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How To Update Your Wardrobe With A Clothing Swap

by Celia Shatzman

Swap your way to a new wardrobe
Chances are, you always toss your plastics in the recycling bin and bundle your newspapers. But what do you do with unwanted clothes? “Ninety-five percent of the clothes we put in a landfill are recyclable,” says Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff, sustainability advocate and founder of Mommy Greenest. “Every year 1.7 billion items go unused in closets and take up space that you could swap, thrift, share or give to charity.”
That’s why clothing swaps are popping up all over the globe, serving as a stylish antidote to over-consumption. “Swapping gives a second life to an item that could have made it to the landfill,” says Myriam Laroche, founder of Eco Fashion Week in Vancouver. “It’s about reusing what already exists, without creating more.”
Consumer Consumption The growth in technology—being able to produce clothes faster and more cheaply—coupled with easier access to shopping has led to a rise in consumer consumption. “Fashion is probably one of the most important industries in the world because of its power to innovate, communicate and change consumer behavioral patterns,” says Jill Heller, founder of PureThread, a boutique styling company with expertise in designer and sustainable fashion. “Women lead the charge as far as choosing more sustainable products, and this includes fashion. People are starting to realize that fast fashion is not sustainable, and ethical designers are catching up with sophisticated design. The fact is, people want to feel good about what they are wearing. Once you’ve gone down the path of learning where things came from, and becoming more conscious, it’s really hard to go back to blindly consuming.”
Shop Drop Challenge To raise awareness, Sarnoff created the annual Shop Drop Challenge, now in its third year, which asks participants to put a month-long pause on shopping. “You commit for 30 days to not buy anything new, but instead to swap or thrift if you need something,” she explains. “The idea is to encourage people to explore swapping and thrifting and perhaps change their habits for the rest of the year.” Sarnoff calculates that if every American woman participates, that would save $10 billion dollars and one billion pounds of textile waste.
There are easy ways to make a difference in your day-to-day life, too. Instead of whipping out the credit card, look into swaps happening in your area. “The Global Fashion Exchange, a giant clothing swap market traveling from city to city around the world to promote sustainable consumption, and The Danish Fashion Institute have launched several programs in Copenhagen and Los Angeles to connect people who prefer to give their lightly used clothes away, with other people who are excited to swap,” suggests Heller.

“Every year, 1.7 billion items in closets go unused, which you could swap, thrift, share or give to charity.”

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Host Your Own If you can’t find a swap in your neighborhood, host your own! Invite a group of friends over and ask them to bring a few gently worn items. “Make sure to have space to create a massive pile of clothes, so your guests can dig,” advises Laroche. “The treasure hunt feeling is always fun. People will want to try on the clothes, so a changing area and mirror are a must. Be creative—serve tea, snacks and drinks, and play great music.”
Set a few ground rules, including asking guests to wash everything before the event. “There are different ways to swap,” says Sarnoff. “I like the one-for-one system, where you bring 10 things and take 10 things out.” Or, if you’re trading high-ticket items, the host can create a value system, such as bringing a $100-item gets you one piece, while $200 gets you two things, Sarnoff suggests. She even scored a pair of Prada shoes at a swap once.
“Some people bring really good stuff,” she says. “Even if it’s valuable, if it doesn’t look good on you, you’re not going to wear it and it doesn’t matter how much it’s worth.” After the party is over, the host can bring the clothes that weren’t chosen to a textile recycler or donation center, such as Goodwill.
Remember that trading doesn’t always have to be such a commitment. “Clothes swapping doesn’t always have a friends gathering format,” Laroche says. “I have a basket by my dresser with clothes I don’t wear anymore, and every time I have a friend over, I show what I have. And they do the same with me.”
Ultimately, it’s about incorporating it into your lifestyle, knowing that even a single trade can make a difference. “I am hoping it will become a movement, so it becomes part of our life, like recycling,” Laroche says. “Anybody can do it.”

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