A Swapping Sensation


The fast fashion industry is one of the greatest contributors to the ever-growing climate change crisis. Donating to thrift stores is one of the most recognizable ways of donating clothes, as the act of buying clothes second-hand has increased in modern times.  Goodwill is one of the biggest donees for clothes but isn’t the most reliable for clothing disposal. Clothing swap culture is one of the growing subcultures that doesn’t have as much recognition.


Thrifting has been one of my favorite activities to do in my pastimes. It is a great place for buying secondhand clothing and other goods. It is a soothing activity to do with friends. Shopping at thrift stores is a more environmentally friendly way to buy clothes than buying clothes at chain retailers and most online clothing stores. Clothing swaps, a phenomenon I recently heard about,  are another great way to get secondhand clothes. Clothing swaps are “People with surplus, unused, or leftover clothing and garments meet at a market place”(Clothing Swap: Meaning and Significance, 2022). As the fast fashion industry accelerates at an alarmingly fast rate, more and more cheap-quality clothes are mass-produced. Leading to them being thrown into landfills or incinerated. “Motives for recycling clothes can range from altruistic (e.g., donating to a clothing drive for the poor or victims of a natural disaster) to economic (e.g., selling clothes online, at a consignment shop or donating to obtain a tax deduction).”Yet other individuals might be motivated by concern for the environment(Long and Fain, 2015) . Clothes exchanged in clothing swaps are destined to find a new owner. But what brings a person to swap clothing instead of donating to a local Goodwill? Let’s find out.


I regularly volunteer at WordUp, a volunteer-run community bookstore in Washington Heights. On their official Instagram page, I found a post announcing a clothing swap at one of their locations. Hosted by Nasty New Yorkers, an environmental group, and We Run Uptown, a community running group. Both are based in New York City. With the help of one of my superiors at WordUp, I got consent to observe and conduct interviews but only limited to the founders of the two groups. They advised me to not interview the other staff members, as they will be running around doing various things. Interviewing the participants also wasn’t an option because only so many people were allowed inside at a time, as they had a set amount of time to look through the clothing.


As I got off the 1 train at 157th Street,  I approached the event and encountered some chalk writings and a sign on the sidewalk. They were signaling to go forward.

These were made to keep people on track since the location is closer to the highway, consisting of residential buildings and a few stores. Getting closer and closer, there’s a big line of at least 25 people waiting patiently outside. The age demographic seemed no younger than 20 years old. This must be it. A lot more people than I expected to see waiting outside. Someone passionately shouts, “Are you ready for the Uptown Closet?!” Through a megaphone. I let the volunteer near the door know I’m from WordUp and I go in. Loud music blaring through the speakers (I should’ve brought my earplugs). Overstimulated, I headed to the cash register desk and dropped my belongings off. I wave at my coworkers and take a minute to settle. Thankfully the organizations have volunteers of their own in this event, giving me time to observe.


Walking around, there’s a desk at the entrance—multiple people sitting there, giving out a set amount of tickets per participant. To the right, there’s a drink stand monitored by two people. Both alcoholic and nonalcoholic soft drinks of various kinds were served for free, with the choice of making it a cocktail. I didn’t get a drink because I was trying to cut down on sugar. To the right, there were racks of clothing to browse through. I asked a coworker to see one of the organizers. “Oh sure!” She escorts me to one of the event organizers, Dahlia. She’s the founder of Nasty New Yorkers, an environmental protection organization. Overall, this feels more like a house party than a casual community event; The DJ playing music and people standing around while having casual conversations with each other. Also, this clothing swap is far different from a traditional clothing swap in terms of the “exchanging method”. People walk in, get their tickets, get free clothes, and enjoy a free cocktail on the side. This method is more output than input in terms of exchange.

I regain my energy and head to the clothing racks. A volunteer from one of the organizers asked if I needed anything while I was glancing at the clothing racks. I introduced myself and asked if there was anyone from their organization I could speak to. She gladly escorted me to this person and introduced me to her. We walked to a space near the bathroom to conduct the interview.

Interview #1

“Can you briefly tell me who you are and what are you doing here?”

So my name is Solace and I run an Instagram account, a grassroots group called Nasty New Yorkers. We essentially repost other people’s clothing swaps and community cleanups so that other people can get involved in small environmental actions.

And what is your stance on the environment and people throwing away their clothes?

So I feel very privileged that I was able to travel to Ghana last summer, and I actually saw firsthand beaches there that are filled with waste from our country, and it’s all clothing waste that’s all over their beaches. You can’t swim; the beaches are unswimmable because there’s so much clothing waste. It was really devastating seeing it firsthand and it made me want to work on projects that are more like this. Like clothing swaps so that we could eliminate sending our secondhand clothes to places like Ghana. Instead, of just recirculating them through our economy.

The interview is briefly interrupted by an announcement in Spanish that I can’t fully translate due to the limits of my amateurish understanding of Spanish. But I understood it was telling others that people are only allowed to shop for 5 minutes since many people were waiting outside, ending with “Enjoy your shopping!”

The interview commences

Do you feel like there’s a difference between donating to big second-hand stores like Goodwill and swapping clothes at a clothing swap?

Yes, so there’s kind of a hierarchy when it comes to donating clothes. The #1 best way to donate clothes is that it’s always going directly to a person who you know. So there are local organizations; you can donate to them. Give it directly to people in need right away. For instance, today at the end of this event, all the leftover clothes are going to be donated to an organization by next Saturday. It’s going to be given and distributed to people in need here, in New York City. That’s the best thing you can do. Donating to places like Salvation Army and Goodwill- when their stores are too packed or if they just decide they don’t need anything, they pack bundles and that’s when things get sold and shipped to places like Ghana and then the waste ends up in beaches.

I thank Solace and head back to the main room. 

I head to the clothing racks. A volunteer from one of the organizers asked if I needed anything while I was glancing at the clothing racks. I introduced myself and asked if there was anyone from their organization I could speak to. She gladly escorted me to this person and introduced me to her. We walked to a space near the bathroom to conduct the interview.

Interview #2

My name is Amber, and I am the organizer and founder of Uptown Closet, and we are hosting Uptown’s first annual public clothing swap! We Run Uptown is a group and a community-building organization and we host cleanups, we host runs, fitness events and this is our first ever clothing swap, so that we can keep clothes in the community, out of landfills and provide the service to everyone uptown.

So what’s the difference between shopping in a clothing store and participating in a clothing swap?

In a clothing store, you shop for brand new clothes that have never been used and you’re paying these companies for the product. In a clothing swap, people get clothes that are in good condition that they no longer want. Let’s say they wanna change their style, they lost weight, they gained weight, whatever reason and they bring it to an event so they can swap with other people, friends, family and locals. We keep clothes out of landfills and we are able to swap clothes for free, keeping clothes local and for the community.

Is this your first time organizing this kind of event? Have you done it for years?

This is the very first time organizing a clothing swap on this scale. Before, I organized clothing swaps with friends and family coming over to our apartments and hanging out, but this is our first time we organized it for the public.

What is your goal with this clothing swap?

My goal is to provide everyone uptown with free clothing, no charge and be able to meet people, socialize, and learn more about sustainability and provide a service to anyone in need. 


From my interviews with Solace and Amber,  they think very highly of where an owner’s previously acquired clothes end up when they no longer want them—organizing clothing swaps to ease the clothing pollution of the environment. From a survey about a study of the different methods of disposing of clothing, “respondents are interested in more convenient and sustainable options for clothing disposal”(Dengelstein and Mcqueen, and Krogman, 2021). By setting up more clothing swaps for the public across different communities, less clothing will be thrown away as a result of this convenience. Another study states “The clothing swap culture provides benefits to its participants as it allows swappers to connect in a personal way through the giving and receiving that is required of swapping”(Matthews and Hodges 2016) . Not only do you help the environment, but you also get to socialize and possibly meet other like-minded people who also highly value the environment. It’s like a 2-in-1 deal!

As for the clothing deposition, they both favor swapping at clothing meets rather than donating to big thrift stores. Though I realized I asked different questions for each person, there’s a consensus that personally giving clothes to a different person gives the most benefits, emotionally and environmentally. “Data suggest that idealism and environmental sustainability (Akbar et al., 2016) are the main drivers, as it allows “taking a stance and simply not engaging in this system (throwing clothes away) anymore”(Henninger, Bürklin, and Niinimäki 2019)

I thanked her for her time and headed back to the clothing racks with excitement. Now here’s

 what I’ve been waiting for. There were 4 racks of various types of clothing in that corner, with volunteers adding more clothes as the shopping continued. Jeans, dresses, t-shirts, crop tops, sweatpants of different sizes. I eventually found 2 pieces of clothing that caught my eye. I snag them and get a bag. Volunteers get 2 pieces of clothing by the way.

I spend the rest of the event sitting and relaxing, as one of the volunteers makes an announcement. Thanking all the participants and volunteers across the different organizations for their cooperation. Announcing they have “sold” over 1000 pounds of clothing. They take a group picture and that’s the event. Though I couldn’t fully utilize this event and get a full feel of this subculture, I had a great time.

Well that’s it. I got a glimpse of what the clothing swapping environment is, and found some motives behind disposing clothes and how altruism can drive others to collaborate and save the environment.


Personal Interviews, March 24, 2024

Clothing Swap: Meaning and Significance. (2022). Www.tutorialspoint.com. https://www.tutorialspoint.com/clothing-swap-meaning-and-significance

Matthews, D., & Hodges, N. N. (2016). Clothing Swaps: An Exploration of Consumer Clothing Exchange Behaviors. Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal, 45(1), 91–103. https://doi.org/10.1111/fcsr.12182

Degenstein, L. M., McQueen, R. H., & Krogman, N. T. (2021). ‘What goes where’? Characterizing Edmonton’s municipal clothing waste stream and consumer clothing disposal. Journal of Cleaner Production, 296, 126516-. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2021.126516

Henninger, C. E., Bürklin, N., & Niinimäki, K. (2019). The clothes swapping phenomenon – when consumers become suppliers. Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management, 23(3), 327–344. https://doi.org/10.1108/JFMM-04-2018-0057

Long, M. M., & Fain, D. (2015). The clothing swap: Social, sustainable, and sacred.