In this sharing economy, Jane Larkworthy considers how to extend the Swap.
For years, I’ve been part of a clothing swap with a bunch of girlfriends. Lest the name not already be fully self-explanatory, it’s basically a gathering that takes place about once or twice a year, where everyone brings clothes that have resided untouched in their closets despite being perfectly wearable—just not by its owner, who, during a momentary aberration, purchased the item against her better judgment.
We all turn up at the meeting place, dragging a suitcase or two behind us, then lay our pieces out and proceed to find someone who will love and cherish them in a way we never could. One might almost call it a clothing rescue if it weren’t for the intention of reciprocity.
“Laura,” I might call out as I scan the room, trying to tantalize with a skirt clipped to the hanger in my hand—a skirt that is completely not me. “Is this you?”
The likelihood of Laura saying yes is about 50% for me. Actually, that’s a lie. Except for a few notables over the years, my stuff doesn’t usually swap like hotcakes, so I feel fortunate to continue to be invited. Other swappers rate higher than my 50%—either because they’re more selective in what they bring or because they’re of that magic subset who never make shopping mistakes, but are nevertheless ready to move a few pieces out to share with us, their lucky friends.
There are no hard-and-fast rules at the swap. If I give something to you, you don’t have to find something in your stash for me, per se, but making someone else in the room swap-happy does keep the clothing karma in a healthy balance. To that point, the atmosphere is one of encouragement and helpful, delicate honesty. How do these trousers of Alix’s look on me? No? Okay, who wants to try them next? Everyone should leave excited about their new item(s), and, if nothing else, leave with, if not a less heavy suitcase, then one full of new shit she’s procured.
My friend Christine Muhlke hosted the last one (come to think of it, she always hosts; I’d offer to take over, but there’s always good wine and delicious food, so I selfishly hesitate…), and one of the swappers brought along some beauty products. Needless to say, they were a huge hit, but along with being duh-struck that I had not thought to do this, the notion of branching out stuck with me.
Fast-forward to last week’s dinner at Otway, Claire Welles’ new American bistro in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. Le Creuset and Cherry Bombe magazine’s Kerry Diamond hosted a room of female foodies, and across from me sat Julia Sherman, of @saladforpresident fame and a fellow swap member. She smiled when she saw me and held up her sleeve.
“This is from the swap!” she happily announced.
I decided to test the idea that had been swirling in my head for days. “What do you think about doing a pantry swap?” I asked.
Three women who’d been engaged in other conversations at the long table stopped and turned to us.
“That is a great idea!” enthused Klancy Miller, author of Cooking Solo.
Lacy Hawkins, brand ambassador for Monkey 47 Gin, asked, “What kind of pantry stuff are you talking about?”
I’m talking about the kitchen one-offs. If I pulled out all the items in our pantry that have been used only once, I bet I’d have dozens. We like to experiment with new dishes, which often require specific ingredients that I, for one, have never heard of (Demerara sugar? who’s with me on this?). If a new dish is a hit, it gets added to our roster. On the other hand, if it’s just meh, we un-dog-ear the page in the cookbook, but are then subsequently stuck with pricey boxes and bags from which only one or two teaspoons have been extracted.
“Well, Za’atar,” I offered, as an example. “It’s just something we just don’t cook with much.”
Lacy’s eyes lit up. “I make za’atar hummus all the time!”
“Whereas, I never do.” I shrugged back. “It’s yours. I’ll DM you if we do this.”
But then I got to thinking of all those beauty products in my closet that I’ve tried once or twice, and how they surpass my Demerara sugar and za’atar inventory tenfold.
“What about hardly used beauty products..?”
Three guesses on how that went over.
“Fragrance!” food writer Tarajia Morrell offered. “I’ll wear something a few times, but then I’ll realize that it’s not really me.”
“And I can only use Rahua on my hair,” Julia chimed in. (Turns out, it doesn’t contain cocamidopropyl while most do). So, heads up, Rahua. Julia’s your biggest fan. All others, she’ll bring to the swap.
Now, if the idea of a beauty swap grosses you out, get over your Purrel-ed self and consider these caveats: First, manage your list. Invite your beauty-zealot friends and ask them to be considerate and hygienically thoughtful about what they bring. Also, just like the clothes, one’s Nope is another’s Outta my way! It’s MINE! Moreover, sometimes products need explanations—how to use, or why they’re being tossed. With its former owner present, you can learn of a product’s genesis, as well as its former owner’s trepidations about it. But, generally speaking, for low-risk factors, categories like hair, shower gels, body lotions, fragrances and candles lead the way, but probably best to leave the mascaras, lash serums and lip stuff at home.
What’s even cooler than getting new stuff (or stuff that’s new to you) is the fact that swaps help decrease waste. If you are able to toss a half-used bottle of conditioner into the trash, consider yourself privileged, but also consider yourself wasteful. A swap can help skim waste levels, if even a tiny bit.
“Swaps speak to the whole sharing economy,” says my friend Lauren. Like Uber, Citibike and AirBnB, swaps fall into this huge and growing trend, which can be expanded in so many ways. We each own a treasure trove of something; we might just not see it that way. Time to start.
Of course, the truly altruistic move is to donate to your local shelter. Do you know where your nearest is? If not, educate yourself the same way you did when you realized it was your civic duty to call your local congresswoman. Find out if the shelter could use any of your excess whatever. Chances are, they can. And don’t be afraid to question their rules. The website for Lacy’s local shelter stated that they only accepted dry-cleaned clothes wrapped in plastic. Pshaw, they basically said when she called. Within a day, a truck showed up at her door and happily carted her pile of stuff away.
Should a swap still sound more up your alley (and no one is judging…), why not ask all swap attendees for a participation donation, then give the proceeds to the cause of your choice?
In the meantime, inventory your excess and consider whether someone else would take full advantage of what you clearly have not. Whether it’s an ill-fitting coat, a conditioner whose scent drives you nuts, or a spice you don’t know how to pronounce, send out a missive to your friends and see what happens. In the meantime, I’ll see if Christine’s up for hosting.
As much I love sharing beauty products, these I selfishly will never swap: