How to host a clothing swap

I love the spirit of Slow Fashion October. The social media slow sewing month is only in its second year and I feel like its already gained a huge following in the sewing (and hopefully fashion) world. If you'd like to learn more about the goals and origins, check out the official info on the Fringe Association blog or read my posts from last year (one, two, three).

I'm making progress on my weaving project, but work and cold weather have me lagging a bit behind.

Each week has a theme and this weeks theme is Long Worn.

It's no secret. I love old clothes. Old stuff, really. I love things with a history. (Not a big surprise coming from a fledgling history professor).

I've been discussing the origins of our desires as fashion consumers with my students this week. Clearly, at some point in history, fashion quickly became a bit of a game, a pursuit, a pastime. Desires were forged through class aspirations and struggles for power as well as encouraged and even manufactured by a growing industry built to cater to these desires. This eventually grew into the fast fashion industry we see today: buy cheap and buy often, discarding what no longer suits our tastes.

But what about those of us who don't get up at 4am for Black Friday sales, shop the latest fashions, bulk buy at H&M, or participate in retail therapy. Sometimes you and your clothing have to part ways, for better or worse, and many of us love it enough to care about where it's going: a landfill or an ambiguous 'charitable' organization (often via large metal dumpster-esque receptacles) simply won't cut it. So what do the slow fashion minded do when they want to part with their clothing?

One of my favorite tools for giving old clothes new life is to have a clothing swap! A clothing swap is a great way to give loved clothes (that you no longer wish to own) a new lease on life. Plus, it makes for opportunities to get new, exciting clothes without shopping. Or exchanging money whatsoever. It's a form of clothing exchange outside of Capitalism. I love it.

How to Host a Clothing Swap

1. Set the date and decide on the details

Choose your date and time. A great time for a clothing swap is at the change of the seasons (if you live somewhere where they change) since it's the time of year most people sort through their clothes.

Make an invitation that sets out the specifics. I like to set a limit on how many bags of clothing people can bring and what types (I discourage people bringing things like underwear, socks and t-shirts, but that's because my swaps are often public and there's the 'hygiene' question.) If you're having a swap with your besties and these types of garments are ok by you, go for it! Decide whether or not people should bring shoes and accessories.

Invite people! The more people, the more clothes to choose from. I like to try to invite people of all genders and body types. Once clothing is free from it's associations on a body, 'gendered' clothing becomes a bit more ambiguous and I love when this happens.

Make it a party! Plan it around a fun event (like a birthday) or even just hold it on a weekend afternoon or Friday afternoon.

2. Decide how it all goes down.

Most of the time, the best way to 'organize' clothing is to not. I like to lay out sheets and blankets and encourage people to dump out their clothes on the floor. Things like shoes and accessories. If the 'clothes pool' involves a lot of walking through in order to browse, ask people to take off their shoes.

Have snacks and music. I like to have a potluck and keep the tunes going.

Find a way to help folks keep their 'picks' organized. Save some paper grocery bags (or even the ones your invitees brought with them) for people to put their picks in to keep them separate from the pile. It's easy for individual piles/collections to get lost or picked through in the mix. You could even label them with each person's name.

If you have a full length mirror, bring it into the swap room. Or have invitees try clothes on and get votes from the group and get yes/no votes.

Set up a sewing machine (or two) and some supplies for on-the-spot alterations. Invite a few friends who sew and see if their willing to help others alter after the swap commences. Encourage people to be experimental and think about different ways to wear things.

3. Decide what to do with the leftovers.

Inevitably, you will have clothing leftover from your swap. Here's a few things you can do with the leftovers:

  • Look for a local organization that provides clothing to people in need free of charge. Often, this is a much more impactful way to donate your clothing than the random thrift store. Shelters, outreach ministries, school coat drives, and disaster relief organizations are great places to start.
  • Host a re-fashion party or have a project runway style sewing competition. Have friends bring over sewing machines and upcycle the swap leftovers.
  • Make a patchwork quilt for somebody who needs it. A lot of times swap leftovers are things that are past their prime or need crazy repairs. If the fabric is still good, cut these up to make blankets. There are many organizations that distribute charity quilts.
  • Make a woven or braided rag rug!
  • Repurpose clothes into other useful goods like grocery bags, stuffing for pillows, cleaning rags, etc.

my happy little face when the people show up and we dismantle capitalism and we trade and swap

A photo posted by marlee grace (@havecompany) on

Most of all, have fun! You'll be giving old clothes a new lease on life.

Have you ever hosted a clothing swap? What was your experience?

PS. I talk a bit about why I love clothing swaps in the Have Company podcast I recorded back in May.