How to Host a Clothing Swap

We're happy to share the stories and positive work of our Ambassador Volunteers in their own words. Our Be Zero Ambassadors bring life to the Be Zero Mission by sharing and inspiring ways to live simple and low-waste lifestyles. In this post, Devon Lohrasbe shares her tips and experience setting up a clothing swap! Enjoy! 

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How to Host a Clothing Swap

The impact of textile waste and fast fashion has received a lot of airtime in my community lately. To capitalize on this awareness, I decided to host a clothing swap at a local yoga studio. After much planning and a few late nights, my event was a success! Clothes were diverted from the landfill and into the hands and closets of those who will wear them.

Would you consider hosting a clothing swap? I've gathered some of the basics here for you, plus a few tips that I learned from my own experience. Happy swapping!

What is a clothing swap and why should you swap?

A clothing swap is an opportunity to exchange your unused or unloved clothes for some new-to-you pieces. Textile waste is taking up far too much space in our landfills and fast fashion is the second largest polluting industry in the world. A clothing swap is a chance to redistribute used clothing to people that will wear them. You can save money, clean out your closet, and have fun with your community too!

How does a swap work?

There is more than one way to swap! Here are two common ways to facilitate a swap:

  1. The Straightforward Swap: Attendees bring their clothes on swap day and trade with other attendees. This simple trade method works well for small groups and means there is very little organization for the host.

  2. The Shop Swap: Attendees drop off their clothes beforehand, and then on the day of the swap they can shop from all the clothes that were donated.

I chose to host a Shop Swap because I envisioned setting our yoga studio up as a “boutique.” I wanted to avoid situations where Sally wants Ingrid’s top, but Sally has nothing that Ingrid wants. I also like this method because it encourages people to donate unwanted clothes even if they can't do a direct trade for a different item.

Tips for a Smooth Swapping Experience

1. Take advantage of your community - whatever that means for you!

A smaller swap between friends and family definitely has some advantages, especially since you can probably host it in your living room. I decided to tap into a larger community in my area by holding my clothing swap at a local yoga studio. This strategy allowed me to make sure there were lots of sizes and styles available for participants and plenty of items for everyone to choose from. That said, you’ll want to consider how much time you can invest in planning and preparing for your swap. You might want to limit the number of participants so that your workload doesn’t get out of hand. I chose not to advertise my swap outside of friends, family, and the yoga studio, and I was glad because we got so many donations as it was.

2. Make the rules - and make sure everyone knows them

You'll want to ensure that everyone understands how the swap works and what kind of items you expect them to bring. Be clear. Ask that the attendees bring clothes that are clean and in good condition. You may want to specify if you are including accessories, shoes, or non-clothing items in your swap. Ask attendees to bring reusable bags to take their treasures home in, and if there will be drinks or snacks at your event, ask everyone to bring their own cups, plates, or cutlery!

It is a good idea to lay out the ground rules with your invitations, but be sure to send a reminder email closer to your swap date. This is especially important if you're planning a Shop Swap since everyone must drop off their clothes ahead of time.

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3. Set up your Swap - use what you have

My budget for this event was lots of time but no money. My team was myself and a friend. I wanted the event to feel like a fun, boutique shopping experience - I had my work cut out for me! We were holding the swap in between yoga classes, so we only had one hour to set up on the day. I pre-sorted the clothes into categories and folded or hung whatever I could ahead of time.

With a little creativity and planning, I was able to gather enough portable furniture to make this happen. I was surprised by how much I was able to put together without spending a dime! I borrowed clothing racks and foldable tables from family and friends. My neighbor gave me some boxes of wire hangers that she had been meaning to take to the recycling depot. I made some additional tables using planks of wood and luggage stands, and I brought decorative bins from around my house. I found that this set up made the whole experience more engaging for the participants, even though it was very makeshift. It also made browsing the clothes easier for those with less mobility.

If you are planning a swap for a large group, you might consider renting clothing racks or tables to make the whole set up easier. Alternatively, you can leave more work up to the participant and use large bins or even a clean floor. There are no rules!

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4. Sip 'n Swap: small touches can make your swap feel more like an event

A little goes a long way! We set up a small hangout area using picnic blankets and pillows for attendees to socialize after they had browsed the clothes. We made a "red carpet" out of red yoga mats for attendees to walk down as they entered the room - a little tribute to our yoga studio. I also made three kinds of iced tea - chaga chai, lemon, and lime berry mojito.  Since I asked attendees to bring their own mugs and used bulk tea I already had, this took very little effort on my part but it gave people a reason to stay and socialize.

Take advantage of what you already have in order to create an inviting atmosphere. Ask everyone to bring their own cup or cutlery so no waste is created. It doesn't have to be all up to you either, why not ask attendees to bring snacks to share?

5. The aftermath: what to do with leftover items

We specified in our invitations that leftover clothes would be donated to a local charity. It is important to do your research because there is not always transparency about where your donations end up. We wanted to donate the leftover clothes to a charity that was local and could tell us how the clothes would be used. If possible, it is great to pick a charity where clothes are given directly to people in need rather than resold. Where I live, there are several organizations that work directly with low-income communities and deliver clothes to those who need them. Do your research and donate to an organization that supports your values!