Building a City: Regulating the Sharing Economy in Amsterdam

From dads with DIY projects to fashionistas seeking the latest trends, Amsterdam’s tenacious citizens are ripping up the rulebooks and bringing trade into the 21st century. How did a city enable its citizens to think differently and connect in new ways?

Lauren Razavi


The Amsterdam skyline. Photo: Stijn te Strake

In the hip Amsterdam district of Jordaan, a woman walks into an award-winning fashion boutique. She pulls her fingertips through racks of emerging designers and vintage classics. When she’s picked out the perfect dress, she takes it to the counter and greets the clerk with a smile. No cash exchanges hands. Next week, the shop will take the outfit back, no questions asked, so she can exchange it for something else.

Over the next few weeks, that same customer can exchange her latest selections as many times as she wants for the set monthly price she pays. This is Lena — one of the world’s first “fashion libraries,” where clothes are borrowed in real life via subscription. An endless wardrobe for as little as €25 per month makes quite the antidote for the trends of fast fashion and mass consumption.

Lena is just one of many Amsterdam startups ditching the notion of fixed ownership in favor of shared access to goods and services. This same idea has propelled companies like Uber, Airbnb, and Deliveroo to global prominence. Now Amsterdam is paving the way for the collaborative economy’s next frontier.

The Lena fashion library in Jordaan. Photo: Lena

Four years ago, innovation consultant Harmen van Sprang and masters student Pieter van de Glind decided to join forces. Inspired by the quickly growing sharing economy in Seoul, South Korea, they set up ShareNL — a think tank that works with startups, corporations, governments, and research institutions to unlock the potential offered by technology and sharing. Their goal was simple: to turn Amsterdam into Europe’s first sharing city.

“The city government invited me to speak about my collaborative economy thesis, which presented an interesting…