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Host a Clothing Swap - Tips for Fashion Exchanges & Swap Parties

If you think cheap deals are great, there is something even better. It's called a clothing swap. A clothing swap brings people together to exchange their valuable but no longer-in-use clothes. These people could be total strangers or a group of friends. It is a fun way to declutter and revamp your closet. You get to spend time with friends, connect with new people, and practice sustainable fashion.

A clothing swap implies that the central exchange is clothing, but you can add other items. Almost anything in your wardrobe is eligible for a swap: jewelry, shoes, bags, scarves, and other fashion items.

Swapping is gaining more attention in the world of sustainable fashion. Amongst the rise in popularity of online thrift stores, which essentially facilitate secondhand clothing swaps, we also see the DIY variety growing in popularity.

There are swap parties, online swaps, and even swap boutiques popping up around the world. Some websites for swapping clothes are ReashClothes, Swap, Swishing, and Swapstyle. Read on for all you need to know about clothing swaps and some ideas and tips for hosting your own clothing swap.

Reasons to host a clothing swap

Picture of a clothing swap party
Photo Credit: The SWAP Team on Flickr, (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Preventing new fashion's environmental impact

By 2014, clothing production had doubled, and consumers' demand had increased by over 60% compared to 2000. Troubling was the observation that people only used their clothing for half as long as they used to.

Every year, people throw away 85% of the textiles produced. According to WRAP, consumers in the United Kingdom have over 30 billion euros worth of unworn clothing in their closets. The average woman in England has 22 unworn items in her wardrobe. In rich countries, few people can likely claim to be actively wearing every piece of clothing in their own closets. 

Research says that fashion industry manufacturers make about 90% of all clothing sold in the United States from cotton or polyester2. Both materials have significant environmental impacts due to the manufacturing, production, and disposal processes.

Cotton production is water-intensive and relies heavily on pesticides and fertilizers. Synthetic fibers break down into toxin-attracting microplastics that pollute the rivers and oceans and endanger wildlife. Participating in and hosting clothing swaps helps keep outfits in circulation longer, slowing down fresh consumption.

Purposeful giving

You probably just give old and extra clothes away. But the problem is that you have no control over what happens when your clothes become someone else's.

People rarely refuse gifts so as not to offend. Therefore, they commonly accept something they have no use for as a sign of goodwill and dispose of the items later on. When you donate unwanted clothes, you have no idea whether they are wanted.

Giving your unwanted clothes to a charity or non-profit organization is not without issues. Charities often sell or give donated clothes to low-income countries. This is quickly becoming an issue for such countries because it creates a clothing glut threatening their local textile economy.

In recent years, Rwanda banned the import of secondhand clothing for its negative impact on local manufacturing3. Not to forget the fact that such an overabundance often leads to waste and pollution as they give little value to such clothes.

So, if you want to give your clothes out with the assurance that they are wanted and will be loved and valued the same way, you would try a clothing swap. Besides, gathering people together and the idea of free clothes and finding new homes where they are enjoyed can't be bad.

Reduce, reuse, and recycle

If you are working towards a zero-waste lifestyle, you will find clothes swapping a sustainable and eco-friendly way to source new, exciting, sustainable wardrobe updates. Participating in a clothing swap contributes your quota to circular fashion. Practicing "reduce, reuse, and recycle" principles lives at the heart of sustainable living and eco-friendly activity1

When we swap clothes, it allows us to do all three. To start with, it reduces the purchase of new items. Buying new outfits costs more than just a few notes from your wallet; you also have to consider the environmental impact.

According to Oxfam, buying just one cotton t-shirt produces the same amount of carbon emissions as driving a car for 35 miles. The planet is grappling with climate change, so buying new clothes every time you run out of what to wear isn't helpful. 

Further, you can reduce your carbon footprint by practicing eco-friendly consumption like swapping. Also, It takes over 5,000 gallons of water to manufacture a pair of jeans and a shirt. Reducing the number of new purchases minimizes the production rate and, in turn, helps ease textile companies' pressure on natural resources.

Swaps encourage reuse. Fashion items that a person has worn only a few times or not at all can be put to good use by their friend. As for recycling, swaps present an opportunity for recycling clothing. With some alterations and repairs, someone's abandoned clothes can become a completely different outfit for their next owner.

Related read: Online Clothes Alteration and Repair Services.

Saves money

Having a wardrobe full of clothes that no longer fit your body or style is even more frustrating when you don't have the budget for new ones.

A clothing swap is a cashless exchange; you don't spend money and don't need money to organize or participate in one. This is excellent news for your budget as it allows you to divert the funds to other living expenses. An environmentally conscious and financially prudent person will find swapping unused clothing items doubly enjoyable. 

Because there is no money involved, you and members of your swap group are free to experiment with new styles. You have the freedom to choose what works for you, not what is the cheapest. It allows you to reinvent or minimize your wardrobe while saving money and the planet as part of your conscious life and style choices.

Cut back on storage space.

Swaps make decluttering easier, so you don't have to store them indefinitely. Americans spend $24 billion each year on storage space. People run out of room in their homes and rent space to keep their stuff. The outfits that you neither wear nor throw away take up valuable space. 

Fosters community spirit

Swaps bring friends and strangers who have a love for fashion and environmental consciousness in common together. This creates a sense of community and is half the fun. Moreover, while no longer wearable for the owner, some pieces of clothing may have a sentimental value that you can relate to. And nothing brings a community closer together than shared values.

Hosting a swap can help educate wider community members about sustainable fashion and the importance of fast fashion alternatives. It is an opportunity to show people how they can care for the planet with often-overlooked practices such as fashion consumption.

Another advantage of swapping is that it can help you eliminate the buyer's guilt. Because you are giving it to someone who really wants it and getting something in return, you are likely to have fewer regrets about purchasing it. That is if you had any. You might also find it fascinating to have a peek into someone else's closet.

Tips on how to host a clothing swap

Friends comparing clothes to swap
Photo by Sam Lion from Pexels

There is no rule book for hosting a clothing swap; it is informal and does not require extensive planning, protocols, or permissions. You can host online or in person; an online swap may involve video feeds and pictures. A swap meet will require some planning. Below are some useful tips to help you host a successful swap party. 

You can organize your clothing swap party by following these steps in this order.

1. Create a category

This part of the job is quite simple; you need to look at all the stuff you consider inactive in your closet. If they are casual outfits, then use that as a guide to what the others bring.

Unwanted or not, clothes still retain monetary value. It could be unfair for someone to bring expensive designer dresses to a swap event to find that the other attendees have only cheap tank tops to exchange.

Similarly, you can also choose to create a minimum standard of clothing for people to bring along, such as no missing buttons, broken zippers, or significant stains. Everyone will have a better experience if they feel like they've left the clothing swap with some real finds.

Deciding on a specific category helps you determine who you want to invite and who most likely should not be on your guest list. Note that this is not discrimination or derogatory at all. If you have a friend who has an avowed dislike for vintage dresses, you may consider them not quite right for the event you have in mind was it to feature the same.

Also, at this point, you can decide what kind of swap you'll be having. Is it for women or men only? Can men and women both come or is everyone invited? Depending on what you decide, you might need more clothes and space to make it work.

2. Spread the word

You can not have a clothing swap party without guests; invite your friends and encourage them to invite others too. The essence of a clothes swap is to come away at the end with clothes that suit you better, so try to create a guest list of people with similar body sizes.

But do not limit the guests to one particular size. Mix them up as much as possible. Inviting different-sized people is important because it not only presents an opportunity for increased exchange options, it ensures that no one gets left out because nobody else brought clothes their size. 

The size of your guest list may depend on the size of your venue. The COVID-19 pandemic may affect physical gatherings in your area, so you may need to consider safety rules restricting gatherings to a specific number of people. You can hold your swap party in batches if you don't want to turn down your guests.

Along with your invite, include information on what kind and the number of items you think everyone should bring. If you have other instructions like the items' conditions, it is best to include them in your invite information, so people bring clothes that are likely to find a new home. This helps to reduce the chances of miscommunication.

Don't forget to issue your invitation well in advance so there is enough time for everyone to get prepared. Creating a Facebook event or similar if your guests are likely to be on social media is a simple way to invite people, connect with everyone, and remind guests about your event in advance.

3. Choose a venue

You can use almost any space for clothing swaps, an empty store, community centers, or your home. Of course, the number of guests you're expecting directly affects your choice of venue. The place should be large enough to hold your guests and their stuff comfortably. There should be enough space for everyone to move around freely and exchange clothing easily.

If you would like to use a community center or public area, you will need to find out if you require any special permissions and secure them in advance. If you decide to use your home, ideal places to set up include the living room, dining room, back porch, or garage.

In preparation for the swap, make your home as presentable as is appropriate for you and your guests. A fresh bunch of flowers makes for a nice touch. Be mindful of any hazards in the place. You may be aware of dangerous spots around your home, but not everyone attending the swap will be. You can fix things or put up a sign to warn your guests. 

4. Get ready

Here, you need to decide just how much of a party your swap will be and prepare the necessary supplies. If you want to offer food and drinks after the swap, have a little plan and start organizing in advance of the event so you can enjoy it rather than spend loads of time in the kitchen.

It would help if you also devised a convenient way for your friends to display their items and all the clothes you expect to turn up. You can choose to lay them on the dining room table or hang their swap items on a clothing rack.

Whichever you choose, the most important thing is to have a neat arrangement. A lovely display can distinguish between a posh swap party and a laundry basket raid. A standing mirror or two is always a good idea.

The good thing about clothing swaps is that you don't have to do it all alone. Everyone can contribute. Your friends can bring clothing racks, cookies, food, and drinks. When you prepare everything beforehand, you can ensure that host duty does not bog you down. And you are free to enjoy the swap event. 

5. Hold the swap

Kick off the swapping activity with some ground rules to avoid disorderliness. You may allow limited time for each person to browse items and pick one or two at a time.

You should pay attention to the order of selection to ensure that everyone gets an equal chance to choose. To keep things fair, no one should go home with more items than they brought.

Make sure to fix a time limit for the swap and stick to it. Knowing how much time they have will gear up your friends to make their choices quickly. All the items are fair game, so it's also worth waiting for everyone to be present before you start the swap to avoid disappointing latecomers.

Finally, make it fun. Consider putting on a little music on when guests arrive or providing some time and space for socializing.

6. Clean up

Not everything brought to the swap will likely find a new owner. And guests may leave some pieces behind that nobody picked. Make sure to deal with unclaimed clothing quickly, and you do not want to fall into the trap of hoarding them. You can donate leftover clothes to the local charity. You may sell them with the owners' permission and use the funds to fund your next group project.

NB: swaps are fun when many people are involved but don't get discouraged if you can't get many people interested. You only need one interested friend with a similar body size. If they have pieces of clothing sitting in their closet and you do, you can have a swap just with each other. 


Living an eco-friendly lifestyle is something everyone should aspire to. Your wardrobe can be your starting point if you swap.

Swapping your outfits is excellent for your pocket because it costs no money. It helps reduce waste and pollution, which is helpful in our fight against climate change. It also benefits the environment because it encourages slow and circular fashion

Hosting a clothing swap event is easy to do if you follow the tips we have given. You will find this to be an eco-friendly way of shopping for clothes, and what's more, you save money and make friends.


Rathinamoorthy R., Surjit R., Karthik T. (2019) Clothing Swap: Gateway to Sustainable Eco-friendly Fashion. In: Martínez L., Kharissova O., Kharisov B. (eds) Handbook of Ecomaterials. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-68255-6_63

2Bick, R., Halsey, E. & Ekenga, C.C. The global environmental injustice of fast fashion. Environ Health 17, 92 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12940-018-0433-7

Measuring fashion. 2018. Quantis

Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.

Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.

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