How to Host a Clothing Swap

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written by:  Jenny LaCorte Bailey

@jenny

editor's note:

I recently hosted my second women’s clothing swap for a group of ten ladies, with whom many did not know each other. It felt like we had our own game of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Everyone informally shared their stories of who they are, what kind of work they do, and where they are from. The personal connections evolved naturally from there.

written by: Jenny LaCorte Bailey

@jenny

editor's note:

I recently hosted my second women’s clothing swap for a group of ten ladies, with whom many did not know each other. It felt like we had our own game of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Everyone informally shared their stories of who they are, what kind of work they do, and where they are from. The personal connections evolved naturally from there.

Choose your who

Gathering a group full of women together to create a sense of community and create sustainable looks at the same time is a recipe for a fun event that creates change, too!

There are so many variations of friend groups that you can choose for your swaps.  Host girlfriends from your neighborhood. Have a reunion with college friends. Build bonds with sisters, cousins, aunts, moms, and grandmas.  Don’t forget your favorite group of co-workers, sorority sisters, moms from kids’ play groups or school. No matter who you choose, it will be fun! 

Aim to have 5 to 15 people attend, and ensure that each attendee will be able to swap clothing with at least 2 other attendees in the same size range. This makes the evening open to everyone to participate. Also, make sure to balance the number of attendees with how many people can fit comfortably in your space.

Pick your space

Most clothing swaps are held at home, but you can get creative with your space depending on what type of event you’d like to hold.

For free options, check out local community halls, libraries and schools. Many coffee shops, wine bars, and hotel lobbies are also up for grabs for a small fee. Try reaching out to local businesses with a friendly email and let them know you’d love to showcase their space to your group of sustainable-minded friends. You’d be surprised at how many businesses are looking for authentic ways to get people in their doors and you might just get a gorgeous space for a tiny rate (or even free!)

Figure out the food + drinks

We highly recommend providing small bites or a meal to attendees. Wine also helps draw in a crowd! Consider charging for attending the event to help keep your costs close to zero. $10 is a great price range to keep in mind if you’re hosting at home and providing appetizers, while $25 is more in-line for dinner and a drink. Studies have shown that charging a small fee actually increases attendance to events (the psychology says you’ll get more FOMO if you’ve got some money on the line!)

Pro tip: Brightly community members have found that scheduling Clothing Swaps on a Friday night and serving dinner draws the biggest group. Enlist some help from friends and prep everything beforehand so you can focus on the event. Better yet, hold your Swap at a venue that has food or catering offered and outsource or make your event a potluck and have everyone bring something to share.

Send the invite

Understand where your group hangs out and craft the invite to meet their routines. Personal emails/texts, Facebook events, Eventbrite events, posts on Instagram, Snapchat, and Tiktok can work wonders. Another tip is to post to local/neighborhood/community FB Groups that you’re a member of. Encourage those who have confirmed that they are coming to invite their friends, too!

In the invitation, make sure to share the date, time, cost, and food information. In addition, don’t forget to specify What to Bring and What to Expect. An example header looks like:

Friday, November 15th  | 6-9:30PM  | $25pp includes dinner and drinks

What to Bring

Our closets definitely have stories packed into them, like an impulse purchases, that sweater from grandma that had good intentions, or shoes that hurt your feet after you’ve worn them only twice. It feels great to let them find a new home!

The most important part of ‘what to bring’ is ensuring that your items are in excellent or very good condition.  They need to be cleaned and preferably pressed on hangers (hangers will be returned at the end of the night). Damaged and stained items are not invited, which is a reasonable request and everyone is on the same page.

Send out the following list to your attendees:

Great ideas to bring to the Clothing Swap include: dresses, skirts, shirts, pants, jeans, jackets, coats, cotton tops, shoes, boots, scarves, gloves, hats, belts, sunglasses, handbags, wallets, accessories, and jewelry.

How to run your Swap

Check-In and Token System

Upon arrival, have items get checked in at a table near the front door.  This helps everyone unload their swapper stash before mingling with the other guests.  

Create a “one brought, one swapped” rule. For each item brought, give the attendee a token. Make sure to scan the item to ensure it fits the clean/useful garment guidelines — if not, let the attendee know you’ll set it aside to donate later. Enlist a friend to help you check items in and give tokens out.

Set Up & Clean Up

Set up your swap in a large space ideally equipped with a clothing rack for the hanging garments, tables for accessories, and floor space for shoes. If you don’t own a clothing rack, consider grabbing one on Craigslist before the event if you will use it again in the future. If not, neatly fold clothes on tables. Organize items by size and type.

Before the swap begins, take the opportunity to gather attendees to discuss the why behind the event. Start a quick chat about how important sustainable decisions are to our planet, share a couple of fashion industry facts, encourage mending and repurposing garments, and then conclude with a reminder about being mindful in our consumption. Let them know that if they’re interested, the Brightly community would love to have them join us online!

With that, give a gentle reminder about the Brightly Clothing Swap Guidelines:

  • Keep an open mind.  Give new styles a try, you may be surprised.
  • Be fair.  Take only a few items at a time.  Quick try-ons are a must and please place back pieces that don’t work, so others can try them on.
  • Be mindful of size and style options. Every effort is made to have many different sizes and styles, but if you’re feeling left out, let us know. Let’s get creative together!
  • Reduce regret.  If you don’t see anything you like at the swap and your items have not been claimed by anyone, then you’re welcome to take back your items.  We want everyone feeling good about the experience!

Once the Guidelines are stated, then everyone jumps up and they hit the rack and tables looking for new treasures!  

At the end of the night, the remaining items can be returned to the original owner or donated to a local non-profit.

Follow up and send thank yous

The following morning, send out an email thanking everyone for joining the Clothing Swap and offer a few words of encouragement. Here’s an example from Brightly Community Member Jenny LaCorte Bailey, the founder of JLB Style – Personal Styling & Wardrobe Consulting:

Wow, what a night!  Thank you, a million times, for making last night special on so many levels.  

  • We gathered in community.
  • We repurposed items from our closet.  
  • We kept those items out of the landfill.  
  • We learned {a little} about mending and caring for our garments.
  • We donated to a local non-profit.
  • We are very proud of ourselves (and I am proud of you too, future host!)

Last night the seed was planted.  Together we can grow the sustainability movement one tiny step at a time.  Share what you are doing with others.  Know that you too can host a clothing swap.  Let people know near and far they can host a clothing swap.  Sustainability can be simple, we just need to start!

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