At The Clothing Swap

This weekend I spent my Sunday at a clothing swap. My friend K. is one of the organizers, and she and a friend hold one swap in the spring and another in the fall. It’s a great idea, so I thought I’d blog about it, in case you’ve never been to one.

How does a clothing swap work?

Everyone goes through their closet and collects any clothing that is in good condition, but that isn’t being worn. Sometimes, it’s because it’s no longer the right size, sometimes not the right style, and sometimes it’s one of those regrettable purchases that happens to the best of us. At this swap, we’re welcome to bring clothing for women, men and kids, and accessories too.

Then every one brings their swap clothes to the swap, shows them to the crowd, and hopefully the clothes find a new home. What isn’t snapped up goes to charity. What doesn’t fit goes to charity. What doesn’t suit goes to charity too. Also, did I mention there are snacks? Yummy ones? Yes, It’s a potluck brunch too. Fun!

The concept is really great because it gathers people who are friends (or at least friendly acquaintances), who are approximately the same age, and who have similar tastes. That means that more clothing gets a new lease on life, and that in turn, means less clothing in landfills.

My new-to-me outfit, all from a clothing swap.
My new-to-me outfit, all from the swap.

Why is this a big deal?

American each discard 82 pounds of clothing per year. About 70 pounds of that ends up in a landfill. According to the the US EPA, 5 per cent of all landfill production is textile waste. And about 90 per cent of that could be recycled.

Donations to charities are a staple for getting rid of unwanted, but usable clothing. But thrift shops are only able to resell about 20 per cent of the clothing they receive. There is just too much of it.

According to Waste Couture, “There are nowhere near enough people in America to absorb the mountains of castoffs, even if they were given away.”

The rest is downcycled, sold by weight as textile scraps for various industrial purposes. However, recycling clothing uses even more energy and resources, so anything that can divert used clothing earlier on is great at reducing waste.

T-shirts I got at a clothing swap.
My oldest two kids each got a t-shirt at the swap.

What are the benefits?

These are my own personal thoughts of course. Your experience may vary.

  • You clear out your closet. Just being able to see the things you can wear, because they are easier to access, helps get the things you like back into regular rotation. It is very freeing. And it is easier to part with me-made clothing, since it’s going to a “good home”.
  • You pay attention to how much you buy. For example, I apparently, have three long-sleeved, v-neck red sweaters, which really, is two too many. Regularly reviewing your clothing purchases is very eye opening. A lot of things that are brought to the swap have never been worn. Some still have the tags on them.
  • You start to become better at knowing what you like. For a long time I liked turtlenecks, but I just don’t think I’m a “turtleneck person” anymore. But someone at the swap might be! And once, I got an amazing long Uniqlo cardigan, because the person who bought it had decided they weren’t a “long sweater person.” Everyone wins.
  • You save money. You get new clothes for free. You buy less. Enough said.
  • You gain a better appreciation of your own shape. Seeing six real-life women in the the same t-shirt is useful. People come in so many shapes in sizes, and nothing looks the same on them all, and that’s great! And it is the exact opposite of the message sent by every glossy magazine ad that you have ever seen. It’s too easy to compare yourself to the implausibly photoshopped and end up feeling somehow “less than”, instead of appreciating yourself as a unique human being, warts (or in my case, four pregnancies) and all.
  • Free fabric. As someone who sews, I also see opportunities to repair, refashion and upcycle some of the fabric. If you can sew, and your crowd buys clothing made of quality fabrics, there are some cool finds in the clothing reject pile.
  • Fun! (I did mention the snacks and friends, yes?)

So what did I get this weekend?

Glad you asked! I got a two shirts for my husband, a couple used DVDs, a t-shirt for each of my two oldest kids, and a really pretty enamel bracelet for my third. (Kid No 4 had snacks at the swap, so she wasn’t too sad to not get anything later). I got a knit shirt and a new-to-me pair of jeans, just as my favourite pair are nearing the end of their usable life, a scarf, and three sewing patterns from the 90s. Overall, a pretty good haul!

Patterns I got at a clothing swap
Patterns I got at a clothing swap. These are New Look 6343, 6576 and 6603. There could be a shirt dress in my future.

Do you have any other suggestions for diverting clothing from landfills? Leave it in the comments!