The Benefits and Challenges of Temporary Clothing Swapping

by Prof. Elena Karpova, University of North Carolina, Greensboro

Just a decade ago, it seemed unrealistic that people would open their homes to host complete strangers or take a ride with someone they don’t know. Today, Airbnb and Uber are as ubiquitous as McDonalds or iPhone. In just about ten years, millions of people around the world have bought into collaborative consumption, sharing their homes and cars. What about collaborative fashion consumption?

In this post, I talk about clothes swapping—an easy way to engage in collaborative fashion consumption. Swapping involves peer-to-peer exchange of goods between people without any monetary exchange. It can be organized by individuals or facilitated by a company. Swapping can be either (1) permanent, where the ownership of the product will be transferred to another person, or (2) temporary, where the change of ownership is not intended or necessary.

In an ethnographic study with my colleagues (Drs. Iva Jestratijevic, Juyoung (Jill) Lee, and Juan Wu), we examined temporary clothing swapping (temp swap) where several pairs of people have exchanged 8-10 garments from their wardrobe for five months. Most participants were thrilled with the experience and discussed many swapping benefits:

  •  Saving money through acquiring ‘new’ clothes at no cost,
  • Adding variety to your wardrobe to freshen it up and feeding the crave for “something new to wear”,
  • Reducing environmental impact by not buying new clothes,
  • Experiencing excitement and joy that comes from discovering different styles or types of clothing that are outside of a person’s comfort zone (e.g., color that you would never buy),
  • Pushing your creative boundaries by styling swapped garments to incorporate it in their wardrobes, and
  • Starting or deepening friendship with the swap partner.

The major concerns shared by the swapping participants were:

  • Hygiene of swapped clothes (if swapping with a stranger), which was mitigated by exchanging garments with a trusted friend or acquaintance,
  • Potential garment damage that was in temporary possession and use by another person.

We also offered practical considerations for temp swap. Finding a swapping partner of the same body size and shape is the major requirement to ensure clothes fit. Swapping partners may also consider each other’s aesthetic and style/taste in clothing—while it would be boring to exchange two very similar wardrobes, some compatibility may be a good idea. By promoting temporary clothes swapping, we hope to encourage a wider adoption of collaborative fashion consumption.

Image: by Anna Druzhkova on Shutterstock

4 thoughts on “The Benefits and Challenges of Temporary Clothing Swapping

  1. Great finds! I really enjoyed reading your research work. In the end you mentioned that people do have some concerns related to hygiene and potential garment damage. I am assuming that there is a relatively easy solution to this problems – dry cleaning and fixing the garment by a seamstress. So now the question is what would be the life cycle of a garment if using the temp swap for clothing?

  2. Valeria, thank you so very much for your comment and kind words about the study!
    Yes, the issue of hygiene has been a common theme in swapping and secondhand research. People are very particular about clothing. I believe because it is so very personal, basically, our chosen skin.
    Our study was published in the Sustainability journal, which is open access and available here if you’d like to read more
    Thanks again!

  3. I am curious about other kinds of collaborative fashion consumption, which I think may be the solutions to more sustainable fashion consumption. I realise how hard it is to ask people to buy less, or fewer cheap products. And it is not fair enough for all people, especially for those who have less money. As clothing is still a main industry in some countries, it links with employment opportunities of a large population in the world. So, creating more forms of collarative fashion consumption seems a better way.

  4. Fantastic article. I find it really helpful as I am planning to organise a cloth swapping party at my place, just open to friend. Thanks for sharing your experience and ideas.

Leave a Reply