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DIY Swap: How to Throw Your Own Clothing Exchange

For Earth Week, Host a Clothing Swap!
For Earth Week, Host a Clothing Swap!

I’m proud to say that about half of my wardrobe came from a clothing swap.  I’ve been pretty lucky to come up on some good finds digging through the piles of things that other people don’t want.   Right now, I’m just lounging in my living room on my laptop, rockin’ some free-99 yoga pants and a green t-shirt that I copped from a swap.  Yes, it’s green in color, and green in concept, which makes me feel good wearing it.  Instead of shopping all the time and wasting my green, I’ve kept clothing out of the landfills, and the depths of my friend’s closets, and gave them a new life.  Plus, I have the chance to get rid of what I don’t want, and be amazed at who ends up taking it home.  It’s a blast to see when a stranger completely digs your favorite jeans that no longer fit.

How do you get in on the action?  Take a proactive approach and throw your own swap!   Don’t wait for one to come around, because it’s the perfect time for everyone to do some spring cleaning.  It’s out with the old, and in with the new, or new-to-you, at least!

I’ve thrown clothing exchanges twice a year for 5 years now, and attended handfuls of other swaps, so I’ve seen different approaches to this concept.  I really encourage others to give up the new-new approach to fashion and try out a swap for a change.  Here are some tips that I can share about hosting your own clothing swap:

Clean out your closet, and make room for more!
Clean out your closet, and make room for more!

1.  Clean out your crap.

This is the first step to swapping.  You can’t promote a swap without first practicing what you preach.  Do a good deep cleaning.  Completely empty out your closet, your dresser, your nightstand, everything!  Then try it all on, looking for what you don’t need or want any longer.

Personally, I have a hard time with this step.  Not the emptying everything out part, because that’s so easy to do…it’s getting rid of something that requires major thinking about on my end.  Some things have so many memories attached, or even, I have hopes of wearing it to that one special occasion.  I’ve watched Hoarders, I’m not horrible, I don’t have dead cats laying on top of my teeny-bopper clothes, but when I can’t even find anything in my overstuffed dresser, then that can get annoying.  But, like I mentioned earlier, you gotta do what you say to do.

You really gotta get tough and all psychological with yourself.  If you need someone else there to regulate, then ask a friend to go through the process with you, just listen to what they say!  When you try something on, think of the last time you wore it.  Has it been over 1 year?  If so, chuck it!  No need to hold on to something, hoping for that perfect day to wear it, or even worse, waiting until you’ll fit back into it.  Holding onto clothes just keeps your closets packed, leaving no room for the new things that you’ll find at the swap.  This includes your purses, shoes, and accessories too. Don’t keep those scrunchies from middle school!

Going through my shoe collection
Going through my shoe collection

I recently cleaned out my shoe closet and although I didn’t reduce my collection significantly, at least I made more room….for more things, of course.  I tried every pair on and reorganized everything.  Now, I have shoes to bring to a swap, and taking my shoes off when I get home is as organized as Mr. Rogers, only a tad bit more fashionable.

Once you have all your swappables, make sure they are clean, reusable, and ready for their next home.  Swapping is all about karma, you’re doing good for the Earth and the environment, and even the community, so the clothes will in turn do good for you and your style.  You wouldn’t want to pick up a pair of awesome jeans then find out that the crotch has some questionable stains on it.  Ewwww.

2.  What kind of swap do you want?

There are swaps-a-plenty out there, and you just have to figure out what kind you’ll want to host.  You can opt for an intimate ladies-only swap boutique event in your living room, or a co-ed BBQ swap bash in your backyard.  If you’re all for the community, you can throw a swap open to the public.  Swap-o-Rama-Rama has been doing this for years, and if you team up with them, then you’ll have major support and publicity.

You can even hold an item-specific swap.  Perhaps you’re only into dresses, or shoes, or housewares, or even books.  For the party animals, turn it into a celebration by hosting a Halloween in July costume swap, or a slumber party swap!  The swappin’ just don’t stop.

3.  Location, location, location.

You have to find the perfect spot for your swap, and it all depends on the kind you’re throwing.  Opening up your home to friends and fam will work for more intimate parties, but you’ll need more of a prime location for public community events.  Try local art galleries, warehouse studios, or community centers.  If you want a party vibe, book a night club during daytime hours.
When meeting with possible venue locations, mention that this is a community event to see if you can get a discount on rental fees.  You probably will have to charge at the door to offset the costs, but with all the free clothes coming your way, that will offset the hassle.  More people means more clothes!

4.  Secure a donation organization.

No matter how many people come, or how nice their clothes are, there will always be leftovers.  Find a place ahead of time where you can drop off the extra clothing as donation.  Some places are choosy with what they get, so if you know in advance, then you won’t be stuck with bags full of more stuff that you don’t want.  Plus, people want to know where their old stuff is going.  Search for women’s shelters, foster homes, disaster relief organizations, or homeless shelters in your area to see if they’ll want what you can bring.

5.  Promote like crazy!

Evites could be perfect for the close peoples on your list, especially if you’re having it at your house.  Send reminders and encourage everyone to do their digging so you’ll have plenty at the swap.

For community events, make a flyer and drop them off at vintage shops, thrift stores, and art galleries.  Go to the local colleges and pass out flyers to folks, telling them that they can get a whole new wardrobe for next to nothing!  You can’t forget about the powers of technology, so blast it all over Twitter, Facebook, you get the picture.  Send e-flyers to bloggers who have their eye on fashion and green living, and kindly ask them to post it up for the world to see.  Some sites are dedicated just to the swap life, like the Boston-based swap team, The Swapaholics, who compile a monthly “Swap Sheet” that informs you of what’s happening in the swap world.

Organize and label the goodies by category to make swapping a breeze!
Organize and label the goodies by category to make swapping a breeze!

6.  Organization is key.

You might like the whole finding a needle in a haystack game, but that’s not everyone’s cup of tea.  If someone is looking for shoes, they’ll want to find the matching mate.  Think if two people find the most perfect pair of shoes, but they each have only one shoe!  Who will the shoe go home with?  Try to put some order in the chaos, like designating places for certain items, like pants, dresses, tops, and shoes.  Use signs to let everyone know what each pile is, that way, you won’t find a grip of men’s clothing mixed in with the ladies.  If you can, find extra hangers and clothing racks and use those to place the “hot” items.

7.  Provide a dressing area.

Some folks will just take it all off and try on whatever right then and there, while others prefer to do it behind closed doors.  Set up full length mirrors in various places, but provide a private dressing area as well.  It’s important that people get to try things on because you don’t want them going home with things that won’t work for them, when it could have worked well for someone else.

8.  Be a host with the most.

Swaps can be an all-day event.  As people come at different times, that means more clothes are popping in.  People will want to stay to see what else can be found in the piles.  Provide light refreshments for them, so they’ll want to stick around and get the most out of their swap time.

9.  Start a swap crew.

You’ll need dedicated swaparonis to help you with various tasks, like promotions, organizing, and even donating.  Make sure that these people will also contribute to it as well.  I’ve had people before invite me to host a clothing swap at their “green” event, but they did not bring anything to exchange.  Remember, practice what you preach.  You want to work with people that have the same passion as you: cleaning out your closet, getting free clothes, and helping the earth…all while having fun!  Ask your friends for help, or as swappers come through the door, take down their email so you can add them to your crew!  Then, when the next swap comes around, you’ll have more people to work with.  The more, the merrier.  And the more people, the more clothes!

10.  Do it again!

Seasons change, and so do your fashion needs.  Take what you learn and throw another swap at another time.  That’s a great way to gear up for the changes in weather without having to go out to the store.  Why shop, when you can swap?

If you’re in the Bay Area, come check out how I do my thing at Swap! Not Shop!, a clothing exchange  in Oakland.  I’m literally counting the days until this happens, because my wardrobe needs some refreshment.  Maybe I’ll end up with a pair of your pants!

To read some more swap stories, check out the Swap! Not Shop! website or follow Swap! Not Shop! on Twitter.

Graphics by Trina

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2 Responses to “DIY Swap: How to Throw Your Own Clothing Exchange”

  1. Sistargirl Leilanie says:

    PERFECT! I’ve been wanting to host a swap for the longest. thanks for this tiff.

  2. Randi Hernandez Randi says:

    Ever since high school, I cleaned out my closet so often that my friends would fight over who got first dibs from the “Randi Closet”.


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