Ever Been to a Kids Clothing Swap?

I attended my first on October 3 — little did I know it was also a first for Clothing Swap founder, Suzanne Agasi, who flew in from California to apply her women’s fashion concept to the stroller set. Held in a loft space in Chelsea’s shopping district in New York — with white leather couches, gauzy drapes, and pop music bouncing from the rafters — it was a spectacularly frugal event.

Lazy Environmentalist Josh Dorfman and Clothing Swap founder Suzanne Agasi

The Clothing Swap idea is about dressing up just as much as it’s about saving money, recycling and decluttering. Created by Agasi, the queen of “green glam,” Clothing Swap was designed as a girl’s night out, where swappers enjoy spa treatments, hair and make-up styling, DJ music, and cocktails while the clothes are being sorted.

Normally swappers pay $20-30, which covers the (often upscale) location and entertainment. Thanks to Green Works (who was showcasing its new line of natural laundry products), this Kids Clothing Swap was free.

My own kids were misbehaving that morning, so I decided to leave them at home.  I was kind of bummed about my decision when I saw the huge spread of food and drinks, and no lines for face-painting.  Oh well, I got to get one of those face-plant massages, which was awesome until my masseuse told me my back muscles were weak.  What you do mean — hoisting toddlers and picking up toys is not enough?

Filming of the Sundance Channel show The Lazy Environmentalist

Even though the swap was definitely kid-welcoming, it was kind of fun to soak up the glamorous atmosphere without having to chase down a toddler.  Plus I got to meet Josh Dorfman, the Lazy Environmentalist, who was filming an episode for his show on the Sundance Channel. We spoke about his alignment with Green Works, his Brita Climate Ride bike tour with No Impact Man, and Frugal Mama. :-)   I later interviewed him and he offered some great ideas on how families can be green on a budget.

How Does a Kids Clothing Swap Work?

  1. Generally, swaps last about two to three hours. During the first hour and a half, people bring in at least ten items of kids clothing — laundered and in good condition.
  2. Volunteers sort the clothing (according to gender, type or size), while swappers socialize. Food, drinks and entertainment are usually provided.
  3. At a set time, swapping begins. There is no limit to how many pieces you take home, but as the Clothing Swap saying goes, “Bring what you have; take what you love.”

How did I make out?

What I brought: Since I had just organized a kids clothing rummage sale in our building, I didn’t have a whole bunch to swap.  But I managed to fill two shopping bags of my son’s clothing plus some of my daughters’ outgrown dress-up clothes.

What I needed: Since we get hand-me-downs, I just needed to fill in some gaps.  I was hoping to find a Halloween costume for my kindergartener and some 2T summer clothing.  The costume pickings were slim, but I ended up with a bagful of stuff for my son and a pile of comfy sweatpants for my girls.

The low-down: The event was sold out, but given the space, they could have handled more people and clothing.  Even though I didn’t get lucky with boutique or designer labels, I found the few things we needed.  It was totally worth it.  The most unique aspect of Clothing Swap is the party atmosphere.

Would I do my own? I’m all set with kids clothes for a while, but I’m thinking about organizing a women’s clothing swap in my apartment with the moms in our babysitting co-op.  It would be a great way to refresh my wardrobe, see my stuff get re-used, and enjoy a fun ladies night in.

How to Find a Clothing Swap Event

Choosing clothes at the Kids Clothing Swap in New York

I recommend attending an official Clothing Swap if one is offered in your city. (Check out upcoming events at Clothing Swap)

But if you don’t want to wait, you can organize one with friends.

Pros of Organizing a Clothing Swap

Should you throw your own clothing exchange?  Here are some of the advantages.

Get free clothes: Depending on how elaborate you want to get, events can be free or at least very low cost.

Be kind to the environment: Make sure your kid’s clothes get used again.

Declutter less painfully: Some people have a hard time dumping their children’s clothing at a charity’s generic warehouse.

Only get what you need: I love hand-me-downs, but one advantage of a swap is that you get to pick and choose what works for you.

Spend less time shopping: If you invite enough people, it’s very possible that you can find almost everything you need for your child’s next year.

Socialize with friends and encourage a ethic of sharing: Plus you get that lift from shopping and the high of getting a great bargain.

Cons of Organizing a Clothing Swap

A swapper choosing clothes at the Kids Clothing Swap in New York

There are lots of ways to get free or low-cost clothing for your children.  Is throwing a swap the best option for you?

Time and effort: Planning and organizing the event will take some energy.

Shopping on a schedule: Unlike a store where you can stop in whenever, a swap is a calendar event.

It’s personal: Some people might feel a little weird seeing their child’s clothing up for grabs, as opposed to the anonymous experience of donating to and buying from a thrift store.

Location, location, location: When I talked to Agasi at the Kids Clothing Swap, one of her pieces of advice was:  the person with the biggest house should host.  Having started out hosting swaps in her San Francisco studio apartment, she is also testament to the possibilities of small spaces.

Find a home for the leftovers: Even though charities like Goodwill and Salvation Army are pretty widespread, it still takes effort to bag it up and deliver it.

How to Simplify a Clothing Swap

  • Instead of hanging up clothes or folding them on tables (or beds), toss them in boxes.
  • Ask swappers to sort their own clothes when they arrive.
  • Make it a potluck.
  • Keep things sane:  hold it in the evening after kids are in bed.
  • Or do it outdoors in the summer and invite the whole family.
  • Use a free invite service like Evite or Socializr.
  • Arrange for a donation pick-up service.  When I lived in the Washington, D.C. area, charities like Vietnam Vets of America, National Lupus Foundation, and the National Children’s Center would come pick up all sorts of clothes and household goods right from your front door. If you find one of these in your area, you could plan your swap around their next pick-up date.

How to Organize a Clothing Swap

Josh Dorfman with a swapper and my daughter's Cinderella costumeFor printable downloads on how to organize a home-based swap, check out the Kids Clothing Swap page on the Green Works site.

If you’d like to organize a large-scale clothing swap with your community, church, school, or parents group, contact Clothing Swap, Inc.

Finally, for more information about women’s clothing swaps, check out this interview with Suzanne Agasi on Time Magazine’s Cheapskate Blog.

Have you ever participated in a clothing swap? I’d love to hear your take in the comments section below.

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  • Delice March 20, 2012, 10:45 am

    I have a question: I’m planning a swap at my church and have been asked a few stumping questions that I’m not sure how to handle. 1. A mama has a breast pump that is worth a lot, and is wondering if we can do some sort of trade value thing? Have you ever dealt with this? It seems complicated… Ideas? 2. A mama who doesn’t have much to contribute would like to shop. What do you think?

    • Amy March 21, 2012, 10:46 pm

      Hi Delice,

      First of all, my apologies for just responding now. My comment email notifications seem to have gotten turned off.

      OK, now to your questions. The big ticket items could be dealt with in a variety of ways. My personal preference is not to set rules on how much people have to bring or how much they can take away. I think that it all works out somehow. Some people will bring more because they just want to get rid of it. Some people will take more because they need it. Some people will bring less because they just gave a bunch of stuff away, some people will take less because they have mostly what they need.

      I have never dealt with high-value items like electric breast pumps, but if you want, you could set up a table for things like this (strollers, bouncy seats, etc.) and say you have to give one to get one. But like I said, I’m not in love with doing tit-for-tat stuff. It sort of goes against the sharing concept behind swapping. However I can understand where people are coming from, but selling might be a better option for people wanting to cash in.

      I’m happy to try to answer any other questions if you have them!

      Take care and thanks for writing, Delice,

  • Landon Popke March 9, 2011, 12:00 am

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  • Suzanne Agasi November 10, 2009, 3:22 pm

    Amy- what a beautiful and thorough article you’ve written. It was such a pleasure to gain your perspective.

    My goal as Founder of ClothingSwap.com is to inspire women (and Moms!) to either host or be a guest at a Clothing Swap. Either large or small, these events offer the opportunity to save money, find some fun, free styles, but also to connect, network, share, and help your community while helping your family too!

    For those who’d like to get on-going tips on how to host their own Clothing Swap, we’ll be offering lots of suggestions for 2010 and beyond. We will be in NYC in late May hosting a Women-only glamorous Clothing Swap for Moms who’d like to get glam and find some treasures for their own wardrobe-

  • Nicole Tereza @ mangiavita.com November 3, 2009, 10:56 am

    Amy, this is so useful. I’ve been to adult clothing swaps and this sounds like one of those “why didn’t I think of that!” kind of things.
    Thanks for breaking the info down in such a user friendly way. Can’t wait to see what else you’ve got in store for us!

  • Nancy October 30, 2009, 11:32 am

    I just heard about this for the first time earlier this week (from my sister, who went to Gayle’s in DC) but didn’t know how to get more details on it. Thanks for providing all this background information — it is just what I was looking for.

  • Eve October 27, 2009, 3:47 pm

    What a great idea. All your tips will make it easy for me to set up one in my neighborhood. Thanks!

  • Melissa October 27, 2009, 10:32 am

    What a helpful blog! I love it!!! I’ve got some of my favorite things at a swap. It was like going thru my sister’s closet and getting to wear all her glamorous hand me downs! Can’t wait to read your next helpful post!

  • Nancy October 26, 2009, 12:57 pm

    How fun! Hope I can find something like this. Thanks for the advice.

  • Gayle October 25, 2009, 11:17 pm

    I co-hosted an adult clothing swap last week. It was fantastic – the second one I have been to. What a great way to de-clutter, recycle, and get some great, FREE stuff. Plus, they are so much fun. I haven’t ever been to a kids’ clothing swap, but I have bought lots of kids’ clothes at consignment sales. So worth it. Great post!!
    .-= Gayle´s last blog ..Giveaway: "What French Women Know", by Debra Ollivier =-.

  • Al Brown October 25, 2009, 5:55 pm

    This is a great how-to for clothing swaps! Very instructive and useful!

  • Madeleine October 25, 2009, 11:24 am

    This arrived just in time. I have been thinking of organizing one in Milan but hadn’t quite figured out how to do it. Thanks.


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