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Clothing swaps offer Austinites a new way to thrift

Two people inspect clothing from a pile on a table
Gabriel C. Pérez
Lisa Bauder and Dawn Sanchez inspect clothing at a clothing swap hosted by Austin Swappin' on Saturday.

People chitchat, drinks in hand, as they saunter around tables filled with secondhand fashion at Moontower Cider on a Saturday evening.

Up until recently, thrifting was one of the primary ways many Austinites founded their fashion sense, switched up their wardrobes and shopped sustainably. Now, clothing swaps held by groups like Austin Swappin’ and Cool to Care are changing the way people thrift.

“Growing up in a low-income household, we resorted to thrifting at [local stores], flea markets and even garage sales,” Austinite Maria Martinez said after a Cool to Care clothing swap. “Interesting enough, this was the first official clothing swap event I have attended.”

At the swaps, people trade in their no-longer-worn clothes and accessories for items brought by others. Cool to Care, an environmentally friendly clothing brand based in Austin, began events here in September. Owner and founder Kaylin Balderrama said she learned the importance of sustainability surrounding the clothing industry last year and wanted to create a conversation.

“I didn’t want to just be selling sustainability, I wanted to form a community around the brand,” she said. “I think the movement is so new and not a lot of people even know why sustainable fashion is important. And so, I thought the clothing swaps would be a good way to promote that.”

"You can socialize and get to know the history of the pieces of clothing. Tying a face to a piece was very sentimental."
Maria Martinez, clothing swapper

The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to climate change. On top of that, around 11 million tons of textiles were found in U.S. landfills in 2018. Rather than buying new clothes, you can save money and reduce your carbon footprint by participating in clothing swaps, shopping at secondhand stores or creating something new out of something old.

When you buy a $7 ticket to attend the swap, you get a $7 discount on Cool to Care merchandise. Participants can bring up to 10 items of clothing or accessories to swap for 10 others. Instead of spending $10 on one shirt at a store, you pay less than that to bring home 10 items. At the end of the night, you can take your stuff back if it’s still there or leave it behind to be donated to charity. Cool to Care recently donated leftovers to the Assistance League of Austin THRIFT HOUSE.

AustinSwappin’ also promotes sustainability while creating community. Casandra Luna started these events back in October 2020. They began virtually due to the pandemic, with people chatting online and planning meetups to trade clothes. Soon, more people joined the Facebook group and eventually they decided to do something in-person.

“The word got around and so many people loved the idea,” she said. “The group continued to grow and grow.”

Luna decided to host swaps monthly at local parks but soon turned to coffee shops and wineries. Only about 10 people showed up to the first in-person gathering, she said, but soon 100 people were joining in each month. She began to charge for admission to rent tables and the space for the mountains of clothing and other items people brought.

“Everything has been going back toward the event,” she said.

Recently, Luna has been holding her swaps at Wanderlust Wine Company. She expanded the inventory you can bring to almost anything from kitchenware to children’s clothing. Like Cool to Care, Austin Swappin' lets participants reclaim their items and donates leftovers to local charities.

Clothing swaps are a great way to connect with like-minded people who care about the environment, fashion and the community.

Martinez said she and her friend arrived early to the clothing swap, and she was nervous at first because she didn’t see much to swap with.

“A rush came in and it became a fun time to interact and make friends,” she said. “It’s very different from thrifting; you aren’t in a rush or worried about a budget. Instead you can socialize and get to know the history of the pieces of clothing. Tying a face to a piece was very sentimental.”

Cool to Care is hosting a sustainable Christmas market and swap on Dec. 11. AustinSwappin's group has grown more than ever, said Luna, and wants to continue expanding the event to work with local food vendors and vintage pop-ups. In the meantime, AustinSwappin' will be hosting their December clothing swap on Dec. 10.

“It’s a good way to kind of clean your closet and know what you can give away to part of the community,” Alondra Chaire, an Austin Swappin' shopper, said. “I feel like more people should know about this because it’s fun and it’s resourceful.”

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