I’m back after hosting my first clothes swap in four years! (Can you believe it’s been four years since The Haulternative Closet’s A/W event? We had one planned for S/S 2020, but we all know how that year turned out…) I had a great time putting together a clothes swap event alongside Lucy Lindley and the Pala Eyewear team for the sustainable fashion crowd and local community here in Brighton. We had all sorts of people come along, with all sorts of clothes to swap!
We’re hoping to put on more swaps this year, and having refreshed myself on the ins and outs of clothes swaps, I thought it might be worth putting together a step-by-step guide in case you’d like to hold a clothes swap event of your own too!
Why Organise A Clothes Swap?
There are many benefits to hosting a clothes swap, including:
- Finding new clothes to enjoy and style to suit your wardrobe
- Cutting down the 23% of your wardrobe that you statistically don’t wear anymore
- Connecting with fellow fashion fans, sustainable shoppers, and your local community
- Promoting the circular economy, and reducing demand for new clothing
How To Host A Clothes Swap: 10 Steps
Organising a clothes swap is a lot easier than you may think. In reality, the amount of effort required hinges on the scale of the event. The bigger the event, the more work it will be. Here are the steps you need to take to host your own, with tips that will help you create an event that can cater to a handful of people, all the way up to a ticketed clothes swap for hundreds of swappers!
1. Define Your Audience
Before starting your clothes swap, it’s worth working out who you’d like to attend. Could you invite your friends to share their pre-loved clothes with you? Perhaps you’re part of a social club and would like to invite the members to join in. You could even hold a clothes swap at your workplace! Or maybe it’s a public-facing event?
Once you’ve identified your audience, it’s a good idea to estimate how many people may come. This will inform everything else – the venue capacity, the number of rails and hangers, and the best system to use for your swap.
2. Choose Your Venue
The second step is to choose your venue. I’ve hosted swaps in lots of different places – at a friend’s house, in a university lecture theatre, in a co-working space, and our latest was in an art gallery. You could consider the following venues when organising your clothes swap:
- Your living room
- Your garden
- A local outdoor space (check out Hubbub’s Street Store Guide for more info)
- An office meeting room
- A community hall
- A co-working space
The main space will be needed for the swap itself – hosting the majority of your attendees, with space to place rails and clothes. It’s also worth considering if you need a changing area to try on clothes. Some venues have great toilets with full length mirrors, which will do the job without needing to bring along any extra equipment.
At the biggest swap I’ve run, we cordoned off a corner of the main space with a cloth divider and mirror, giving guests a place to change that wasn’t in the toilets. It’s really useful to have a changing area, as swappers can then be sure they’re happy with their new garments and will genuinely wear them. We also brought a mirror and had a camera set up on a tripod, so people could photograph in their new clothes to see what works on them and what doesn’t!
3. Set The Date
Choosing a date for your swap is often dictated by the venue hosting you. I’ve found the most popular swaps happen on a weekday evening, where swappers can come after work. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays are often the easiest days to book (if you’re using a public venue), and you may be able to secure the venue at a discounted price or even for free.
That being said, there’s nothing wrong with hosting a clothes swap during the day or on a weekend. In fact, daytime swaps are great, as there is more natural light so swappers can see how new clothes look on them.
Depending on who you are inviting, try to work out when would be the best time for them – an evening after work or a Sunday afternoon may be best.
4. Send Out Your Invites
Now it’s time to invite everyone! It’s crucial to give people plenty of notice of your event, so they can agree to come, and plan what to bring. I would recommend giving 2-4 weeks’ notice, and sending reminders to bring clothes with them. Depending on the size of your venue, and your estimated attendees, you can indicate how many items of clothing you’d like swappers to bring. For smaller swaps, try 1-3 items. Bigger swaps can handle more – just be sure to prepare enough hangers and rails!
If you’re hosting a private event, it may be easiest to set up a WhatsApp group or private Facebook Event and keep track of everything there!
5. Market Your Clothes Swap
If you’re running a public facing event, it’s worth marketing your event to attract people who haven’t been personally invited. Here’s a few places to consider marketing your clothes swap:
- Instagram (either your personal profile or set up a new account)
- Local press – in Brighton, we used The Argus newspaper’s free events listings
- Co-working spaces’ pin boards and/or newsletters
- Community groups’ events pages and/or newsletters
- Flyers in local shop windows
For my last ticketed event, we started advertising three weeks before the event. This gave people enough time to check their diaries, book tickets, and get excited to come along. We used Eventbrite to keep track of attendees, and sent out a reminder email the day before, ensuring everyone brought clothes along on the day!
6. Devise Your Exchange System
Now it’s time to plan your exchange system. In order to keep swaps fair, and keep swappers happy, it’s worth making sure there is a system in place that permits swappers to receive the same value of clothing in exchange for what they bring.
If you’re hosting a small or private clothes swap, I would recommend a simple one-in, one-out system. Therefore, if a swapper brings three items of clothing, they can take three items home with them.
If you’re hosting a larger clothes swap, I really recommend having a more thorough exchange system in place. At my largest swap, we used a token-based system, to create a fair and equal environment for the swap. Items were assessed as swappers entered the venue, and given between 1-5 tokens per item. This meant more basic, lower quality, or well worn items would receive 1 token, and higher quality, brand new, or luxury items gaining up to 5 tokens. Everyone was then able to secure the same value of clothing that matched what they brought to the swap – be it one higher quality item, or five more basic pieces.
On reflection, I would suggest a token-based system ranging from 1-3 tokens per item would be the easiest to manage:
- 1 token for low quality pieces
- 2 tokens for mid-range pieces
- 3 tokens for high quality pieces
You can then coordinate your rails to match this, to make swapping even easier.
7. Prepare Your Starting Stock
When organising your clothes swap, it’s good to have some clothes already displayed for when your guests arrive. I like to call this ‘starting stock‘, or a ‘clothes float’. The best way to arrange your starting stock is to have your own items, as well as any other organisers’ items, prepared and ready on the rails before the event has started.
I’d also recommend ensuring there is a good mix of sizes and styles, to ensure an inclusive environment where everyone can take something home with them. For some of my swaps, I have purchased different items from charity shops in order to make sure there is a good range of clothes to swap with.
Here’s a checklist of items your starting stock could contain:
- Unisex clothing
- Mid-size clothing
- Plus-size clothing
8. Get Your Rails And Hangers Ready
Alongside the clothes themselves, you’ll want to have the right equipment to display your clothing.
If you’re hosting a larger event, I recommend having at least three rails to start with – this makes the exchange system easy to work out, too. We originally bought our rails from IKEA, and sourced more through Gumtree, reusing them for each event and storing them at a friend’s parents’ house.
For bags, belts, hats, and any other accessories, try using a display table and lay these out in a similar fashion – divided into three groups.
At my first event, we had three rails, and 60 hangers, which we quickly realised was not enough! Hangers can be expensive to buy new, so instead, try doing a ‘hanger amnesty’, as Lucy calls it. At a previous swap, Lucy told me she had walked into high street stores and asked if they had spare hangers she could take, and was given huge boxes of unused hangers for free!
9. Make A Plan For Leftover Clothes
Inevitably, you’ll have some leftover clothes after your clothes swap. What you do with them is up to you, but my best recommendation is to arrange a drop-off with a local charity shop. For my biggest event, we actually had a charity partner who received a percentage of the ticket sales, and collected clothing after the swap. For my most recent, I simply called a local charity shop before the event and asked if it would be ok to bring a bag of clothes in on a certain date. They were thrilled!
10. Get Swapping!
With all your plans in place, you should now be ready to set up and get swapping! If this is your first clothes swap – just like it was ours – make sure you have fun and get swapping in too! At my first swap, I was so busy having fun talking and helping out at the event that I forgot to even look for clothes myself!
Let me know if you decide to host your own swap and use these tips – it’s such a great way to promote circular fashion and enjoy new clothes without a big impact!