All You Need for the Perfect Clothes Swap: a How-to Guide
If you’re like most people, your closet is probably brimming with barely worn pieces that you still love but just don’t wear. Whether it’s because of size, taste, fit, or some other reason, you just don’t get to the bottom of your wardrobe. That’s when it hits you – it’s time for a clothes swap.
There are essentially two types of swaps: private and public.
- Private clothes swap. A closed party gathering with just your friends.
- Public clothes swap. A community event open to all (and what we’re talking about in this post).
This guide will give you everything you need for a perfect clothes swap, from start to finish.
Before the clothes swap
There are a few things you need to consider before your swap to make sure it’s a success. I’ll walk you through the essential steps you need to take in order to be prepared on the day.
Time is on your side
Most importantly, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to plan your first swap. Six weeks will give you enough time to rope in volunteers, find a venue, plan the event, and spread the word.
Help – you need somebody!
Running a clothes swap on your own is really hard, if not impossible. From set-up to advertising to upfront costs, you’ll want someone (or lots of someones!) with you on this journey.
Rope in your friends, colleagues, family or neighbours – the more the merrier! Just make sure you’re both honest about how much work the event will be and how much time you’re willing to invest.
Before you go too far into the planning process, you’ll want to make sure you’ve set a budget for the event. While you can get some things donated and maybe even a free venue, there will inevitably be costs involved. Set yourself a realistic budget to make sure the event is perfect for you and your wallet, too.
Who’s in the crowd?
One of the first steps for your perfect clothes swap is to decide who it’s for. It’s important to be clear from the start so you can make the right choices on day, time and venue.
You’ll want to think about the age, gender, and geography of your participants.
Will you have men’s and women’s clothing? Will it be aimed at university students? Is it just for your neighbourhood or is the whole city welcome?
The answer to these questions can be ‘all of the above’! But either way, you need to take this into account when designing your event.
It’s a date
When you hold your clothes swap is entirely up to you. Your audience and volunteers, however, will help you narrow it down.
It goes without saying (but it’s worth bearing in mind!) that you want to make sure everyone you want there – like friends, family, and volunteers – can make it. It’s no use getting a perfect venue and a great day and time but then having no helpers on hand on the day.
Your audience also determines your day and time. If it’s targeted at new mums, 10 am on a Tuesday isn’t a bad idea. However, if you’re hoping that those working full-time jobs will attend, then this isn’t a great option. Think about when your audience is most likely to attend and try to get as close to this as possible in your planning.
Pick a place
Naturally, your day and time will also be limited by venue availability. Here are a few ideas for places that you might want to check out:
- Community hall or space
- Dance studio
- Local restaurant, pub or bar (they will often have private spaces for hire)
- Local shop
- Public buildings (like a town hall or library)
- Places of worship
It’s also helpful if the venue comes with tables and chairs – and, if you’re lucky, it might even have rails!
Before you settle on your perfect venue, however, make sure you’ve thought about budget. If you aren’t going to charge for entry (see below), you will be paying the full amount for the venue. If you are able to get somewhere for free, even better!
Top tip: Don’t forget about accessibility. If the venue isn’t fully accessible, then it’s probably not the right option. You want your swap to be as inclusive as possible!
Your venue will determine how you are able to set up the items for your clothes swap. Will you be able to lay all of the items out on tables? Do you need to bring your own tables? Would you prefer rails? And, if so, do you need to bring your own rails and hangers?
You can get rails fairly inexpensively on ebay (secondhand!), but borrowing is even better. Just remember that if you bring your own items (such as hangers) to the event, you need to take them home with you again. I’ve lost a few of our best hangers to clothes swap events!
It’s also ideal if you can get a full-length mirror. Trust me, people will ask!
It’s always best to start your clothes swap with a ‘float’, or a set of clothes ready to be swapped. That way, even the very first guests have some items to look at and don’t have to wait for others to arrive to be able to swap.
A float can be small or large, depending on how big your event will be. I try to have a few pieces in each swap category – shirts, trousers, skirts, tops, etc.
You can get your float from your own closet (see the intro!), as well as friends and family. Even asking colleagues can be great – and it’s a way to subtly promote your event.
Now, the boring part. Here are some questions to ask yourself to set out the ground rules for your event. Try to have these clearly set out before and during your event, to avoid any disappointment or confusion.
Will you charge? This can offset some of the costs of your swap, but it can also discourage people from coming. If you’re charging, will you donate the money you earn? Where will it go?
Will you grade clothing? Some swaps only allow like-for-like swaps, meaning items have to be of a similar quality to enable the swap. Is this important to you? If so, consider having a ‘red, yellow, green’ system, where red means it’s a bit rough and green means it’s almost new.
What can people bring, and how much? It’s best to be clear about what you will and won’t accept at your swap. For example, will you have shoes, jewellery and children’s clothes?
I also limit how many items can be brought to the swap, to avoid overcrowding. Five is usually a good number. If you don’t set a limit, you might end up with suitcases full of clothing at the end of the event.
What happens if someone doesn’t swap all of their items? It’s highly likely that someone will come with a certain number of items, but not find that number to take home with them. If this is the case, it’s best to have a plan in place.
I ask that all clothes brought to the swap are donated, and then bring whatever is left to a charity shop (minus a float, of course).
Top tip: Be clear on your rules from the start. Write them down in both your event invitation and print them out to post around your venue on the day.
You’re almost ready, now you just need people to come!
There are lots of great ways to promote your clothes swap. Consider putting your event on a public site (such as Eventbrite), to attract more people. Use local forums to connect with your community. And, of course, tell all of your friends and family.
All social media channels also come in handy for promotion. Get your friends and family sharing your posts, too, to maximise your impact.
You can also print out flyers for the local area, advertising your event. Hanging these in local shops a few weeks in advance will get regulars thinking about your swap.
You can also hand out flyers exactly a week before your event just outside the venue. The people you reach are likely to be comfortable in the area, and are therefore more likely to attend on the day. However, flyering isn’t ideal as it requires you to print lots of paper, and we’re trying to cut down on waste!
On the day of the clothes swap
Get up and set up
It’s finally here, the day of your clothing swap! Arrive at your venue early to get everything set up. Make sure your volunteers arrive early with you, too.
It’s best if you can get everything set up in sections. Tops, bottoms, jackets, and dresses should all get their own sections. Consider if you want to separate men’s and women’s or adult’s and children’s. Lay out your float as neatly as possible, leaving room for the new items that will arrive with your attendees.
If you are grading your items, make sure this is indicated. A coloured sticker (red, yellow, green) is great for this.
You’ll want to have a Drop Desk, too, where swappers can drop-off their items. Have tokens (such as buttons or pennies) at the ready for when swappers arrive. Make sure these are coloured, if you are grading your items.
How it works
Here’s the fun part – the actual swap! I find this how-to guide handy and often have a version printed and posted in the venue.
- Swappers drop off their items at the Drop Desk, which is staffed by you or a volunteer. The item is assessed to make sure it’s swappable, and graded if you are having a quality-based system.
- For every item the swapper has brought, they receive a token. If graded, the token will be coloured depending on the quality of their item.
- Swappers browse the rails and find the pieces they like. Once they are satisfied, they can return to the Drop Desk and exchange their tokens for the items they have chosen.
It’s that simple!
Take some time to reflect on the event. Invite your volunteers around for a coffee or a drink and chat about what worked and what was challenging. And don’t forget to thank them!
And if you’ve collected some cash from the event, make sure you donate this to your chosen charity.
Finally, if you’re keen to do it again, consider setting up a social media account for your clothes swaps. This will help spread the word and allow people who have attended to know when your next one will be!
Get started! Clothes swaps are a great way to get the community together to think about sustainable and ethical fashion. It’s also a fun way to get rid of those pieces that are overflowing in your wardrobe.