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.
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?
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?
- 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.
- Volunteers sort the clothing (according to gender, type or size), while swappers socialize. Food, drinks and entertainment are usually provided.
- 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
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
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
For 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.