Take my clothes. Please

S.W.A.P. meet phenomenon hits Calgary

Necole Hines is wicked excited about a monster pile of garbage bags and boxes in a northwest storage unit. She’s not a trash enthusiast however. Quite to the contrary the contents of these bags are being diverted from the landfill. The S.W.A.P. Calgary director and her army of volunteers have collected 147 bags and boxes of used clothing to be traded at the city’s first-ever Take Off Your Clothes swap meet. If she ever had any doubt that it would be a hit this massive stack of tradable togs has put those to rest. And there’ll be more items added on the day of the event.

The S.W.A.P. organization has a history — suitably brief — of exploding popularity. Founded in Montreal in 2007 it’s now an international phenomenon. The non-profit group packaged its clothing swap model and sent it out into the world after testing public reception to progressively larger events.

Aleece Germano is one of the organization’s founders who launched it as a non-profit volunteer-run social enterprise in June 2009. “The recession forced people to re-evaluate their spending habits and even question what and why they were buying new” she says. The organization has established chapters across Canada the U.S. Australia and has donated nearly 8000 garments to its charity sidekick the Salvation Army.

“It really shows how we can accomplish great things together by uniting for a common goal” says Germano. “The more we swap the more we can all feel great about how much clothing we’re donating to charity and keeping out of the landfills — not to mention saving money and natural resources.”

Clothes swapping is also a fun way to refresh one’s wardrobe or to try out a new look without a heavy price tag she says. “There’s something in it for everyone who participates even if that just means more space in one’s closet.”

The rules are simple: take clean gently-worn clothes to designated drop-off areas call for pickup or simply take them with you to the event. You’ll be given one ticket for each tradable item and can exchange these one-to-one for new-to-you garments. Much of the donated clothing though in good shape is not suitable for swapping. All these items plus leftovers will be donated to the Salvation Army for sale in its thrift stores. Proceeds will be used to fund the organization’s many local social programs.

Hines joined S.W.A.P. for its charity aspect recycling ethos and anti-consumerist bent. She also digs deals. “I love the hunt” she says. “I love to do the consignment shopping buying really cool expensive designer clothing for dirt cheap. This is even better because it’s pretty much free.” The event she explains has a $5-entry fee but participants can potentially walk out with new clothing for every item they show up with.

So far the participants who’ve signed on are a mixed group meaning there should be plenty of clothes for all tastes. Seniors and couples with used kids’ clothes have joined an initial flood of single twenty- and thirty-somethings.

Germano explains that Montreal’s 2009 Take Off Your Clothes featured lots of cute dresses jeans tops skirts shorts sunglasses and shoes but also cool finds like a pair of vintage Missoni sunglasses and a black-and-white houndstooth shalwar kameez.

The 2010 Calgary event will have its own hidden treasures including new outfits donated by local independent designers like Heather Bitonti. “You might just find a gem” says Hines. More broadly she says expect loads of brand-name threads like Gap and Mexx and many high-quality vintage clothes. Many items are in shockingly good condition some with original price tags in place.

Take Off Your Clothes featuring the DJ stylings of Modi$club will be held at Belgo on May 15 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more details visit theswapteam.org