The first vintage coat I bought when I was 18 years old, an ex’s beanie, a ‘proper’ suit purchased with my first paycheck: we don’t just wear clothes, we wear memories. Call me the HRH of overstatement, but my closet feels like a window into my soul. And yet, around about the time I banished yet another miscellaneous pile to cover what little space is left in my room, I couldn’t help but wonder - *insert Carrie Bradshaw’s dulcet tones - is this also only part of the story I tell myself? A bit of a cop out explanation for my forever-mounting stuff that just sits there, unworn and unloved, for years. (I fear I am fast turning into a subject of a Channel 4 documentary called Hoarders Paradise – which is, let’s face it, a soul-crushing prospect). So, when I heard about a clothes swapping party in East London – masterminded by Stories Behind Things; a storytelling platform that celebrates mindful ways of consuming – it seemed like an opportune moment to do the ‘does this sparks joy?’ test.
Swapping, swishing, switching… whichever your buzzword of choice, the sentiment is essentially the same – it means donating your pre-loved apparel in exchange for someone else’s (if you’re feeling super charitable, you can of course just donate). I hurriedly packed the old flames of my wardrobe the morning of the event - items that I had a sweet spot for once upon a time, but for whatever reason it was never meant to be a long-term thing. From vintage dresses that would mean I’d have to completely change my body type to fit into them to silk pyjama tops that still have tags on them - two years on.
I thought I’d feel sad donating them, but that was completely overshadowed by the sheer joy I felt spotting a girl in the corner, ‘purchasing’ a bright orange dress-coat I had bought three years ago and worn a grand total of two times (it’s not just me – according to research, 24% of unworn items in our closets were bought for a specific event with no plans to wear again). Among the heavily curated rails is a mix of high street and high-end designer dead stock, overproduced lines and samples. Word of advice; it can get a little ‘Monica Gellar fighting for her wedding dress’, as most items are one-offs, so get there early. For clothes swapping newbies, Stories Behind Things co-founder Jemma Finch answers all your questions on the Big Clothes Switch.
Stories Behind Things is a storytelling platform that celebrates mindful ways of consuming. We host experiences for our community to help empower conscious consumption; these include The Big Clothes Switch series, panels and workshops. We started the page wanting to reconnect to the material things around us, both Ella [Grace Denton] and I felt disconnected to the fast pace of consumption and fast fashion, so we created a space for true, honest and authentic stores. We grew our initial community online through simple storytelling, that lead to us starting to tell the stories of other positive brands that were going good for the planet and the people on it, which lead to what we are today. We are constantly growing and finding new ways to serve our purpose through offline events and online projects - more recently we signed our proudest project yet in partnership with BBC Earth, we are launching new panel series to explore different areas of sustainability. Keep your eyes peeled for 2020.
Spend an afternoon cleaning out your wardrobe. If you haven’t worn a piece in a year then put it into a clothes switch pile. That way, you’re always adding to a collection of pieces ready to bring to the next Big Clothes Switch. We encourage guests to bring high-quality pieces, something they would want to receive. Our first Switch was in a venue in Hackney, we had absolutely no idea what we were doing! We got some rails and hangers and invited everyone we knew - we ended up with hundreds and hundreds of clothes, our friend DJing, and a marketplace. It was so much fun and a huge success, but since then we have refined and streamlined the event to be what it is today. My first experience switching was the one we hosted - it didn’t exist when we started so we were creating an experience that we would want; from there it grew and grew. Many people host swaps in a more relaxed ‘one for one’ sense which is a lot of fun. [Though] what we are trying to do is replace the feeling of shopping in a beautiful store environment and create a seamless experience.
We pride ourselves on having a unique and beautiful collection of clothes we source for each event, we do this by working with fashion brands who donate dead stock, overproduced lines and sample pieces to us. This way, we have gathered the most amazing collection of clothing for each event, you’ll often find that 60% + of the stock are ‘new’. We curate the rails and steam each piece before it enters the shop floor. Our clothes switches are a social event, we have complimentary drinks and snacks for our community to enjoy, people often come alone and talk to other guests - everyone there is interested in living more sustainably and it’s a great conversation starter.
Our token system grades each piece that comes into the event, meaning you can trade within the same value band as what you bring. It means we encourage guests to bring high quality pieces to allow them the most freedom when choosing their ‘new’ pieces. Brands such as Urban Outfitters, Harvey Nichols, Joseph, Gap, Monki, ARKET and more have supported us - we have long standing relationships with many brands who are looking to out their unused stock to use.
Shopping like this makes you fall in love with pieces in a way that you just don’t on the high street. Knowing that every single piece on the floor is one of a kind brings a different kind of joy and excitement to the experience. It makes you really think about whether you want it in your life or not. Moreover, it’s totally guilt-free - you are entering into a beautiful circular way of consuming. We’ve seen with things like Uber and renting that the sharing economy is the way forward, so it’s natural for this to flow into the fashion industry, too. And more than anything, it’s a fun experience - we love seeing our community factor in that we host The Big Clothes Switch every two months (the next event in London is in March) - it’s totally changed the way they consume. Their desire to hit the high streets has decreased and this feels like a more memorable and personal experience for them.
We encourage guests to look for a piece that you know you’ll wear over and over, when you see something that you can imagine wearing to many occasions across different seasons. Picture layering it up, wearing it with both summer and winter jackets, if it fits all the above factors then that’s the piece for you. My favourite item I got at a switching event was a Burberry trench - I find they are so tricky to source second hand, when I found that I knew that was my special piece.
IMAGES COURTESY OF STORIES BEHIND THINGS