Swapping Clothes: My Favorite Form of Recycling

They say shopping is a good deed because it stimulates the economy, and I'm willing to bet that there are many women on this planet who wouldn't argue with that line of reasoning. I know I never have—especially not in our current economic recession when I can almost get away with patting myself on the back for going on a spending spree. Watch me raise the NASDAQ. Just watch! But what if we could shop without actually spending any money, and what if that shopping trip could make a pretty awesome impact—not on our economy, but on our environment and in the lives other women?

 Earlier this week, I was drawn to an event that elevated shopping to yet another level of philanthropy, and that is the Clothing Swap I attended a few days ago in Hollywood. The concept behind this event is just as simple as it sounds: women from all walks of life come together to swap clothes, shoes, and accessories that they no longer want or need. Every woman is required to bring a minimum of ten items that are freshly washed and in decent condition. The items are then collected and organized by the Clothing Swap volunteers.

About an hour into the evening, all attendees are allowed to start sifting through the wracks of dresses and piles of blouses and pants. If they find something they love, they may keep it. All the remaining clothes and accessories are donated to various charities and women’s shelters.

When I heard about this, I pretty much loved everything about it and began my Wednesday morning by digging through my closet to identify the pieces I was willing to part with—never an easy task for a pack rat such as myself. I have long adhered to the notion that if you keep something long enough, it will come back into style; yet, this event seemed to encourage me to stop hoarding and be a bit more generous. I reasoned that if I wanted to receive something cute and trendy, I would need to donate something cute and trendy. It was shopper’s karma 101.

After purging our respective closets, my friends and I arrived at the Falcon Restaurant to find a group of eager women drinking $5 cosmos and apple martinis as they waited for the clothing to be organized. The swap took place on the restaurant’s outdoor patio area, a charming, moss-covered alcove with dark wooden tables and comfy couches along the back wall. Various salon vendors were advertising their services by giving complimentary makeovers to anyone who wanted one. They worked intently with their brushes and their make-up palettes, right beside the many trees on the balcony that were wrapped in white Christmas lights.

When it came time for the main event, everyone gathered together and was then set loose with three simple words: “Ready, set, swap!” Upon hearing them, we rushed for the inventory, frantically sorting through tables of blouses, holding each one up to check the size and imagine whether or not we could see ourselves in it. There were women trying to cram their feet into pairs of platform shoes, and other women in the dressing room area, asking each other for advice as to whether or not a certain pair of jeans fit them correctly. A San Francisco-based dj was also spinning music in the background, adding to the overall energy and rhythm of the evening.

Every one of my friends took home at least something they adored. Out of all my new loot, this t-shirt and pair of high heels were my two favorite items:

Towards the end of the night, I started chatting with a girl I had never met before. She was standing in front of me in the line for the bathroom, and I figured talking to her would help pass the time.

“Did you find anything you liked?” I asked, pointing to the brown paper bag she held loosely in her hand.

“Yes,” she said, “and my favorite is this dress. . .” With that, she dipped her hand inside the bag and pulled out an article of clothing I instantly recognized because it had come from my very own closet.

I told her that I was the one who brought the dress, and we shared an ecstatic moment of smiles and exclamation points:

“OMG, that was mine!”

“It was?! No way!”

To add to the cheesiness, I have to admit that it made my night to see how happy she was to get a dress that I never really wore or appreciated because it simply didn't look good on me. (I know, the cheese factor is off the charts at this point, so I'll just move on.)

The evening concluded with the founder of Clothing Swap, Inc., Suzanne Agasi, thanking all of us for coming and sharing a bit about her swapping adventures. She has been hosting clothing swaps since 1994. Yes, that’s right, folks. Way before it was trendy to be eco-friendly and philanthropic—back in the nineties, when green was merely a color of the rainbow—Suzanne was inviting friends to swap outfits in her San Francisco apartment.

I interviewed her after the Hollywood event and she told me that her very first clothing swap was interesting, to say the least. Only three of her girlfriends showed up—one of which had an allergic reaction to her cat and had to leave shortly after dropping off her things. The other two girls stayed, but it worried Suzanne that they seemed to have a completely opposite sense of fashion. One was an ex-Peace Corps volunteer and was rather conservative in the way she dressed, while the other girl's style was what Suzanne describes as,“Fredrick’s of Hollywood sexy.”

“I was mortified they wouldn’t find anything they would like,” Suzanne recalled; but on the contrary, their opposing tastes ended up working to everyone’s advantage. “The conservative girl actually had a few sexy items in her closet that she really never wore, while the sexier girl brought conservative items that she wanted to get rid of. Everyone found stuff they really liked, and what’s even better is that we ended up having a large donation to give to the women’s shelter.”

Since 1994, the popularity of clothing swaps has grown, and Suzanne has proudly hosted 225 swapping events in nightclubs and restaurants all over the United States, from New York City to Denver, Los Angeles, and of course, San Francisco.

“My hopes are to tour more cities, coast to coast,” she says, “and to take the fun, fashionable, philanthropic, eco-chic concept worldwide.”

I asked Suzanne if she’s always been “green,” and the answer to that is a resounding yes. She said she has always been a tree-hugger who rides her bike to work and who prides herself on running Clothing Swap, Inc. in the most sustainable way possible. “We advertise almost entirely on Facebook and Twitter instead of using posters or fliers to promote our events.” Suzanne also plans to update the website to include information for women who want to host clothing swaps in their own homes, as many are already doing across the country. In fact, there is likely a Meet Up group for clothing swappers in your own hometown, and if there’s not, the beauty of MeetUp.com is that anyone can start one.

As Suzanne’s motto states, “Be good. Be green. Be glam!” And why not? At the very least, it gives us all a reason to de-clutter our closets, and maybe even start calling ourselves “eco-chic.”

Eco-chic. Excuse me for a moment while I go add that description to my Twitter profile. I’ll be right back.