Everything you need to know to host a successful clothing swap
I’ve hosted 3 clothing swaps of various sizes and venues, and I’ve picked up quite a few tips along the way. A clothing swap is such a fun event - guests bring their gently worn, unwanted fashion items (it's not really limited to just clothing), and swap with each other. In the end, everyone gets to go home with free, new-to-them pieces. It's an amazing way to divert items from being down-cycled or going to waste, or from sitting in our closets collecting dust.
A lot of friends ask me “when’s the next clothing swap?!” and while I know we’ll be hosting more here at Eco Collective in the future, I wanted to share the secrets behind hosting a good clothing swap, to empower others to host their own swap parties, too! Whether it's at home with some close friends or with an organization you're a part of, it's a great way to offer a sustainable, affordable, and community-oriented experience.
My first swap party was a simple one with a few of my close friends at my apartment, and it was a great way to get comfortable with the process, hang out with friends, refresh my wardrobe, and make sure my clothes went to happy new homes. My favorite part is seeing my friends wear my clothes, even many months later!
Find your why
In my eyes, finding your “why” is a great first step to almost any project. Making sure you know why you’re doing what you’re doing can be a great motivating force, and will help guide you in your decision-making to help you reach your desired goal or outcome. So, why are you hosting a clothing swap? Some possible reasons include...
- To bring people together or spend time with friends
- To reduce the environmental impact of fashion
- To declutter and/or refresh your wardrobe
- To get or help other people get clothes for a specific occasion (Prom, a drag competition, job-hunting, sports, etc.)
- To save money/help others save money
- To grow your audience for your business/blog/group, etc.
- To make money through ticket sales/donations
For our recent clothing swap at Eco Collective, our goal was to encourage people in our community to choose a more sustainable option for a wardrobe refresh instead of buying new clothes, and to introduce new people to Eco Collective and the zero waste movement.
Choose your audience
Now that you’ve figured out your “why,” it should be easier to determine your audience. Here are a few more tips for how to begin.
My number one piece of advice is this: Get specific in your target audience so people know what to expect, and don’t skimp on getting the word out to that audience in an inclusive way.
It’s a shame when someone brings great clothes, but for the wrong group, whether that be the wrong style, wrong occasion, or wrong fit.
In my experience, clothing swap attendance tends to be dominated by women, and as far as I know, children aren’t hosting a ton of swap parties. If you want to have a clothing swap party for a niche group that’s different from those typically attend swap parties, or for a specific type of clothing or size, I recommend you market the event specifically toward that audience. Of course, it helps if you have existing connections or affiliations with the target audience.
In your marketing, be mindful of those who don’t adhere to a gender binary. We’re talking about clothes, which really come down to size, fit, and style, and do tend to be referred to in gendered terms. Instead of saying “this clothing swap is for women” you can say “we’ll be swapping women’s style clothing.”
Choose the right venue and time for your swap
Choosing a venue is an important piece of the puzzle. Try choosing a location fairly central to your target audience. It should also be big enough to fit the size of group you want to host, along with clothing racks and display tables. It can be hard to pick a time that works for everyone. If you’re having trouble picking a time, try polling a few people in your target audience. In my experience, a two-hour window is plenty of time.
Pick a location that’s easily accessible to your audience, by multiple forms of transportation. Somewhere central that can be accessed by bus or bike is helpful for those who are careful with their carbon footprint or have a lower transportation budget. Cheap nearby parking is a big plus for those driving. Keep in mind your guests will be carrying boxes or bags. Be mindful of required stairs or steps, for those who may be in a wheelchair or are otherwise differently abled.
Private changing area(s) and a bathroom
The event is long enough that you’ll need a bathroom at your venue, and it can double as a changing room if need be. Additional private areas help, too. Personally, I like wearing tight shorts and a tank top to clothing swaps so I can try things on anywhere - you can offer this tip in your invite if you don’t have a lot of private changing areas.
Food and drink?
In my experience, people get very focused on the clothes, and tend to ignore everything else. Be sure to have drinking water, and aside from that, light refreshments are great, but not necessary. If you do have food or drink, opt for easy, clean foods, since people will be touching clothes. Sparkling water, champagne, a veggie platter, or pretzels are all great choices. Red wine, chocolate cake, and oily potato chips? Not so much.
This part is up to you based on your goals for the event. You may want to charge a small fee or ask for donations to cover the cost of the materials and venue. People will leave the event with free clothes, and a lot of work goes into coordinating and preparing the event, so it’s reasonable to charge. But remember that your attendees are donating items for the event too, so you may have a low turnout if it’s too pricey.
These events tend to be very popular! In recent experience, we hosted a free clothing swap at Eco Collective, and it sold out so quickly that we didn't even have time to advertise it, and then had quite a few no-shows. For that reason, we decided next time we’ll charge a fee of around $10, to cover our expenses and have a more accurate head-count.
Photo by Anya Nnenna for Eco Collective
Create a detailed invitation
In your invite, share your “why,” define your target audience, and provide instructions for how it works. Below is an example invite with details on how the event will go. Feel free to use it and tweak it for your purposes. The photo below is also available to be used freely, from Unsplash.
Example invite - use it and tweak it!
Community clothing swap at Eco Collective!
5:30 pm - 7:30 pm on Tuesday, January 29th
We value a holistic view of the sustainable lifestyle, and that includes everything from the way you get to work to the clothes you wear. Fashion can be a hugely wasteful industry, using excessive resources like water and textiles and producing clothes that people toss out when they get bored of them.
We want to see a more ethical, sustainable future, so we are hosting a clothing swap where everyone brings clothes in good condition that they no longer wear, and leaves with clothes donated by other attendees.
Bring clothes, leave with clothes. Who knows what cast-aside treasures you'll discover from someone else's closet! This clothing swap is for teens and adults. Stay tuned for our kids & baby clothing swap next!
There’s limited space for this event, so get your tickets while they last, and please read the instructions below!
Now that you’ve determined your target audience and created an invite, it’s time to get people to come! Clothing swaps turn out better when there’s more attendees; more clothes + more clothes-seekers + more sizes/styles = more swapping opportunities.
Share on your preferred communication, social media, or advertising channels. We like to create an event on Eventbrite and link it to a Facebook event, so people can buy tickets through either platform. People can browse and discover the event through either site, and Facebook is great for sharing the event, connecting with other attendees, and any discussion or questions leading up to the event.
Aside from a venue big enough to fit the guests, there are a few basic materials you’ll need for a successful clothing swap. Luckily, these are often easy to borrow or find secondhand. Ask friends or your local Buy Nothing group for donations, or turn to Craigslist or Offerup to buy secondhand. For our recent clothing swap at Eco Collective, we were able to get all the supplies we needed secondhand.
Clothing racks keep the garments tidier and easy to sift through than folded clothes on a table which can get messy quickly, so plan to put most clothes on racks.
Too many racks is better than too few. Five long clothing racks (about 5ft long each) worked well for our recent event with 25 people. We probably could’ve gotten away with 4, but the extra breathing room between hangers is nice if you have the space for it.
We got our clothing racks for $8 each on Offerup from a clothing store that was closing.
Clothing racks are pretty useless without hangers to fill them. You’ll want lots, for both tops and bottoms. For our recent event with about 25 guests, we filled about 400 hangers - 300 regular hangers, and 100 bottoms’ hangers.
We got some for free as donations from friends, or neighbors on Buy Nothing, and were lucky enough to get our pants hangers from another store that was closing. Since we needed so many, we bought the rest in large batches from people selling hangers on Offerup.
You’ll need a couple of tables - for laying out accessories or things that can’t hang.
The more mirrors, the better. For our recent event at Eco Collective, we had two full length mirrors in the main room and more in the private changing areas (bathrooms, in our case).
Sticky notes or signs
You’ll want something to label the clothing racks and tables in order to designate how things will be organized. In my experience, splitting up the clothes by item type (bottoms, short sleeve tops, long sleeve tops, outerwear, dresses, accessories, bags, shoes) works well!
Big boxes or bags
You’ll need something to transport the leftover items to the donation site of your choosing after the event.
The day of the event
- Before your guests arrive, clear your venue space to allow lots of room to move around. Place clothing racks, tables and mirrors around the room. Make sure hangers are evenly spread among the clothing racks, and label each section (pants, shoes, shirts, etc.) according to how you’d like things organized.
- Arrange an area where guests can grab a glass of water if they need one.
- Put on some background music to suit the mood you’re going for :)
- Check each guest in at the door to keep an accurate headcount if you had limited ticket availability.
- Instruct each guest on where to put their personal belongings so they don’t get mixed up with the swap items.
- Direct guests to spend the first 20-30 minutes putting out the items they brought - no swapping yet! And let them know where the refreshments are, if applicable.
- Once most of the guests are settled in and items have been sorted (usually 20-30 minutes in), you can make an introduction to your guests. This is a great time to reiterate your “why” and thank your guests for participating and supporting your mission. It’s also a good time to explain how the clothing swap works and where the changing rooms/bathrooms are. Instruct guests to place items they’ve chosen into the bag they brought, and not to take items out of other people’s bags.
I like to remind guests that since they’ve just gone through the process of decluttering and paring down, to please be thoughtful about which items they take home - be sure it fits and sparks joy, and encourage them to ask me or a fellow swapper if they want a second opinion on a piece.
After the event, you’ll wind up with lots of items that didn’t get taken. If a lot of people couldn’t make it to the swap, you can offer to let them sift through the remaining items before everything gets donated in the next few days. It’s best for the clothes to make it to a happy new home, after all. But sooner or later, you’ll want to get the remaining items off of your hands. Have some big boxes or bags to fill up to take to a clothing donation site of your choosing. We donated to Goodwill because they have great job training programs, divert so much from the landfill by selling items in their store, and direct unsellable clothing to Threadcycle textile recycling. Shelters are another great option to accept donations.
Feel free to share this guide if it was helpful! And we'd love to hear your thoughts and favorite tips for hosting clothing swaps in the comments below!