at the heart of the Fashion for Good Innovation Platform: an accelerator funds and mentors promising innovators; a scaling scheme supports startups that have proved they are ready for the commercial market; and the Good Fashion Fund provides capital to help scale technologies that tackle the negative social and environmental impacts of the fashion supply chain. And for those who may not be professionally active in the industry but are still interested in learning about sustainable consumption, there is the Fashion for Good Museum. Through interactive displays and rotating exhibitions, visitors can learn about where their clothes come from, catch up on new technologies, and get concrete tips for sartorial choices that can make a positive impact on society and the planet.

Read more about Amsterdam Impact and the programme’s six pillars: transition, market access, capital, internationalisation, impact entrepreneurship in the neighbourhood and promoting connections across ecosystems. And learn how to become part of Amsterdam’s impact entrepreneurship ecosystem here.