Q&A with Clothing Swap Founder Suzanne Agasi

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In the last 15 years, Suzanne Agasi has bought a grand total of two pairs of jeans—and she loves jeans. Most of Agasi’s wardrobe comes free of charge from clothing swaps she’s helped organize as the founder of Clothing Swap.

A clothing swap is a fairly self-explanatory event: You bring clothes you no longer want to a place where you swap them with other folks doing the same thing with their old clothes (and belts and shoes and accessories). The idea, which saves people money and cuts down on waste, just plain makes sense in today’s environmentally-conscious, recession-dampened atmosphere—similar to the way people are bartering for items and sharing things like cars, and also to the way we’re buying less bottled water. It is indeed possible to be green and save some green at the same time. The motto of Agasi’s organization is: “Be good. Be green. Be glam!”

Clothing swaps take many forms. Some involve just a handful of friends flipping through a bunch of clothes plopped on a bed. Other swaps, like the ones arranged by Agasi, are more organized, with hundreds of eager swappers whooping it up on fun girlfriend evenings out. After starting out with a few tiny swaps in her home, Agasi has since hosted more than 200 clothing exchanges in cities around the country. Nowadays, the swaps typically take place in nightclubs or hotel suites where participants can sip cocktails and get manicures while waiting for clothing to be put on hangers and displayed. Each participant pays $20 or $30—a “fashion stimulus,” Agasi calls it—and then you can scoop up all the clothes you like. All of the leftovers are donated to charity.

Agasi discussed how to put together a clothing swap, and how to be a savvy swapper, with The Cheapskate Blog.

Cheapskate: What suggestions do you have for a first-time swapper coming to one of your swaps?

Suzanne Agasi: First, clean out your closet. I mean really clean it out. Take a hard look at what’s in there. Have you worn it in the last year? Does it fit? Are you sick of it? We tend to wear 20 percent of our clothes 80 percent of the time. It’s that 80 percent of your wardrobe that you don’t wear that you need to go through. Some items are nostalgic, but be honest: Are you ever going to wear it? You’ll probably find some stuff with tags still on them. Bring everything you can part with down to the swap.

But first, please—and I cannot stress this enough—wash the clothes beforehand. Things that have been sitting in closets or up in attics smell like, well, like they’ve been sitting in closets or up in attics. Bring only clothes that are freshly laundered. You wouldn’t want to bring home someone else’s dirty clothes, would you?

CS: Any tips on how to get the most out of a swap?

SA: This is your opportunity to refresh your wardrobe. I’ve never bought anything Prada, but I have some now. There are no set rules at my swaps as to how much you can take home. But as we say, “Bring what you have; take what you love.” You should try things on first to check the fit and see if you really like it. Don’t be wasteful and take things that are only going to wind up being thrown away. Then again, if you don’t like something, you can always bring it back to another swap.

But before the swapping, the women who come to our swaps come to have fun. The swaps are three hours long, and they’re meant to be social and friendly. We have spa treatments, local hair stylists, cocktails, DJs, places to get your nails done. During the first hour, the ladies can hang out with a cocktail and get a neck rub while our sorters gather the clothing and put them on hangers and organize them. We organize by item, not size. We try to make the place look like a mini boutique.

Then it’s on to the swap. Again, my recommendation is for people to only take what they’re going to wear.

CS: What’s the scene like once the swapping starts? Do you need to move quickly to snag the best items?

SA: The scene is something like locusts in high heels. It’s not total madness, but it is fun. It’s a treasure hunt. Some women grab things from stores they’d never shop in, like Forever 21, and love what they find.

Women usually come in little groups—either old girlfriends, or mothers and daughters. Some of the people who come haven’t been out with just the girls in forever. They haven’t had their nails down in years. And they’ve been trying to save money by not buying clothes during the recession. So coming to a swap can be a real treat for a lot of women.

CS: What charities do you donate excess clothing to?

SA: We work with a number of different local non-profits. My advice to anyone putting together a swap would be to make sure that a charity actually wants clothes. Some don’t, or don’t when you want to donate. Also, some charities do pick-up, while others don’t. If they don’t, and you’re hosting a swap and wind up with 20 extra bags of clothes, you’ve got to figure out a way to get the clothes where they need to go. The whole idea of a clothing swap is to refresh your wardrobe and to not waste anything.