Clothing Swaps

Eva Lewandowski
I attended my first clothing swap about four years ago, and I’ve helped coordinate Do It Green! Minnesota’s last three annual clothing swaps. They’ve become one of my favorite green activities; they are fun, they emphasize the importance of item reuse, and they create a wonderful sense of community among the participants.

The idea behind clothing swaps is simple. People bring in clothes they no longer want and exchange them for clothes from other participants. Many clothing swaps also include shoes, coats, and accessories.

You can make clothing swaps as simple or as complicated as you want. Some swaps issue tickets for each item someone brings. Each ticket can be used to trade for another item, and as a result, no one leaves with more clothes than they brought. Other swaps don’t keep track of the number of items people bring with and leave with, trusting the participants to be fair and considerate to each other. Some swaps also involve one-one-one trading between participants, but most allow people to choose items from the entire collection of clothes.

At Do It Green! swaps, we try to keep things as simple and easy as possible. We set out tables for specific types of clothing (children’s, men’s pants, women’s tops, etc.). As people arrive, we ask them to sort their clothing into the piles. Because our swaps are fairly big (our last one had more than 65 people), we usually ask small groups to come up and select a few items until everyone has had a chance to pick a few things. Then we open it up as a free-for-all. We often have quite a few items left over that we donate to local charities.

One of my favorite swap memories is from a few years ago. Three sisters arrived with huge suitcases full of clothes. Once they started unloading they realized that they had each brought a bunch of clothes that the others actually wanted. They were each shocked that the others were giving away that sweater or those shoes. In the end, they went home with almost the exact same things they came with- just in the hands of a different sister.

Swaps are a great place to meet like-minded people, to get fashion tips and advice, and of course to get free clothes! Here are a few tips to making a clothing swap a success:

-Start small. Have a swap with a few friends or coworkers. Big swaps are perfect for organizations and community events, but trying to jam 50 or more people into your living room while everyone is holding up clothes is probably not a good idea.

-Think outside the box. I end up upscaling or altering a lot of the clothes I get at swaps. A few years ago, I found a beautiful dress that I absolutely couldn’t take my eyes off of. Well, I don’t really wear dresses. So I took it home and converted it into a shirt, and used the excess material for quilting. I’ve also added colorful side panels to pants that were a little too small and brightened up a plain blouse with new, decorative buttons.

-Have a plan for what to do with extras. I have never been to a clothing swap that didn’t have lots of things left over. Make sure you know who is going to deal with potentially large amounts of clothing and where it is going to go.

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