back in the end of April, i went to a fantastic swap. if you aren’t familiar with community clothes swaps, it’s a time when a group of folks gets together, brings clothes they no longer want (and accessories, books, whatever), and makes trades/donations/etc. i didn’t know many of the people at this particular swap, but that doesn’t usually matter as you all just sort of jump in to a pile of clothes and see what comes out. this was a beautiful mix of people across age, gender identity, and skin color. there were a handful of babies, too, content to be in a room full of joyful people, happy to see them and happy to be present. our host, Emma W. (the kind of person who makes you feel like you’ve been friends for years), welcomed us with instructions on where to put different types of items for swapping, a special locale for our own things (so as not to accidentally swap them!), and a warm kitchen full of freshly made food.
i have never been to (and hope to never experience!) a swap where people did not also potluck a whole mess of their own specialty foods, ranging from classic chips and dip and day-old muffins, to fresh baked homemade bread and organic and locally-sourced vegan casseroles. i might suggest bringing a few small, individually-wrapped packages of the food goods you’re sharing for those of us who might also want to swap FOOD (think holiday cookie swap, but even more awesome because it can be any thing, any time!).
one of the first notable “swappers” i learned about was Amy Lynn Chase, of Haberdash Vintage and Crompton Collective fame, who co-founded The Swapaholics in 2009. i somehow stumbled across Amy on social media and started seeing her pop up all around me. Amy is one of the most creative and collectivist entrepreneurs in the region, and she has played a huge role (in my opinion) in reinvigorating a thriving community-based movement in Worcester. i was lucky enough to meet her at the SoWa market in Boston a few years ago, and i have to say, she lived up to the hype. if you haven’t checked her out, you can find her here. plus she has the cutest dogs and chickens. if you want to go straight to those of the four-legged and fiendishly cute persuasion, click here. (here’s a direct link to one of my favorites, featuring Emma (not the swap host!) and Penny: super pups)
since learning about swapping, i’ve been to a handful of them. i actually managed to go a full two years without purchasing any new clothing because of my swap finds. a feat that, if applied to even a few dozen people, would reduce supply and demand quite naturally. sustainability is actually a huge part of all of this. not just in terms of reducing the supply and demand of an industry that can sometimes have a pretty wide and dark underbelly. but in terms of connecting people to one another. of sustaining our access to financially accessible clothing, shared emotional and physical sustenance (because we can also fill our friend groups and our bellies full of goodness), and a network of like-minded supporters. true sustainability is that of the environment, our finances, and equitable communities. (to learn more about this concept, visit ACPA’s Sustainability Committee page and the ACPA monograph Toward A Sustainable Future)
sometimes it’s nice to try something completely unique (photo cred: Emma W.)
people have asked if it’s weird to see others trying on your clothes and hearing their comments on them. personally, i enjoy the friendly jibes. or the excited squeals. and i love it when someone else tries on a piece of clothing that i loved that fits them perfectly and makes them feel like a new person. it’s different from dress up. we’re actually helping to create each other, in context and community.
after the swap, whatever is left is usually donated. Emma’s swap donation plan was to bring any items remaining un-swapped to Boomerang’s, a greater-Boston-based thrift shop dedicated to helping end the fight against AIDS. their efforts directly benefit our community’s health, education, and future.
you can do swap whatever way you like. host a public event with a low fee cover to raise money for charity. have a get-together with friends to refresh your wardrobes. swap with family at the holidays to donate extra items to agencies in your area. the beauty of swapping is that it’s whatever you want it to be: fun, feast, or fundraiser.
every time i’ve attended a swap, i’ve successfully left with a lot more than clothing. swapping is about community, connecting with others in a way that reduces waste and increases connection. you swap clothes and swap stories; try on outfits and new ideas; trade belts and shoes for affirmation and kindness. a true swap is one where you can be honest about what looks good and doesn’t because it doesn’t cost you anything. you can leave with more or less than you came with and it doesn’t matter because it’s different than what you brought in. and the best part of a good swap is, that you’ll be different, too.
many thanks to Emma for hosting this swap. big love to Libby who invited me to come. and giant swap hugs to all those who were present for sharing your clothes, your food, and yourselves. here’s to many more swaptastic events to come!