Clothes swap shops aim to take fast fashion out of style

Clothing provided by TRAID Pic: Lois Borny

Fast fashion culture has made clothing insatiable, and despite cheap clothes having an undeniable appeal, the worldwide repercussions are extremely ugly.

Loanhood, an innovative fashion rental project, aims to educate shoppers on sustainability and change the way they update their wardrobes. By setting up swap-shops, panel discussions and dinners they fight to make space for sustainability amidst the fast fashion monopoly.

Their first ever swap shop filled out the Hackney Service Centre with racks of clothes and shelves of shoes on Saturday. Items were provided by TRAID, the sustainable fashion charity that has worked with the council for more than a decade.  

Co founder of Loanhood, Jade McSorley told EastLondonLines that her 10 years in the fashion industry showed her the hame of fast fashion. No longer could she turn a blind eye. Along with Lucy Hall and Jennifer Sharen, she started the project to educate shoppers on how to make more sustainable choices, but without losing their sense of creativity or personal style.  

Lucy Hall, Jennifer Sharen and Jade McSorley, founders of LoanHood Pic: Lois Borny

Swappers streamed in at midday to trade items of clothing for paper tokens, which they could then trade in for items provided either by TRAID or other participants. Two members of The Seam, which brands itself as the Uber for clothes tailoring, were on scene to make clothing alterations where needed.  

McSorley told EastLondonLines: ‘Fast fashion is run off the demand of people. It’s a business model that exploits our desire to have more, and this turns into a perpetual cycle.’  

According to a 2019 EU report, clothes are considered ‘nearly disposable goods’, with brands such as Zara pumping out up to 24 collections annually. Many items produced by fast fashion brands are made from polyester, and as this is non-biodegradable, microfibers end up polluting waters around the world.

Given that 1 kilo of cotton requires 10,000-20,000 litres of water to grow, clothes production is also shockingly water-intensive, and countries that supply the majority of cotton sucked up by the industry are already vulnerable to drought.

TRAID, which provided a wide selection of items for the event, including a plum-purple pair of Vivienne Westwood heels, told EastLondonLines: ‘Every week in the UK we buy 38 million items of clothing while sending 11 million to landfill. This is unsustainable. Sourcing more of our clothes second hand- whether from charity shops like TRAID or swapping – is an immediate practical step we can all take.’

When asked whether the swap-shop style of shopping would gain traction, McSorley said: ‘People want more avenues to get their shopping fix. It’s a gambling game as well…the thrill is in the hunt. You can see from the turnout today that it is already popular.’  

She went on: ‘It’s about making it normal – why not swap? Why not buy second hand? Why do we feel the need to own something when a lot of the time we just wear something once and then discard it?’  

Fleur Wood, one of The Seam seamstresses in attendance Pic: Lois Borny

Layla Sargent, a The Seam seamstress attending the event, told EastLondonLines of the benefits of altering clothing instead of throwing it away: ‘If you keep an item of clothing for an additional 9 months from the point you were going to throw it away it reduces your carbon footprint by between 20 and 30 percent…it’s insane.” 

When speaking about the possibility of permanent clothing swap-shops, McSorley said that although a good idea, they need to be profitable to survive, but charging people to attend might take away the sense of community these events create.  

The clothes swap shop is just one project within the council-run programme #ZeroWasteHackney Go Beyond Recycling. Given the energy needed to fuel the recycling process, it aims to funnel residents’ unwanted possessions into a circular system of re-use and re-pair, nudging Hackney towards a greener future.

Although the programme does not officially launch until January next year, various projects within it are well-under way, such as various pop-up ‘Zero Waste Hubs‘ for residents to drop off items they no longer want, pick up those they do, and have broken items repaired for free. Each pop up swallows around 1.3 tons of donated items, which are then collected by various charities and redistributed into the community.

Other projects within the programme’s wide umbrella include the Toy Gift Appeal, which collected and redistributed around 4,400 toys over the last three years to families effected by domestic abuse, subsequently re-diverting 3.5 tonnes of toys from landfill, and the furniture collection and re-use scheme, which provides furniture for families on a low income.

Manuela Romeo, Waste Prevention Officer for Hackney Council, told EastLondonLines that there will be many more clothes swap shop events to come, and said: ‘It is definitely going to be a long-term thing. We need to focus on textiles, because as we know, fast fashion is very bad for the environment. Today isn’t just about reuse- it’s also about promoting sustainable fashion and changing the way people think about clothes.’  

Leave a Reply