Amsterdam's thriving fashion industry 

Home to design, production, wholesale and retail companies, Amsterdam's thriving fashion industry employs tens of thousands of people. The city region is home to more than 100 fashion houses and the European headquarters of many major labels. Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein’s head offices relocated from New York to Amsterdam, Chanel has followed suit. In line with the region's relaxed business ethos, its fashion industry isn't all about high-fashion and couture. Instead, even the big names are buying into its dedication to sustainability and innovation. Take the fashion house of the recently deceased visionary designer Karl Lagerfeld, which will move into the city's Zonnewijser building this year. The building is set to be provided by Energy Label A+, exceptional for a historic canal house, and has set itself a target to be gas-free by 2040. 

Slow fashion pioneers in the Amsterdam region

In line with Amsterdam’s sustainable ethos, the Amsterdam region is home to many pioneering businesses, designers and foundations focused on circular and sustainable design, helping to change attitude towards the manufacture and consumption of clothes. These include big names, such as Patagonia, as well as world-famous designers and newer initiatives, including the world’s first interactive museum for sustainable fashion innovation. These are all united by one purpose: to help the fashion industry to become more sustainable, moving away from cheap, mass-produced goods towards high-quality products and new, greener production processes.

The denim capital of the world

Amsterdam also prides itself on being the denim capital of the world; the city’s denim industry thought to turnover more than €500 billion a year. It is also the birthplace of the G-Star denim label, Gsus, G+N and Kuyichi, the first-ever organic jeans label. Even iconic brands such as Levi’s and Diesel have recognised Amsterdam’s importance in the denim world and chosen the city as the location for their design studios.

We’ve picked out five Amsterdam innovators who are leading the way in sustainable fashion:

Bringing high fashion to the high street with Viktor and Rolf

Launched last year, ‘fashion artists’ Viktor & Rolf’s RE:CYCLE capsule collection for e-commerce giant Zalando came as something of a surprise when it was first announced. Why? Because they usually work in the world of haute couture, and Zalando doesn’t seem to fit in with that ethos. However, a desire for sustainability inspired them to team with the retailer. Bringing high fashion to the high street, the 17-piece limited-edition womenswear collection was crafted from returned apparel items which could no longer be sold online.

What they said: “With our upcoming collaboration with Zalando, we are excited to bring forth this spirit of sustainable fashion in a bold and accessible way by breathing new life into forgotten garments.”

Lending your trousers from MUD Jeans

When it comes to denim, MUD Jeans have changed the game. How? By introducing Lease A Jeans, a new concept which allows customers to loan MUD Jeans for 12 months, after which the wearer can decide whether to switch to a new pair or keep them until they are worn out. No matter what you decide the jeans are eventually sent back to MUD to be upcycled into vintage models or recycled into other products, like jumpers. Even the details on MUD Jeans are sustainable: labels are made from waste cotton and printed in organic ink. And of course, all products are made from organic cotton sourced from fair-trade organisations.

What they said: “Fashion is the largest industry for water consumption, sustainability is crucial.”

A punk approach to going green with Bas Kosters

Bas Kosters

Photo: Bas Kosters is renowned for his unique designs

From his time spent studying fashion at the Rijn IJssel College in Arnhem to founding his design studio in Amsterdam and beyond, Bas Kosters constantly strives to put sustainability at the heart of everything he does. As well as designing a collection of recycled rain jackets for Dutch Design Week, his ‘My Paper Crown’ collection encouraged people to think differently about fashion by forging clothes from hundreds of old cotton flags collected from around the world. Just last year, he built an atelier studio within tons of textile waste inside Amsterdam’s Machinegebouw building at Westergasfabriek as part of the We Make the City festival.

What he said: “My choice to work with sustainability comes from a love for the material and the connection that I make with it.”

Developing the tech of the future with Iris van Herpen

An artist working in fashion, Van Herpen’s collections are displayed in museums around the world, and she has regularly been cited as fashion’s leading exponent of what technology can do and will mean for the industry’s future. The one thing that seems to unite her work is sustainability – investigating how things are made, and what they are made with. She works with universities and other institutes to develop materials in that area and is a pioneer in 3D, zero-waste design. In 2011, her 3D printed dress was nominated as one of the “50 best inventions of the year” by TIME magazine.

What she said: “There is huge potential to print ready-to-wear clothes on demand because then you wouldn't have the whole pre-production that the fashion system is built on now. It's an incredible system of waste and 3D printing would be a solution for that.”

The M-ODE Foundation: helping the industry to do better

The M-ODE Foundation founder Peter Leferink’s vision is summed up perfectly by a coat, passed down from his grandfather to his father, and then from his father to him. He still wears it today. The idea of taking better care of what we wear, and educating the fashion industry to be more responsible in how it operates, is what M-ODE is all about. Though the the foundation was only launched just over a year ago, it’s already connecting young talent and established brands with a network of investors and partners that could help them grow and develop further. Backers include the City of Amsterdam, Stadsdeel West, and Dutch banks Rabobank and Circl/ABN-AMRO.

What he says: “In today’s world the idea that you buy an item that you invest more in but take better care of and keep for 10, 20 years [doesn’t really exist]. People aren’t used to that anymore. Changing that mentality is a challenge, but so important.”

Read more about the fashion industry in Amsterdam, or see more business news from around the city region.