For the second season of London Fashion Week at 180 the Strand, I focused on the Positive Fashion Space and excitedly soaked in the different sustainable options. Amidst the sea of new, exciting sustainable brands, I met Patrick Duffy, the founder of the Global Fashion Exchange, which is a consulting group that hosts fashion swaps around the world. You would hardly know from his friendly smile and welcoming attitude (we took a selfie after the meeting) that he was in the midst of hosting LFW's first-ever clothing swap alongside fashion designer Patrick McDowell.
But what exactly is a clothing swap (also known sometimes as "swishing")? Well, it's another sustainable fashion option that's regained popularity recently. Alongside fashion renting, upcycling and thrift shopping, clothing swaps are on the rise again as an alternative to fast fashion. In a world where, according to Duffy, 150 billion items of clothing are made and 300,000 tonnes are sent to landfills each year in Britain, there's no question that fashion has a waste problem. Clothing swaps offer an answer—and a rather fun one at that—to this problem.
Clothing swaps are cash-free events in which the people involved bring their pre-loved pieces. It doesn't need to be serious; it can be more of a social event that can even involve drinks and dancing. No money involved—just swapping clothes. Basically, just bring your unwanted items into a swap event and come away with someone else's.
After seeing the concept of clothing swaps so centrally highlighted at LFW, I wanted to look into them a bit more. I spoke to Danielle Petitti and Gabriella Chin, who just launched their own event platform in New York called De La Part De, specifically for sustainable fashion-based events like clothing swaps. They told me that their goal is "to make secondhand 'shopping' enjoyable, community-oriented and curated" so that they can "prevent people from buying new and work with what we already have."
In a world where we are so used to buying everything new all the time, a different way of consuming fashion feels like a lot to wrap one's head around. Yet Petitti and Chin have made the concept sound so fun and exciting. So I thought I'd do some research and break down exactly what a clothing swap is for you too. Keep scrolling for all of the information.
WHERE TO START
To get started, spend an afternoon in your own wardrobe. It's the perfect spring-cleaning exercise and will leave you feeling refreshed. See if there are any pieces you have bought and forgotten about and feel okay with letting go. I always measure something by the year. If I haven't worn it in the year, it's time to say goodbye. No more "just in case" piles. Then you can start collecting a few pieces you can bring to the exchange.
From talking to friends and other swap attendees, it works best for those pieces you just don't wear enough but don't feel like going through the hassle of selling on re-sell sites like Depop or eBay. Petitti and Chin say to not overlook donating fast-fashion items because "you’d be surprised at the new life something can acquire once it's re-situated in a swap. A lot of people ending seeing their items on racks and wondering why they stopped wearing it in the first place! We've all understandably bought something on an impulsive whim, and swaps are the perfect place to bring them."
WHERE TO FIND THEM
Okay, so you've created a pile of unwanted clothes. Now what? The good news is there are clothing swaps happening all over London and the U.K. I did a quick Google and found a number of clothing swap events on Eventbrite in the upcoming weeks. As they gain popularity, I'm sure more will pop up across the country. The variety is encouraging, including "fat positive" events and various personal styles.
Petitti and Chin advise getting a group of friends together and making a night of it. They say that "friends have been sharing closets forever, and this is a curated way to do that."
It's also wise to look to leaders of the sustainable fashion movement for clothing swap information. For Fashion Revolution Week (20–26 April), the nonprofit global movement is hosting The Great Fashion Swap. I would also recommend following sustainable fashion influencers who often host and promote clothing swaps. In fact, Who What Wear has partnered with Stories Behind Things to host clothing swaps for our readers. Boutique hotels and members clubs like AllBright have recently hosted a few too.
HOW IT WORKS
Bring your items to the shop including clothes, shoes and accessories where they are assessed by the hosts for quality assurance. You receive a credit or token for each item approved, which you can use as currency to shop the swap.
Go shopping just as you would normally. Browse the garments that other swap guests have brought and have been approved. A lot of these events are super social and fun, so this is where the bubbly and dancing usually comes in.
Once you've chosen your items, bring them to the check out to exchange your credits for the pieces and take home your "new" items without spending a penny. Yep—it's really that simple.
THINGS TO CONSIDER
First things first: Go in with an open mind. If you've done your best to find a swap that will likely have pieces that fit your style and size, go in feeling open to possibilities. Like a flea market or vintage fair, be prepared to be assertive about making decisions. According to Petitti and Chin's swap feedback, they had quite a few people telling them that they were able to pick pieces outside of their comfort zone because there was no financial pressure.
It's also encouraged to bring items that you would hope to see and in a condition that you'd want to find pieces in. Petitti and Chin say "Swapping is a great place to finally get that premium brand in your closet. So many people hang on to valuable items because of the price tag but never wear them because the fit isn’t right, it’s not completely their style, etc. These are the perfect things to donate because it will make someone’s day to find and you’ll be able to swap something of equal value that you’ll actually wear."
According to a 2015 study, by extending the life of a garment by just nine months of active use would reduce carbon, water and waste footprints by 20–30% each. Swaps offer an exciting opportunity to give clothes a longer life while also allowing people to shake up their wardrobes guilt-free. In a world where textile waste is set to increase by 60% between 2015 and 2030, there is a lot of opportunity for us as consumers to challenge that.
Swaps are community-driven and fun, as well as a seriously viable alternative to creating more fashion waste. As Petitti and Chin point out, there's such a beautiful thing about seeing people connect over the clothes they swap out. They tell me that the best part of hosting a swap "was seeing girls find each other's outfits and then realise it belonged to someone they know and getting super excited to share that. Even though it was just our first event I felt a community-building really organically. I also think it felt really good for everyone to see their clothing take on a new life!"
The best part though is that they don't need to be super formal either. The more the merrier, but a smaller version among your friends and organised over a WhatsApp group work too.