Clothing swap emphasizes sustainability, not money

It was a secondhand market like any other. Rows of well-worn shoes peaked out from under tables at the Trøjborg Beboerhus, women held up blouses to eyeball them for size, and piles of clothing threatened to engulf the folding tables they were stacked on. What made last week’s clothing swap unique was that no money changed hands.

 Although the vast majority of items at the clothing swap event were women's clothing, there was also clothing for men and children, as well as some books and household items. Photo: Alison Haywood

Although the vast majority of items at the clothing swap event were women’s clothing, there was also clothing for men and children, as well as some books and household items. Photo: Alison Haywood

“It just gives you so much more freedom, to not have to think about money,” said Ramona August, who organized the event. “People have different needs so it’s better to have something free.”

At the March 15 event, participants dropped off bags of clothes near the entrance, then wandered through the market, stopping frequently to finger a scarf or try on a shirt. Volunteers sorted items onto tables for people to peruse. Their neatly-folded stacks of shirts and pants quickly degenerated into massive heaps as people rifled unceremoniously through them.

A volunteer serves a participant soup made from donated vegetables at the clothing swap event. Photo: Alison Haywood

A volunteer serves a participant soup made from donated vegetables at the clothing swap event. Photo: Alison Haywood

Around 1 p.m., volunteers from the People’s Kitchen served lunch to participants: a vegan soup made from unsold vegetables at the previous week’s farmer’s market, a small fruit salad, and donated bread from a local bakery. Donations were accepted, but not required – that would have defeated the purpose of such an event.

At the end, volunteers took the leftover clothing to charity shops in the neighborhood.

August said she got the idea for this event because she regularly attended clothing swaps in her home country of Romania. She also attended a huge clothing swap at the Aarhus sustainability festival and said she was surprised at how enthusiastic people got about those types of events.

“People were like, diving into the clothes. There were so many. Many of them were really nice,” she said.

While doing a semester of field work in Wales for her master’s degree, August left boxes full of clothing in Aarhus. When she came back, she realized she didn’t like a lot of her old clothing anymore, and thought somebody else could have them. She waited a while to hear about a swapping event, but when none happened, she decided to make one herself.

“I like the idea of reusing things,” August said.

August created this event for both environmental and ideological reasons. Environmental, to prevent textile waste.

“The landfills are full of clothes,” she said. “In Europe, there are like 5.8 million tons of textile waste per year. In America it’s even higher. And there’s just lots that’s just thrown away.”

In addition, she had ideological reasons for setting up the event as she did. She wanted to make the event free, because she wanted anybody to be able to attend, whether they had money for new clothes or not.

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Ramona August organized the event as well as participated in it. Photo: Alison Haywood

There were also no limits on how much people could bring or take. “People can bring one piece of clothing, or as many as they like. Or they can bring lots of clothes and take nothing, it just depends,” August said. “I mean, nobody will look at how much you take.”

Some people brought one or two items and left with suitcases full; others dropped off big blue IKEA bags full of clothes and took little or nothing in return.

August said she had been to other swapping events that involved tickets and a minimum number of items to bring. “I remember I was looking through my wardrobe and seeing, oh, I have eight, I need two more, which ones to sacrifice?” she recalled. “But there’s no need to give anything you don’t want to. I just like this freedom.”

August said she is not against the idea of selling secondhand clothes for money, especially for people who invest a lot of money in their clothes and want to get some of it back. “I think both work quite well. I think they could even work in combination,” she said.

But added: “The value of clothes is not necessary money … they should be valued as what they are, and that doesn’t necessarily involve money.”

Alison Haywood holds bachelor degrees in Communication and German is pursuing a Master’s degree in Journalism at Aarhus University. Follow her on Twitter at @alison_haywood.