More swapping, less shopping!

In 2021 I’m sure I don’t have to lecture you about the state of our climate and the day-to-day decisions that we as individuals make to worsen our situation. As someone who has always loved fashion and bought just about every item of leopard print clothing out there, I know how difficult it can be when you finally wake up and realise you are part of the problem. With 300,000 tonnes of clothing going to landfill every year in the UK, we should all ideally be changing the way we shop. Most consumers nowadays are familiar with Depop, Vinted, Ebay and the many other outlets that let you advertise clothes, but what if you’d rather swap them for something new? 

Yes, it would be better to discard the ‘out with the old, in with the new’ mindset entirely and reduce our consumption of clothing altogether, but for many consumers, the all or nothing approach just doesn’t work. Flexibility and gradual progress is the key to making a difference. As Second-hand September comes to a close, what better way to get involved than getting rid of items and swapping them for new ones! With that in mind, I decided to visit a swap shop in London, aptly named, SwapNation.

The sign outside of SwapNation

Located in Shoreditch, SwapNation is a self-proclaimed “community of UK Swappers, rotating our wardrobes and saving items from landfill”. They offer both an online and in-store swapping outlet where fashion lovers can find new gems without experiencing as much guilt alongside it. If you’ve never swapped before, whether that be at SwapNation or any swap shop, the ‘Double Trouble’ ticket is your best option for in person swapping. You pay £16 for 30 mins (although the girls in the shop are so lovely that if you need a little longer, they hardly kick you out on the dot). In my experience for example, I was the only swapper present as I chose one of their late afternoon slots on a weekday. Although it wasn’t busy, this did give me the chance to have a lovely chat with SwapNation founder Montana Marshall, who assured me that on weekends, the store hosts a bustling community of swappers who can socialise, try things on together and share ideas and items in general. What kind of fast fashion retailer could offer you that?

My biggest tip would be to bring extra things to swap just in case you don’t have enough tickets for your desired items – after all, the staff encourage you to not simply purchase more tickets online as this disregards the point of swapping rather than shopping! It’s also a good idea to bring extra in the event that any of your items don’t meet the SwapNation standards of quality. If any clothes or shoes you want to swap in have holes, bobbles or are in dire condition, it’s very unlikely they’ll be accepted. Aside from this, the ticket system works by giving things from fast-fashion brands such as Missguided or Zara a lower ticket number (meaning they are worth less) and vintage items made of a more sustainable material a higher number (making them more valuable or expensive depending on if you’re swapping in or out!) Therefore, knowing how many tickets you have to spend before browsing is a good way to ensure you don’t get your hopes up about any items you can’t afford to swap. If this does happen (like it did to me) there is an option to purchase 5 tickets for £8 online, but as previously mentioned, the staff are reluctant to let you do this more than once as that’s basically just buying the item. 

Items are exchanged within a ‘tokens’ system, with vintage items worth more than fast fashion

On the day, I chose the ‘window swapper’ ticket so I could ensure there was something in the shop to my taste. I would advise doing this as it gives you 15 minutes of browsing for free, although you run the risk of finding items you adore before being told you don’t have enough tickets for them! I swapped in a pair of Zara straight leg trousers which were a gorgeous bubblegum pink, but way too low-waist for me to ever pull off. Choosing my second item to swap was tough as I had brought two backup options. I eventually decided on a pair of FILA short dungarees that looked straight out of a 90’s music video. It was hard to let these go but considering I had to put an extra hole in my belt for them to fit me, I just knew someone else would give them a better life.

I finally decided on FILA short dungarees…

This is perhaps what I loved most about SwapNation, the attitude that it persuades you to adopt; do I really need this or could someone else make better use of it? I swapped these items in for a lingerie-esque dress (which I have since worn as a top and gotten many compliments on) and a pair of vintage leather trousers. As both of these swaps weren’t contributing to fast-fashion, they cost more tickets than I had so in order to ‘purchase’ them, I bought 5 more tickets online. I did leave behind a green maxi dress which would’ve been perfect for a wedding next summer but ultimately, I didn’t have enough tickets for either.

After exploring Shoreditch for a few more hours with two other potential swaps in my bag, I couldn’t help but feel like I wasn’t making the most of the opportunity. Thus I found myself returning to the shop having purchased yet another £16 ‘double trouble’ ticket to swap in a Ralph Lauren polo top and a pair of ASOS checked trousers. In return, I left with the green dress I so desired and a pair of corduroy trousers which fit me perfectly! 

I left with the green dress I so desired

In total, I spent £40 that day, meaning SwapNation is arguably not the cheapest of ways to get rid of your clothes. Having said this, I could’ve easily spent the same amount or more on the same items I left with and still have items I don’t want at home. At least this way I had found a new home for my unwanted pieces (and received a free tote bag!). If this still doesn’t convince you that the service is worth it,  their online service allows you to sign up for a free account where you can swap one item per month. Montana assured me that the physical store will remain in Shoreditch until October for definite, with the potential of a return just in time for Christmas. The online service however will, as far as I’m aware, continue to be available to all. 

So, think sustainably and get swapping!

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