The Power of Sharing and Swapping, Instead of Shopping

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Have you ever been to a clothes swap? How about borrowing clothes from your sibling, or passing on clothes that don’t fit anymore to a friend? Did you know you were saving those clothes from landfill?

I often write about the value of not needing to buy something new to feel and look good, but I still thought it was worth sharing some of the pictures from my most recent clothes swap, and the undeniable power of sharing and swapping instead of shopping.

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A couple of weeks ago, I hosted another Scottish blogger clothes swap, this time in collaboration with ALICAS, the fashion-powered charity in support of domestic abuse survivors. The turnout was brilliant - it included Lucie from Call Me Dumpling, Adele from Nest and Dressed, Mairi from Copper Pink, Rita from Self Tailored and Morag from Mo’Adore - and everyone went away with at least one new-but-not-new outfit from the rails of second hand clothing, as well as being able to totally ‘Marie Kondo’ their wardrobes, letting go of the clothes that no longer serve them and give them a new, loving home, which always feels amazing!

The best part of this swap though, was that after picking out our outfits and getting some pictures taken in the new ALICAS office, we all came together and compiled two bespoke capsule wardrobes for women in crisis - boxes containing 20 donated items of clothing tailored to the specific woman’s size, taste and cultural needs, plus basics like pants and socks, as well as period products from another socially conscious brand, Hey Girls. The experience of actually putting together a capsule wardrobe box together myself added even more respect and admiration for what ALICAS founder Rachael Bews does every day - uses fashion to empower women in need. Thank you, Rachael, for welcoming a group of bloggers to your beautiful space in Edinburgh to take part in this poignant and meaningful experience, alongside embracing the circular economy by swapping and donating our clothes rather than sending them to landfill.

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So, what is a clothes swap, and how can get involved?

A clothes swap is an event where people come together to exchange used clothes, shoes and accessories. A typical experience would be that you turn up with a bag of your own pre-loved clothing, and receive a token for each bag or each piece of clothing, which you can then use to ‘buy’ clothing from the rails which hold other attendee’s donations. If you don’t have anything to donate, usually you would just have to pay a couple of quid as an entry fee or to pay a small fee for any clothes you want to take home at the end.

A great way to start is to look for a clothes swap in your area - a quick search on Facebook, or on the Fashion Revolution events page. If you fancy organising one yourself, look for a venue like a community centre, university, college, gallery space or shopping centre, and then start spreading the word! Tae to social media, give out flyers, put up posters, connect with local press, and you can contact your local country co-ordinator to get help with registering the event with Fashion Revolution (if you’re in Scotland, email us at scotland@fashionrevolution.org). Then, all you’ll need is some clothing rails, lots of hangers, carrier bags, some kind of ‘token’ like raffle tickets, and some music to get the clothes swap party started!

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It’s also worth noting that you don’t have to do a formally organised clothes swap event like this to get all the same benefits; you can just swap and share clothes between friends in a really casual way on a more regular basis. For example, I am part of a Facebook group with a few mates, where we post up pictures of any clothes we are getting rid of, and pass them on to the first person to comment and nab them. On an even more basic level, I regularly borrow (read: steal) all sorts of stuff from my wonderful flatmate’s wardrobe - we’re lucky enough to have very similar taste and sizes, and a shared obsession for amazing jackets - therefore there is a constant rotation of clothing in our house without much need to buy anything new!

Another great way to ‘swap’ clothes and participate in a more circular economy affiliated method of engaging with fashion, is to look at rental services - yep, you can rent fashion! Companies like Wear the Walk, available via Compare Ethics, embrace the model of ‘access over ownership’ - allowing you to wear clothing that you love in an affordable and ethical way.

Remember, one (wo)man’s ‘trash’ is another’s treasure - second hand shopping can be just as rewarding, if not more, than the fast fashion alternative, and so much more affordable too! I wish that I had the cash to invest in all the wonderful ethical fashion brands and independent designers I come across online every day, but the truth is, I am pretty skint - so as much as I can, I shop in charity shops, vintage stores and fairs, or have an essentially cost-free shopping spree at a clothes swap. What’s not to love?

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The main reason I love clothes swapping and sharing though, as well as all of the really important reasons listed above, is that they are just great fun.

Fashion is fun - it should be fun. If it wasn’t, we would all wear government issued beige uniforms and get on with it. This multi billion pound industry wouldn’t exist - the millions of people who pour their careers and passions into this wouldn’t exist. Fashion brings joy - it allows us to convey our identities, it allows us to try on other identities, and it instills in us a confidence that we may not have naturally. In designing, shopping, storytelling, and just wearing fashion - we find fun. So why is it that ethical fashion is often met with the assumption of ‘boring’. It’s not all about the negatives - even though the reason it exists is because of the negative impact of fast fashion - and it’s not all about rules - ‘don’t wear this, don’t shop there’. It is a challenge, and it is creative, and it brings joy that is incomparable to the quick-fading pleasure hit of a cheap fast fashion purchase. You can shop ethically - or not shop at all - and still experiment with your style and use it to express yourself.

Ethical fashion allows you to fall in love with fashion again, but this time, to do it the right way - without exploiting people and the planet.

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