How to Host a Women’s Clothing Swap

I recently hosted my second women’s clothing swap for a group of ten ladies, with whom many did not know each other.  It felt like we had our own game of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.  Everyone informally shared their stories of who they are, what kind of work they do, and where they are from.  The personal connections evolved naturally from there.

A couple of friends, who haven’t seen each other in years, reminisced over their crafting adventures in San Francisco.  Another set of friends got to catch up on a work situation.  The most profound connection was a school principal who helped a distressed mom by opening up her school to fifteen middle school students whose current school was closing.  Good news, the students transitioned seamlessly and everyone was happy.  Snaps for Clothing Swaps!


Choose Your Who

You could say that I’m a little obsessed with the powerful effects of gathering women and creating a sense of community.  My swaps include women from my styling business, their friends, and my local community.

There are so many variations of friend groups that one can choose for their swaps.  Hosting girlfriends from your neighborhood.  Having a reunion with college friends.  Building bonds with sisters, cousins, aunts, moms, and grandmas.  A group of co-workers.  Sorority sisters.  Moms from kid’s play group or school.  Long-time friends.  No matter who you choose, it will be fun!  Aim to have five to fifteen people.  The most important thing is to have a group size that will fit comfortably in your space.

Send the Invite

I start by inviting women through my JLB Style Mailchimp newsletter about one month before the clothing swap.  I find it helpful to follow-up with personal emails/texts, create an event on Facebook, and post to my business and personal FB/IG pages.  I also post to my local/neighborhood/community FB Groups that I’m a member of.  I encourage those who have confirmed that they are coming, to invite their friends too.

In the invitation I share the date, time, cost, and dinner.  In addition, I include What to Bring and What to Expect.   I wait to give out my home address until I get firm RSVPs.  This is typically what the header looks like:

Friday, November 15th  |  6-9:30PM  |  $25pp includes dinner and drinks

I have found that scheduling the Clothing Swap on a Friday night and serving dinner draws the biggest group.  For me, serving dinner is not any more time consuming than serving snacks and appetizers.   This year I hired an Organic Personal Chef, who made the side dishes and dessert.  I prepared a roasted chicken and served sparkling water and wine.  Having help in the kitchen freed me up to get the house ready and prep for all the items that came in for swapping.


What to Bring

Our closet’s definitely have stories packed into them, like an impulse purchase, a sweater from grandma that had good intentions, or shoes that hurt your feet after you’ve worn them only twice.  It feels great to let them find a new home!

The most important part of ‘what to bring’ is ensuring that your items are in excellent or very good condition.  They need to be cleaned and preferably pressed on hangers (hangers will be returned at the end of the night).  Damaged and stained items are not invited, which is a reasonable request and everyone is on the same page.

I chart out a check list, offering a few ideas.  It looks a little something like this:

Great ideas to bring to the Clothing Swap include: dresses, skirts, shirts, pants, jeans, jackets, coats, cotton tops, shoes, boots, scarves, gloves, hats, belts, sunglasses, handbags, wallets, accessories, and jewelry.

What to Expect

Upon arrival, items are checked in at a table near the front door.  This helps ladies unload their swapper stash before mingling with the other guests.  Each item will be evaluated for the fair thrift value.  In my situation, I’ve asked a friend who volunteers with me at our local thrifting boutique and non-profit to help me price.  Last year she ran the ship.  This year I did the pricing and tagging, while she celebrated her friends 40th birthday in the City!

Once the garment is evaluated, for every swapper’s stash, I affix sticker dots to the garments so everyone knows how much the items are.  Then I add up all the prices and issue a voucher to the swapper with this total.  They can ‘shop’ for new-to-them items that were brought by the other swappers up to the value of their voucher.


Set-Up & Clean-Up

I like the idea of elevating the clothing swap from garage sale to secondhand chic.  It sends the message that we are extending the life of a garment, rather than rescuing it from the throes of the landfill.   This is why I prepare the house with candles (yes, they are battery-operated for safety), fresh flowers, and fancy napkins.  This is in sync with my groove.  Everyone can turn the dial to what works best for them.  If serving pizza and beer works for you, then go with it (as long as it’s organic…wink).

I set up the swap in my living room equipped with a clothing rack for the hanging garments, tables for accessories, and floor space for shoes.  Before the swap begins, I ask everyone to gather around, either sitting on the sofa or standing nearby.  I talk for five minutes about how important sustainable decisions are to our planet, share a couple of fashion industry facts, encourage mending and repurposing garments, and then conclude with a reminder about being mindful in our consumption.  With that, I restate the Clothing Swap Credo (first published on the invitation):

  •  Keep an open mind.  Give new styles a try, you may be surprised.
  • Be fair.  Take only a few items at a time.  Quick try-ons and discard those that don’t work, allowing others to try it on.
  •  Size and style options.  Every effort is made to have many different sizes and styles.  Sometimes I just get thrown a curve ball.
  • Reduce regret.  If you don’t see anything you like at the swap, and your items have not been claimed by anyone, then you’re welcomed to take back your items.  We want everyone feeling good about the experience.

Once the Clothing Swap Credo is stated, then everyone jumps up and they hit the rack and tables looking for new treasures!

At the end of the night, the remaining items can be returned to the original owner.  More times than not, I will collect the remaining items – which is about twenty-five garments – and donate them to the local non-profit where I volunteer.  The non-profit has served our community for twenty years.  Most everyone wants to support their mission, which is to dress women, men, and children who are transitioning to a life of self-reliance.  Swappers have an option to receive a donation receipt for their taxes, which I get prior approval from the non-profit, before issuing.

A Warm & Grateful Thank You

The following morning, I send out an email thanking everyone for joining the Women’s Clothing Swap and offer a few words of encouragement.  This is what I wrote:

Wow, what a night!  Thank you, a million times, for making last night special on so many levels.

We gathered in community.
We shared a meal.
We repurposed items from our closet.
We kept those items out of the landfill.
We learned {a little} about mending and caring for our garments.
We donated to a local non-profit.
We are very proud of ourselves {and I am proud of you too}!

Last night the seed was planted.  Together we can grow the sustainability movement one tiny step at a time.  Share what you are doing with others.  Know that you too can host a clothing swap.  Let people know near and far they can host a clothing swap. Sustainability can be simple, we just need to START.  Let me be your guide!