Soile-Maria Linnemäki is standing on the street, smiling and carrying clothes packed in paper bags and transparent sacks. Effortlessly, she manages to shake hands with me and open a locked door without dropping anything.
We step into the lending premises on Mariankatu over pieces of clothing returned through the letterbox. The dark walls and playful racks create a warm colour scheme. It feels like diving into your own private wardrobe.
‘We wanted to make the place feel cosy with a comfortable and welcoming atmosphere for everyone.’
Linnemäki is currently the only expert in this field in Finland and Vaatepuu is therefore the country’s only clothes lending business. The company’s mission is to promote sharing economy and encourage people to consider their relationship with fast fashion.
It has branches in Järvenpää, Tampere, Helsinki, Jyväskylä and Turku. You can become a lender by paying for a 6-month membership.
Responsibility as the main criterion
Vaatepuu’s selection of clothing mainly consists of quality products by Finnish designers and brands. It includes dresses by Ivana Helsinki and Katri Niskanen and shirts from Lumoa. Also the accessories that are available are Finnish design, including Yo Zen’s earrings and Marita Huurinainen’s sandals.
Finnish design garments have found their way onto Vaatepuu’s racks mostly because they were responsibly manufactured. Linnemäki sounds pleased when she talks about how easy it has been to work together with other Finnish operators who share Vaatepuu’s values. Help with washing instructions and information about the items’ background and production conditions is quickly available.
‘Many brands have agreed to call me if there are any factory seconds or last items of a collection available, which might be difficult to sell. I will then buy these clothes to be borrowed from here, according to the principles of circular economy.’
However, not all clothes available for lending in Vaatepuu are new, and neither can the responsible origins of all items be verified. Linnemäki steers the discussion to vintage clothing, as finding out how responsibly they were manufactured is more complicated compared to new clothes.
‘Even though the majority of the vintage here is locally produced, it is nearly impossible to find out which dyes were used and what the production conditions were like. Therefore, I cannot claim that all the items available for borrowing in Vaatepuu have been responsibly produced.’
Linnemäki emphasises that borrowing clothes in itself is responsible behaviour and keeping vintage items circulating for longer is a better choice than throwing them away and buying new ones.
Constant borrowing requires durability
In addition to responsible manufacturing, another important factor when selecting clothes is their durability. Items made with poor-quality materials will not be accepted, because the clothes must be able to withstand wear and tear. Durability is also important for the environment, although even the most durable of garments are not always environmentally friendly.
‘Polyester is one of those materials that is just incredibly durable. It would take a lot of mistakes with washing to ruin clothes made from polyester! Unfortunately, it is not great for the environment.’
Therefore, durability is not the be all and end all of things. So, in addition to that, the timelessness of a garment and how well it is going to suit as many borrowers as possible need to be considered.
Furthermore, good maintenance is also important, which is evident in the fact that many of the clothes have been in circulation ever since Vaatepuu began operating five years ago.
‘When clothes are carefully designed and my wonderful customers look after them well, the items will last for years.’
The clothes circulate between Vaatepuu’s five branches, keeping the selection fresh. They spend a while at each location, and once people stop borrowing them they move on to the next city. The clothes undergo repairs, but items with more signs of wear and tear end up for sale in the second-hand section of the premises in Järvenpää.
At Vaatepuu, you can feel right at home. There is no need for being nervous and customers are encouraged to chat. The customer service is based on the principle of making every customer feel that they have received service, so that no one goes home feeling neglected – including men.
‘Most of our collections are for women, but I have seen many men wear our clothes! And even though our memberships are personal, I know that some of our female members have borrowed clothes for their partners, and it is great when they send us pictures of it.’
In the future, Vaatepuu might start lending clothing for men as well, but Linnemäki says it will take a while. Currently, the company is focusing on establishing itself online and aims to develop a functioning digital borrowing system. Linnemäki would like to think that the service is already intended for everyone, regardless of gender.
‘One stylist, for example, used our clothes in a music video of a male rapper, like who cares about genres, and the video was brilliant. And I just kept thinking to myself, oh there is that sequin jacket of ours. It was fantastic!’
Linnemäki lets out a laugh and straightens up a few shirts on the clothes hangers. She still has a few hours left to arrange everything she has brought with her to the racks and prepare to open the wardrobe.