How To Host A Clothing Swap
Whether you’re new to ethical fashion or have been shopping conscious brands for some time now, there is one thing that’s certain: finding ethical clothing that fits your style, body, and budget can be challenging. While our objective at The Good Trade is to help simplify the search and point our readers in the right direction, living a conscious lifestyle is, at times, overwhelming and lonely. This is especially true when experiencing a lack of real-life relationships with others committed to similar ethics.
Hosting a clothing swap is not only a creative and affordable way to remake your closet but also a means for fostering community with like-minded women in your area. A place to share garments, gather with purpose, and share in the rewards and challenges of conscious living, clothing swaps are one of our favorite places to make new friends while simultaneously updating our wardrobe. Try hosting your own this season!
Select a Theme + Invite Like-Minded Women
Is this a seasonal clothing swap? A formal wear or winter coat exchange? Once all of the details have been decided, it’s time to invite other conscious women! Whether it be via email, word of mouth, Facebook groups, or Eventbrite, send out invitations a few weeks in advance.
An ideal group size is ten to fifteen women. Ask your invitees to bring a friend along—just make sure you request RSVP’s so you know how many people to expect. The goal is to create a group large enough that there are unfamiliar faces, but small enough that the atmosphere remains warm and intimate. To keep the swap organized, limit the number of gently-worn garments each person can bring (experienced swappers recommend five to seven).
In your invitations, encourage attendees to bring sustainable brands or vintage finds—just remember some guests may be new conscious shopping and not have ethical labels to contribute this time around. They are still welcome though! The ultimate reason for the swap is to foster community and inspire conscious living, especially among those new to the journey.
Also consider including shoes, accessories, bags, or home goods in your swap. Bodies come in a variety of beautiful shapes and sizes, and we want everyone to feel comfortable, and to go home with a few new items. If you know a tailor, you may want to invite them along as well to assist with altering and teaching the women how to adjust their new garments. Ask everyone to bring their own totes and bags to reduce plastic waste.
Host Your Clothing Swap at Home
The first clothing swap I ever attended was in a friend’s old Victorian home. The seasons were changing from fall to winter, and the sound of chatter and folk music drifted through the century-old hallway. In between snacks and sipping tea, women weaved through racks of sweaters and coats, occasionally stopping to sift through baskets overflowing with scarves and mittens. Despite only knowing two or three of the attendees, I felt at ease, like my introverted-self could be brave enough to initiate conversation. While the women were more than kind and welcoming, I’m convinced I felt this way because of the homey space where we gathered.
When planning your clothing swap, location is key, and I believe homes or private backyards are some of the best places to gather. Homes are warm and intimate. They are also a reflection of the owner’s personality. By inviting like-minded conscious women to your sacred space to share in food and fashion and conversation, you encourage authentic community in a safe and cozy environment.
If hosting your clothing swap at home is not possible, we love the idea of teaming up with your favorite café or artisan space for the event. A few alternative recommendations include leafy parks, community centers, and local churches. Just keep in mind some of these spots may cost a rental fee, as well as require advanced booking. You may want to divide the cost or ask those attending for donations to cover these fees.
Include Food + Libations
Aside from exchanging clothes, one of the best parts of a clothing swap is meeting new friends. Provide snacks and libations or ask guests to bring a dish with them. Nothing encourages community quite like breaking bread with others.
A few of our favorite ideas: tell everyone to bring their favorite plant-based snack or a dish that reflects their personality/heritage. A dish with a story is great conversation piece. If you’re hosting an evening or weekend swap, you can also ask guests to bring their favorite bottle of wine and host a ‘pre-swap’ tasting.
Arrange + Personalize Your Space
To prepare your home for the swap, we recommend portable clothing racks with hangers, as this is the easiest way for everyone to browse. You will want to set up a make-shift dressing room and place floor-length mirrors around the room. Small touches like a garment steamer, sewing machine, natural candles, and even style boards can also help to personalize your space.
Once everyone has arrived and all the clothing has been arranged, have each person draw numbers or straws to determine the browsing order. According to experienced swap hosts, it’s best to have small groups of women shopping for a set amount of time while the others mingle in the kitchen or living room. Have the groups shop for three or so rounds before doing a final ‘free for all’ round.
Have Purposeful Conversations
While the clothing swap is a wonderful way to meet new friends and cultivate community, organized conversations and activities can also be helpful in furthering relationships, especially for guests who may be introverted.
Why not invite a panel of local artisans to talk about the importance of supporting small businesses? This is a meaningful way to introduce others to the concept of conscious living, as well as provide makers a platform to share their products.
We also love the idea of watching a documentary about ethical fashion together; we recommend The True Cost. Another suggestion: one of the best tips for building a conscious and intentional wardrobe is knowing how to sew and alter your clothes. If someone in the group is experienced with sewing, have them give a brief sewing tutorial.
Donate Leftover Clothes + Maintain Connection
Once everyone has finished shopping, collect the remaining garments to be donated to a local charity. Let your guests know about the donation bag ahead of time so that they can also bring along extra items that may not be suitable to the swap but are perfect for donation.
As your clothing swap comes to a close, encourage everyone to exchange contact information for furthering relationships. Continue the conscious living and ethical fashion dialogue by creating a private Facebook group for questions, encouragement, and discussion about future gatherings. Sending out homemade cards a week or so after the event is also an intentional way to say thank you to those who attended.
Kayti Christian, a staff writer for The Good Trade, is a storyteller, creator, activist, and avid traveler hailing from Colorado, now living in London. With 30+ stamps in her passport, she is passionate about responsible tourism and is always looking for new ways to be a more conscious traveler. She is currently pursuing her MA in Creative Nonfiction Writing at City, University of London.