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The power of clothing swaps

In 2020, it’s more evident than ever that the time to act is now if we want to stop climate change. One common waste-reducing tactic people have adopted to combat the environmental crisis is opting for thrift shopping over fast fashion. However, clothing swaps are really the most sustainable shopping alternative given their cost and environmental impact. 

What is a clothing swap? 

“A clothing swap is basically a place to get rid of your old clothes and to get new clothes” says Samantha Chu, president of Your Environment Sustainability Society (YESS) at Dalhousie University. YESS has organized clothing swaps for more than five years in partnerships with the Environmental Programs Student Society (EPSS) and the Dalhousie Student Union Sustainability Office (DSUSO).  

“We always get plenty of people, especially in the winter season,” says Chu. 

Organizing the event is straightforward. The society collects people’s donations and sorts them into categories: shirts, shoes, underwear and jackets. The clothes are then displayed in tables for people to come and take according to their needs. The remaining clothes from the swap are donated to different charities. 

“Like thrift shopping, clothing swaps aim to discourage people from buying new,” says Chu.  

Using second-hand clothes can have a tremendously positive impact in battling climate change. By keeping clothes an extra nine months than usual, carbon, waste and water footprints are reduced by 20 to 30 per cent.  

Unsustainable fashion 

The fast fashion industry must be held accountable for their role in affecting climate change. The textiles industry annually generates about 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. As Chu mentions, however, climate change is only a few of the negative consequences of fast fashion.  

“This is a human rights issue, too” says Chu. She talks about how women and children are exploited by large fashion chains in countries such as Bangladesh

All this comes to justify the importance of consciously shopping when it comes to fashion. Although it may seem like clothing swaps and thrifting are equally beneficial, the former proves to be the slightly better option. 

Firstly, clothing swaps allow people to see exactly where their clothes are going.  

“Thousands and thousands of clothes are donated every year, but they don’t all get bought,” says Chu.   

Donating dozens of clothes to thrift stores does not promote sustainability if they are never bought but only accumulated and stored away or shipped off

Additionally, many thrift shops use terms such as “curated” or “vintage” to describe their collections. This implies that through their selection process, storeowners cannot give all the clothes they come by extended lives.  

Some stores and online thrifting websites like Thredup may reject clothes because of minimal flaws that could arguably be ignored. Such specifications and regulations destroy the sustainability of thrift shopping. Clothing swaps, on the other hand, reduce waste by allowing people to take exactly what they need.   

Although thrift stores are known for being significantly cheaper than regular stores, clothing swaps are usually free.  

Another pro of clothing swaps is that it’s simply a fun experience. 

“People always come in a group of friends and have fun picking unique stuff out,” Chu says.  

Clothing swaps are undoubtedly a community-based event. All it takes to organize one is a group of friends, a pile of clothes and the willingness to invest time and space for a different type of shopping.  


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