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Let's Swap Clothes

I love swapping clothes.

Maybe part of it brings me back to borrowing clothes from my mom’s closet as a teenager or my sister as we both got older. I even remember the time I dared to wear a J.Crew blouse from Lizzie’s closet with tags still intact. I thought if I kept the tags on all would be good — that was until I spilt salsa down the front of it (I am known for food spills) and found out she had kept the tags because she was planning to return it. $42 later and a stained blouse served me well.

Anyways, there is something wonderful about sharing clothes with people you only just met and watching someone excitedly grab something from the rack that you hadn’t worn in years. I sometimes have to tell myself not to blurt out — “Yeay! You are taking those! They were mineeeee” as a shopper gently bags up her new treasures.

Not only is a Clothing Swap a great way to add a few new pieces to your closet, but it keeps clothing local, debunks the lie that clothing is disposable, makes sure clothing gets another life, and values the women who are making our clothing. How we pass on clothes we’re not wearing is just as much a part of building an ethical and thoughtful wardrobe as being intentional about what we bring into our wardrobes.

Since many of you are not from around here and cannot join us for our seasonal swaps, we thought we would share a few tips to support you in hosting your own Swap (if you choose to)— just a few things we have learned along the way:

Our Swaps have been open to all women, but you can host a swap with any number of people. Some people get a group of friends together who all wear similar sizes, others look for certain styles, and others might be keeping the swap within a certain sphere of their life (friends from work, school, the neighborhood, etc.). If you are going to open your Swap to anyone and everyone, I encourage you to start with a few items in a variety of sizes and styles. Now that we have hosted a few swaps, we always hold on to a few boxes of clothes for the next one.

Decide the number of items you want people to bring. We make it pretty simple. We generally set a 10-item limit and tell people they can take as many as they put in, but we are not strict on this at all. Our hope is that everything gets chosen and if that means a few go home with 15 items, that is totally fine with us. We usually give tickets per item to guests upon entry to the swap and then they can exchange them for items, but to keep down on all the touching and exchange, we will not be doing that on Saturday. Also, you do not have to take everything. We ask people to only bring in pieces that are in good condition and clean. If something is not swapable, we give it back.

Figure out how you want to organize the clothing so that everything is easy to look through. We use racks and hangers and the occasional table for accessories. We also ask that people bring their items on hangers — this hugely helps with organizing and keeping things moving. We separate by item and size. Lastly, be sure to have a place where people can try on clothes.

Set a buy-in cost. We have used our swaps as a wonderful way to raise a little money for non-profits we love. In October, we raised money for A21 to support them in fighting human trafficking, in February, we gave to the relief of families struggling after the fires in Australia. This Saturday, we will be giving to a local organization supporting kids in Williamsburg who normally received lunch at school with a free lunch. We ask for a $5 donation and people turn it in at the door.

Decide where the leftover clothes is going. You will have clothes left over and that is okay. The important thing is to decide about where the extra is going to go. We give ours to a local clothing closet at my Church here in Williamsburg and a small thrift shop in Providence Forge that supports the families of special needs children.

A word about Goodwill and other large Thrift stores: most of what they receive in donations is never hitting the floor. This isn’t because they are evil — they just receive too much. From there, they sell and ship lots of our excess clothes to developing countries, which hurts and removes all of their local clothing industry. I appreciated this blog post that shares a little about this phenomenon in Haiti. We need to be intentional and mindful about even where we pass along the clothes not wanted at our swap. Find something local, small, and ask them what they do with what doesn’t sell. Look for organizations and thrift stores that are keeping clothes in circulation and local.

Lastly, have a blast! Hang up signs that tell people about the good they are doing by swapping, ask people to bring their own bags, set out some fair trade coffee, turn up the music, and just have fun. Create an atmosphere that celebrates the difference of figures and styles and honors people right where they are.

Well, Williamsburg locals — I so hope you join us on Saturaday! It is gonna be awesome and even better with you.

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