It may be held in the name of sustainability and attended by eco-loving fashionistas but a clothes swap event can bring out the very worst in us.  Yes we want to live more sustainably and yes we’re tired of wearing the garments that we brought to swap or we’re embarrassed to admit that we hardly <insert never for many of us> wore them at all. But we still want to get the best possible return for our discarded clothes and a room full of possible swaps can turn us into elbow-sharpening nutters who wouldn’t look out of place in the Black Friday sales that we diss.

When I held a clothes swap over a decade ago with my good pal and previous business partner we thought that it would be a great opportunity to raise money for charity and have a good night out.  We held the “Ditch n’ Switch” in a night club with toilet facilities that boasted a wall of mirrors for trying clothes on and supplied alcohol / snacks as well as party treats for guests as they left.

We worked hard to make the event the great success that it was so here are my must-do tips for you to replicate at your own clothes swap, as well as the mistakes that you can avoid.

1 Decide on the vibe of your event.

Is this an informal wine and switch with friends, a high-worth charity fund-raiser or a free-for-all giggle with a smash’n’grab focus?  Any of these can work but only if it’s clear from the beginning what participants should expect.  Knowing what vibe you’re looking to create will affect how you market your event and where it will be held.  Our event in 2007 was quite unique at the time so we hired a night club, charged £30 for entry and donated over £500 to a charity after expenses were subtracted.

2 Plan your format

Friday evening “wine, pizza and clothes” at a friend’s flat can be informal with participants arriving with as many clothes as they want to offload with no consideration of brand or condition.  However, this format on a large scale can get messy quickly.  The aim of a clothes-swap is that clothes are relocated to a new home where they will be cherished and worn. Click here to find out why this is vital. Our own event laid out the rules ahead of the evening.  Only good quality garments and accessories in good condition should be brought along.

*LESSON LEARNED – some participants were frustrated that their designer garments could be swapped for garments from high street stores.  “Good quality” is a relative term that can be interpreted differently by individuals.  In retrospect we could have separated designer garments or given tokens for each garment swap and allowed those who donated high-worth garments to have an extra token.

3 Make it social

We greeted guests with glasses of fizz and had an ante-chamber with seats placed around tables so that participants could meet like-minded people and enjoy interesting conversation.  This helped the evening to work well, it’s more difficult to elbow someone with whom you’ve just been confiding your worst shopping experiences.  Which takes us to point 4…

4 Create a Code of Conduct

While guests shared shopping stories and fizz we outlined acceptable behaviour for the first round of clothes swapping.  We had fun and joked about worst possible shopping behaviour but we made it clear, positive comments only, don’t hold up a garment and grimace – someone in the room bought it and potentially used to wear it.

5 Make it Fair

To avoid hoarding we allowed each participant to choose one garment for each round (there were three rounds in total). This allowed more equal access to higher quality products.  In between each round participants returned for drinks/snacks, to look at each other’s swaps and entertainment such as the results of a raffle which allowed us time to re-organise  the remaining clothes.

6 Practical Considerations

We asked participants to hand in their donated goods before the event.  This allowed garments to be separated into different groups of tops, bottoms, accessories etc.

Display the garments so that each one is easily seen.  The night club donated clothes rails so that many clothes were hung up.

Make sure that there are plenty of mirrors and changing areas available.

Have boxes ready to take any surplus clothes to a charity shop the next day.

7 Provide Style Tips

A clothes-swap should encourage sustainable shopping habits, not imitate fast-fashion practices of binning whatever doesn’t work.  Our training in personal style and colour allowed participants to gain insight as to why a garment worked or didn’t.  It doesn’t matter if the label says high-worth or high-street, if the shape and colour don’t work for you now, they’ll never work for you.  At an informal clothes swap friends will be honest and supportive but a large-scale charity fundraiser may benefit from local stylists willing to donate their time for a good cause.  Using online style products can help, such as the Colour Elements app, to direct participants to colours and styles that work best for them.  Contact us for a charity discount code if you’d like to offer this service to your event participants.

8 End on a High Note

Retail therapy is just that, it can be a soothing balm to a bad day and an instant hit of adrenalin when a purchase is made or a retail employee says how good you look in a new garment.  To encourage people to be sustainable consumers of fashion give them a similar feel-good experience.  Establishing a code of conduct, providing refreshments and style tips will all help.  We also provided high quality cupcakes (it was the noughties!) as leaving gifts, a delicious sugar hit to end the evening.  Consider how you can help participants leave your clothes-swap event with a positive glow and you’ll have helped another fashion consumer enjoy acquiring clothes in a more sustainable manner.


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