Earth Action: organize a clothing exchange

Earth911 honors 52 years of Earth Day with 52 Earth Actions. Each week leading up to Earth Day 2023, we’ll share one action you can take to invest in the Earth and make your own life more sustainable. This week, you can save money, build community, and even have fun by hosting a clothing swap.

Action: Organize a clothing exchange

The true cost of clothing

Your clothes have a significant environmental impact. The textile industry is responsible for more than 8% global greenhouse gas emissions. Every year, 40 million tons textiles are discarded – many of which are never worn. It almost takes 3,000 liters of water make a cotton t-shirt and 3,781 liters of water to make jeans — yet as a natural fiber, cotton is a good choice of fabric (especially if you buy organic). More than half of our garments are made from petroleum-derived synthetic fibers that contribute 35% of all microplastic pollution in the oceans. After technological manufacturing, the garment industry is the second leading cause of modern slavery and child labor.

Retreating from fast fashion is the first step to making your wardrobe sustainable. But what you do when you’re done with your clothes is also important in reducing your impact.

Clothing community

A clothes swap is exactly what it sounds like – an event where people bring in their old clothes for others to take away and go home with clothes that other people have brought. In addition to extending the life of your clothes (and those of your friends), swapping used clothes also saves money and builds community.

Your clothing swap may be what works best for you and the people you invite. You can invite three or four friends who wear similar styles and sizes to bring five pieces of clothing each. Or you can invite your whole school community to bring children’s clothes that are still wearable. You can fill a yard or garage with tables and run it as a free swap encounter. You can offer wine and snacks in your living room and take turns exchanging items as if it were a holiday gift exchange.

Arrange a clothing swap

Whatever you decide, do it ground rules clear in advance. The only really hard and fast rule is that the clothes offered must be clean. Many people point out that the clothes should also be in good condition, but if you know a lot of people who sew, a recycling swap could also be a lot of fun.

It’s a good idea to set quantity guidelines so you don’t all end up buying from a friend’s closet. Martha Stewart recommends stock your shop so it is easy for customers to browse available items. Even if you don’t have spare racks handy, make sure you have clean, flat surfaces to put the clothes on, so people don’t have to rummage through piles of clothes on the floor . Try to provide a private space for people to try things on so they don’t get stuck with clothes that don’t fit. Have a plan for unclaimed items; donate to a thrift store or try a retail take-back program to keep leftover clothes out of the trash.

If your exchange is successful, consider making it an annual or even seasonal event.

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