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Remember the adage “look good, feel good?” Well, it’s no surprise that clothing influences how you feel and how you feel influences what you wear. The impact of clothing on someone’s emotions, self-assurance, and self-worth is significant.
The pressure to look good and fit in means many people turn to fast fashion as a way to stay on top of new trends.
I used to consume fashion in an unhealthy way, I thought the more clothes I got, the better I would look. Then three years ago, I began researching fast fashion and the textile industry. The more I learned about the industry and its lack of care for the environment, the harder it became to spend money on cheap pieces that only served me a one-time use.
That’s when I found clothing swaps, where friends, family, or strangers get together and trade clothing they don’t wear or love anymore and refresh their wardrobes with “new” and exciting pieces. Swapping is a place to “shop” without swiping your credit card and adding to the demand for cheap clothes that negatively impact the environment.
Clothing swaps are a powerful method to fight against our current capitalist system and reduce the amount of textile waste going into landfills. They have changed the way I engage with fashion. I am no longer persuaded by the industry’s alluring façade — instead, I’ve found a way to acquire clothing in a more ethical and sustainable way.
Shopping Has Gone Too Far
Before fast fashion companies existed, there was less desire or impulse to purchase new clothing at such a rapid rate. What many consumers have blindly recognized as strengths — quick, inexpensive, and accessible — have hidden the true cost of clothing.
Globally, humans consume roughly 80 billion new garments each year, which has increased by 400 per cent in the last two decades.
We need to put the brakes on overproduction and senseless consumption.
Practicing sustainability boils down to the values and outlook someone has. To become more sustainable shoppers, we must re-invent how we look at clothing, our wardrobes, and the fashion landscape.
A Look into Swapping
Swaps today vary in size and scale, but to give you an idea of what a swap might look like picture this: You walk into Winnipeg’s St. Vital Duck Pond warm-up facility and see white standing racks that mirror the bright windows. A group of twelve people look through clothing items nicely folded and organized by size across six tables while alternative music plays in the background. You see people reconnecting with old friends, and conversations taking shape between total strangers. As you look around the room, you realize everyone here shares similar values and interests as you do.
That was a scene from the clothing swap I hosted in January. Being a fashion enthusiast and always keeping the customer’s shopping experience in mind, I wanted to host an event that felt like a pop-up store — only more inviting and less expensive.
I have hosted four clothing swaps since 2019, and my love for them continues to grow. I am driven to keep creating an inclusive and positive environment for people to “shop,” where they feel welcomed, appreciated, and leave with pieces they adore.
Each clothing swap is influenced by the people who attend. You can find anything from tennis shoes to sundresses, toques to denim. Depending on the location and size of the swap, it could be an intimate gathering among a handful of people, or it could feel like a block party. Either way, the fun in attending clothing swaps is that you never know what you’re going to walk into, or what you might leave with.
How Swaps Started
Clothing swaps are not a new concept. In fact, they have existed since the Second World War when the production and consumption of clothing was being rationed.
Each article of clothing had a point value based on a coupon allocation system. For example, a dress required eleven coupons while a pair of shoes required five. Over the span of one year, adults were given 66 points to use. This number soon dropped to 24, meaning people had to find creative ways to acquire the items they needed.
This is where the strategy of exchanging clothes came in.
It wasn’t until the late 1990s when Suzanne Agasi officially gave name to the concept of clothing swaps. Based in San Francisco, Agasi started hosting swaps in her home which eventually led to her facilitating over 200 swap meets. Featured in the New York Times, and on Today Show, CBS and more, Agasi was recognized for revolutionizing a different approach to fashion.
Swapping Creates Value
People value clothing swaps for different reasons. For some swappers, it’s about being part of an environmental movement, while others rely on these events to relieve the financial stress that comes with shopping in-store or online. Swaps can also create an environment to network and build a sense of community with like-minded people.
Swapping uses existing resources. These events offer consumers a way to expand their wardrobes by sharing, pairing, up-cycling, and reusing their pre-owned and pre-loved clothing. It’s a way for people to try new styles and patterns that pique their interest and find items that they never thought they needed, but now can’t live without.
“I picked up a cute little top that I’m going to bring on my trip at the end of the month. It’s something that I’ve been looking for forever and is perfect,” says Emma Knight, a first-time swapper who heard about the swap I hosted in January through Instagram.
If we can implement a circular system in which we strive to put sustainable measures in place through clothing swaps, it could contribute toward the bigger picture of reducing waste and bettering the planet.
Swapping Saves the Planet
North Americans alone consume over 10 million tonnes of clothing each year, with the average person throwing away 37 kilograms, 95 per cent of which could be recycled, or better yet, reused.
Five trillion litres of water are used by the fashion industry each year. It takes 20,000 litres to produce one kilogram of cotton, and swapping one shirt rather than buying it brand new could save enough filtered drinking water for a single person to drink for the next 2.5 years.
Between 5 to 10 per cent of global gas emissions are generated by the fashion industry — a number estimated to increase by 50 per cent by the year 2030. This is why now more than ever, people must take actionable change toward a healthier system of clothing consumption.
“Whenever we as consumers go out and buy something, we create a market demand for those products. So, by buying or swapping second-hand, we eliminate that, and companies are less inclined to produce a lot more,” says Chris McCallum, a Winnipegger dedicated to shopping sustainably.
Plus, McCallum says when you get your hands on an article of clothing that you love you get this feeling of satisfaction that you didn’t buy this new. That you saved the planet those materials, the work, and the transport.
Swapping Relieves Financial Stress
Buying clothes can be expensive, especially when purchasing sustainable and ethically-sourced items.
Bella Gierys, a 22-year-old Winnipegger, says she swaps to get new clothes on a tight budget. Gierys is a student and someone who loves expressing herself through constant outfit changes, which she says gets expensive.
Not having a price tag attached to items at clothing swaps allows people to try out new styles without the fear of financial commitment, which for people like Gierys is just enough to spark curiosity, creativity, and adventure.
Not only is swapping free but swapped items also come with a history.
“Each item tells a different and unique story, which you don’t get from buying brand new,” says Gierys.
Swapping allows users to engage with fashion without a financial transaction and avoid the sometimes difficult conversations that may arise at garage sales or on online second-hand platforms like Facebook Marketplace. This also makes clothing swaps conducive to community building.
Swapping Builds Community
Clothing swaps are a great place for people to connect, network and cultivate community.
Audrey Stanton, a writer for Swap Society, a subscription clothing swap service, says in a post that clothings swaps are a way to build community in our “technology-obsessed culture, current political climate, and hectic lives, [where] community can be hard to come by.”
Amanda Busch, a seasoned swapper from Winnipeg says it can be daunting walking into a room full of strangers but, “once you get in there and start talking to people it’s actually not as scary as you thought it’d be.”
Knight just moved to Winnipeg from Calgary, and she says the nice thing with attending clothing swaps is that it’s an opportunity to meet people. It isn’t something she expected to get out of dropping off a couple of bags of clothes.
“Everyone was shopping together and interacting with one another and that was more fun of an experience than I thought a clothing swap would be,” says Knight.
It is our unworn clothing and the desire for change that brings us in the door but it’s the community that comes together and makes it all happen.
Where to Find Clothing Swaps
To help you get swapping, explore community resources to find a swap that suits your style, schedule, and preferences.
- Local community swaps: The most accurate and efficient way to find community clothing swaps is to visit your city’s or town’s website or social media platforms for upcoming events.
- Online platforms: There are online platforms such as Eventbrite or Facebook that you can check out to find swaps in your area. You can search by location and date to find one that works for you.
- Friends and family: Ask around to see if any of your friends or family members are hosting or attending clothing swaps. This can be a great way to attend a smaller, more intimate event.
- Host your own: If you can’t find a swap in your area, hosting one is a great option.
How To Host a Clothing Swap — Your Step-By-Step Guide
Create an environment that is inviting, inclusive, and fun. You may be swapping pre-loved items, but it shouldn’t feel like you’re sorting through clothes in your parent’s laundry room.
Step 1: Pick a Place & Prepare
Clothing swaps can be as intimate as having a few friends or family members over to your house or can be based in the community and open to everyone. If you’re looking to host a public swap, I recommend a public park, where there is plenty of room and it’s free to use the space.
Several small businesses in the city such as coffee shops or local storefronts could be an option as well, likely for a fee. Many business owners are interested in supporting local initiatives. When choosing the right place to host, be sure there is a designated changing area, whether it is a washroom or the space to set up some curtains.
Next, you’ll want to go through your closet and set aside items you are ready to part with — after all, you can’t host a swap party and show up empty handed.
Then, it’s time to decide how you’re going to organize the items on swap day. I found that sorting everything by size works best. Not only is it easier for people to navigate, but it also creates a safe and comfortable space for people to shop in specific size categories.
Step 2: Create the Event & Start Promoting
If you’re looking to host a community event, you will need to spread the word and invite people to participate. I created a fun, colourful graphic that provided information such as date, time, location, what to bring, and what to expect. You’ll want to supply the audience with all necessary details they will need in one social media post. Plus, this makes it easy to share the content among various social circles.
To maximize exposure for your swap party, post the graphic on your social media platforms. I chose to market my swap specifically to my Instagram following and from there my friends reposted it to their personal platforms. A good idea is to share the swap details on community Facebook groups to reach beyond your tailored social media audiences.
Sending personalized emails and texts is a strategic and thoughtful way to market your event to people you know. Remember, word of mouth goes a long way.
Step 3: Create Swap Guidelines
As you gear up for your swap, it’s important to establish some guidelines to ensure a smooth and enjoyable swapping experience for everyone involved.
Step 4: Swap Day
The day has finally arrived. If your swap is being held in a community space, make sure to arrive early. Ask a friend or two to help you set up and organize for the day. Build your clothing racks, organize the items you already have, and plug in the music. A fun-filled day of swapping is about to begin.
When friends, family, or strangers arrive to your event, ask them to kindly place their clothing on designated tables and racks. At this time, you can let them know that they are welcome to take anything they would like. That being said, the intention of a swap is to clean out your closet, not introduce more clutter. Therefore, remind attendees to only take the things they genuinely need or want.
Step 5: Have A Plan for What’s Left
Once the event is over, collect the remaining items and donate them to a local charity or organization of your choice. This would be a good opportunity to advertise the donation bag ahead of time so that people have the option to bring along any extra items that might not have fit the criteria of your swap but are suitable for donation.
Swapping Over Shopping
Clothing swaps are more than just a change of clothes but a change of mindset. They have the potential to become a mainstream alternative to the way we consume fashion and a standard way of meeting like-minded people.
Swapping provides a tangible solution for excessive textile waste, creates a way to connect with your community, and eases financial stress when it comes to your refreshing your wardrobe.
Clothing swaps alone won’t stop fast fashion and the overproduction of cheap clothing, but until the industry and shoppers shift to a mindset of quality over quantity, we need to start viewing clothing swaps as an essential part of the solution and an effective way to make a difference.
The bottom line is no matter how imperfect your current consumption patterns are, it’s never too late to exchange your old habits for new ones. It’s time to swap fast fashion for a sustainable future.