How to Host a Clothing Swap
Put simply, it's an event where participants exchange clothing they don't wear anymore (because of fit or style) for items they will actually wear.
Swaps are a great way to get rid of clothing that's just taking up valuable wardrobe space, it gives you an opportunity to get new-to-you-clothing without spending any money and it's a fun way to be green.
You can organize a public swap or start small and host a smaller swap with your friends.
Nathalie-Roze Fischer, a designer and DIY upcycler of textile accessories and a writer, has organized swaps in her Toronto neighbourhood.
We asked her a few questions about how to organize a swap. She cautioned us that all swaps are subjective and that there are many ways to have a swap. She offered us some her tips based on her personal experiences.
For smaller swaps - how do you determine (if you do) who participates?
There are no strict rules. I belong to a few different swapping circles - groups of friends and professional contacts. The general rule is that each circle must include two or more people who wear approximately the same size and or share a similar aesthetic. Accessories are more flexible and fit more people, so they offer more swapping mileage (scarves, bags, hats, belts, shoes, jewellery, etc.). I also trade my media samples - mostly beauty swag.
How do you determine how many items are brought, how many can be traded, sizing?
When I attend or host smaller swaps (5-15 people) each guest is expected to bring along a large bag of clothing, shoes, accessories & or jewellery - approx. 15 to 25 items. Others arrive with garbage bags crammed with swappables. Generally, people take no more than what they've given, but that's a loose and unspoken rule.
For larger swaps how do you monitor quality, and avoid confrontations between people who may want the same item?
Uber-SWAP, our used & vintage clothing exchange, is a community event we host in the East-End [of Toronto] on a quarterly basis (January, April, July & October). It's mainly women from the area (Leslieville) who join us, but lots of scavengers from the West-End come out too. It's open to anyone who loves thrifting and has clothing to trade, and that's a broad demographic - we get teens and seniors in the mix, but mainly women aged 28 to 40-ish.
Sizing ranges from 0 to plus-size & maternity, although the bulk of the swap loot is size small to large.
Note: We provide free tickets to women from local shelters & social service agencies to come and take a bag - they're, of course, not expected to contribute.
We request that each Uber-SWAP participant contribute a minimum of 10 clothing and or accessory items (not jewellery). However, most swappers bring in significantly more - often 20 to 50 items each. We ask participants to only bring in clean, gently used and decent quality clothing, and that request is respected 99 per cent of the time. That said, we do examine/edit each bag as it arrives at the shop. Inappropriate or damaged items are returned to their owners (eg. used underwear, stained or ripped clothing).
GOLDEN RULE: SWAP NICELY:
People always ask about this - how do we avoid scraps at the swap, but it's really not an issue. We've hosted several Uber-SWAP events, and it's all quite Canadian ~ civilized and laidback. There's some mild chaos, because people are excited, but it's not a competitive vibe - there aren't any smackdowns over clothing. In fact, you're more likely to see strangers giving each other styling tips or making new friends, as they dig together through the piles for fashion gold. The quality is quite high - name brand items, lovely vintage pieces and we also donate new indie designer items in the mix from the shop. There's also a serious volume to choose from, so everyone leaves happy with a few choice nuggets. At the end, we donate the remaining loot to Double-Take (the Yonge St. Mission's thrift shop) and CAMH's clothing bank - that's usually about 30 garbage bags of clothing.
Greedy gremlins are discouraged. The first time we held Uber-SWAP, we let people bring their own bags - if you can believe it, some women showed up with huge Ikea bags, family-size rolling suitcases and one woman even tried to fill up THREE laundry baskets - rare, but memorable. Now, we provide the bags, so it's fair - everyone is invited to fill a large tote bag with whatever they choose (most leave with 15-20 items). We also raffle off additional bags every 20 minutes, so some extra-lucky people leave with a serious haul. Tickets are $6 in advance or $10 at the door, which is a great value. Typically, guests leave thrilled with their finds, which is nice to see.
Who provides food and drinks?
The host of smaller at-home swaps usually provides cocktails & eats (if they're in a financial position to do so), but it's good swap etiquette to bring a bottle of wine or some snacks to share. And, whoever has wheels should offer to drop off the leftovers at Goodwill or whichever charity the group opts to support. Usually, hosting duties rotate. Most larger swaps do not offer refreshments beyond water, as the focus is mainly on the swapping/scavenging vs. chatting with friends (and most venues discourage it - eg. the church we rent for Uber-SWAP).
Why do people swap? Is it part of the joy of thrifting? A way to keep expenses down?
Swapping is all of these things - it's frugal and it's fun and it's a very concrete way to reduce landfill and creatively recycle. People love to swap, because it's similar to shopping and even more budget-friendly than thrifting, it offers the thrill of finding something fab and new-to-you, but it doesn't bite your wallet.
You get to clear out your closet, be green and swapping doesn't bite your wallet, which is exactly what we like to hear at Walletpop.
If you're interested, the next Uber-SWAP is April 14. It's at the Queen Street Presbyterian Church at 947 Queen Street East, Leslieville, Toronto. It's $10 plus 10 or more wearables to swap.
If you want to chat with Nathalie-Roze, you can find her on Twitter at @NRandCo.