The first thing to say about shopping in Leuven is how easy it is to get around. Recognised by the European Green Leaf Award for its focus on green issues and livability, Leuven’s ‘Streets full of Leuven’ initiative means swathes of charming pedestrianised streets and squares, so you won’t need to be trekking across the city in your car to reach your favourite boutiques – where yet more attention to sustainability will give the feel-good factor to your spree.
1. Hang out
Hal 5, just behind the main station is a community-led former railway hangar, where you’ll find a food court, bar and organisations and initiatives focusing on diet, exercise, and sustainable enterprise. Organic bakery KORST is open Wednesday to Sunday and is worth a visit for the glorious aroma alone. What’s more, every month, a flea market and creative makers sale happens under the banner Camping Flamingo.
Content is a packaging-free shop for all your daily needs: grains and dry goods, fruits and vegetables, bread, dairy, drinks, personal care products, household products, etc. Bring along your pots, jars, bags, and fill them up with all the groceries you need, choosing among mainly local foodstuffs. Reduce waste and support local businesses.
3. Fashion for the ages
When it comes to gladrags, there are many sustainable options to explore but Harvest Club on Mathieu de Layensplein offers ethical clothing brands for all ages.
Also check out SWAY where brands are chosen because they meet criteria such as fair wages, safe and healthy working conditions and cover environmental challenges from making clothing. I’m in love with their mustard yellow cordoroy culottes for brightening autumn days.
The green boutique Tenue Préférée also offers a wide range of sustainable women’s clothing, accessories and even cosmetics. The brands selected by the store have to respect sustainability standards, so the products are made from bio or recycled materials and following zero waste principles.
4. Second hand designer clothing
If you’re a fan of the big names in fashion, but don’t have the budget for something from the latest collections, Cyaankali is a second-hand designer clothing shop. Their repertoire includes items from Belgian designers, as well as labels like Dolce & Gabbana and Ralph Lauren.
Rawette is another option where you can find high-end brands. The store has been open since 1979 and besides Belgian designers, it has clothing and accessories from Louis Vuitton, Dior, Gucci and so on. And, if you have any clothes in your wardrobe that are still in really good condition, but you no longer wear, the store offers to sell them on your behalf and you get half the selling price. Win-win situation.
You’ll find the work of local jewellery designer Rooi as well as international Scandi-style brands in Mixte, a cosy store with beautiful lighting, not far from Harvest Club on charmingly paved, Dutch-gabled Mechelsestraat, one of my favourite shopping streets in the world. For more Belgian jewellery, try Belva and Isabelle Vanlaere, who works with customers on bespoke future heirloom pieces that tell their own story. By appointment except Friday and Saturday.
6. Design for life
Make a special detour if you have to, but make sure you visit Animaux Spéciaux, where young creative Jeroen Lemaitre makes treasures and curiosities inspired by, and . . . ahem . . . recycled from, animals, insects and butterflies. If you don’t find a Christmas gift for someone in here, there’s no pleasing you.
Meanwhile, at L’Etude you can stock up on vintage and imaginatively-sourced objects for your home or for gifts. Colourful bowls and vases for dried flowers woven from baobab. Scarves from Barcelona. Exquisite Missoni fabrics. Tables, chairs, mirrors – from mid-century and beyond.
7. Support local producers
As well as top cheeses from Paris’s Rungis market, this cheese purveyor collaborates with Belgian cheesemakers, to bring their creamy, salty, piquant goods to your table.
For ultra-local, Leuven Leisure offers a wide selection of Leuven craft beers, such as bottles from the small local breweries of Hof ten Dormaal, De Kroon, De Vlier and Luvanium. They also do guided city excursions and specialise in cycling tours to local breweries, so you’ll be using leg power not fuel.