Monday, 11 May 2009

One Man’s Junk Is Another Man’s Treasure - SUST clothes Swap Shop, Old Trafford

One of the casualties of the credit crunch has been charity shops, which have reported a fall in donations as we choose instead to get by with what we’ve already got, to ‘make do and mend’.

This means a move away from our throwaway, disposable, consumerist culture, in which clothes are bought and rendered unfashionable again as quickly as turning the pages in a fashion magazine.

Most of us have unwanted clothes at the back of our wardrobes, which outgrew their purpose, or unworn items bought on an impulse or by mistake. It might seem like a shame to take these to a charity shop, the equivalent of money down the drain.

If this is the case, or you’re just a bit bored of the clothes you own and they’re still in a wearable state, a swap shop could be for you, allowing the chance to swap your clothes for someone else’s, and the opportunity to breathe new life into your wardrobe without spending a penny.

Inspired by a similar event at the 8th Day Café on Oxford Road, enthusiastic volunteers from the Manchester charity Action for Sustainable Living set up the SUST Swap shop at St Bride’s church in Old Trafford in November 2008. The swap on Monday 18 will be the third event.

Louise Allen, who helps organise the swaps, says: “It’s a great chance to have a clear out and get a new wardrobe for free, all in the name of sustainability - re-use, recycle and get involved with your local community.”

For those who enjoy a browse but feel priced out of charity shops, which have become increasingly expensive - it’s hard to find even a simple t-shirt for under £2 now (the price of a new t-shirt in Primark), with the going rate more like £4 - you can pay £1 without having to donate any items, and still take away as many garments as you want.

It’s also a great way to get cheap clothes without worrying about the ethical implications now that even charity shops are filling up with more and more discarded items from Primark, some of which are sold on for more than their original price. Louise says: “It’s a big problem that clothes aren’t made to last anymore.”

Call it vintage without the extortionate prices, shabby chic, or even just recycling, you never know what you’ll find - as the old saying goes, “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure".

Louise says: “If you get fed up of seeing the same clothes in the shops it’s a good chance to get something different. I took home about five or six really good items last time that I now wear all the time.”

Louise says the clothes tend to be donated by younger people than often give to charity shops, with a clientele based around students and people in their mid twenties.

The organisers invite donations of men’s, women’s and children’s clothes, shoes and accessories such as scarves and belts - although not underwear. If you donate three items or more, you can take as many items as you like in return.

Louise says: “Some people turn up with black sacks full, but people normally take home more than they donate.”

With prices like that - if you go home and realise the garment doesn’t fit, or you decide don’t like the item after all - you can’t go far wrong, and could even swap again at the next event.

Part car boot sale, part old fashioned church rummage sale, the swap shop will also be a chance to mingle and meet people living in the local area. Past events have attracted up to thirty people, including fashion students looking for material and clothes to alter. Some have become regulars.

Charity shops are also reportedly seeing a decline in donations because of the rise of eBay, and the expectation that you can make money from your old possessions.

Swap shops, in contrast, “offer an opportunity to share”, says Louise, explaining: "Swap shops take out the middle man and remove money from the equation as they’re a return to an exchange system”. Louise continues: “It’s nice to see people taking clothes away that they can get use out of, as you’re actually helping people by taking clothes to a swap shop.”

On top of that, there’s the excitement of making a ‘find’ in amongst the jumble of a tabletop sale.

The most unusual item donated last time was an old Stagecoach bus driver’s uniform, complete with shirt and fleece, although Louise says swap shops are also ideal for finding plain tshirts, dresses and jumpers. Louise warns that party dresses and summer dresses that still look new always go quickly, and finding bargains often depends on how long you stay, as more items are brought along throughout the night.

Buying secondhand clothes is often a far more personal way to shop - there’s something nice about giving a new life to an old dress, moulding a much worn jumper to your life, introducing a ‘new-to-me’ cardigan to your wardrobe and working it into existing outfits or wearing something that has already been ‘worn in’.

Louise agrees: “It’s nice to see people taking your stuff that you don’t have a use for anymore because you’ve outgrown it but you still really like.”

Louise’s favourite find was a “big, Fresh prince of Bel Air style jumper”, decorated with orange, yellow and black triangles and gold buttons. Its previous owner told Louise “my kids made me get rid of it - I’m glad it’s going to someone who likes it.”

Each event needs around seven volunteers, and Louise says the swap shop offers an ideal opportunity for anyone who wants to volunteer but who can’t commit much time, as it only involves helping out one evening every two months. An added bonus is that volunteers get first pick of the donations.

Louise hopes to organise similar swapshops based on other goods such as DVDs, games and books in the future.

SUST Swap Shop takes place at St Bride’s Church, Blair Street, Old Trafford on May 18 from 6:30-8pm

For more information, or if you would like to help set up, staff or distribute flyers for the event, contact Louise Allen at

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