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Photos by Robyn Rosenfeldt


Carly McMahon gives us the rundown on how to turn your clothing trash into funky treasure

Have you ever had the overwhelming feeling that our wardrobes, or in many cases, floor-drobes, are an unbalanced ratio of what-wedo- wear to what-we-don’t-wear?

It seems that so many of us have wardrobes that consist of 25% clothes we actually wear while the rest is jeans we’d like to fit into again one day, our formal dress, the sick-as frock we got on sale but will never have the chutzpah to wear, the T-shirt that we wore on the first date with our lover, the shoes that went with that outfit but never with another, or the slacks we wore once for that interview.

These first-world conundrums, where excessive clothing is an increasingly modern ‘drama’, struck my friend Sara and me as an opportunity to facilitate a community event that was not only enjoyable but raised awareness about recycling and reducing landfill — and Swapsies was born.

Sara was troubled by the number of people, generally women, who have so much clothing that isn’t worn, yet they still buy more things. As a conscientious and environmentally minded citizen, Sara approached me, about organising something that might shed light on this issue.

It was in the spring of 2010 when Sara, with her five-month-old son on her hip, initiated the idea of starting a local event that hinged on the notion of people swapping their unwanted clothing with others. I had just had my third child (two-weeks-old at the time) when initial plans started to take shape. So, with – between us – five children, a food-forest to tend, two working husbands and an undergraduate degree to complete, we set about planning an event to tackle the issue of increased waste and consumerism. While the concept of clothes swapping is not new, we could definitely see a need and we pounced on it.

The inaugural Swapsies event was held in December 2010 in the local Scout hall. With many willing helpers and babysitters at the ready, it went off without too many blunders. Swappers arrived earlier than scheduled, like fans camping out for concert tickets. The fervour was palatable as ‘customers’ lined up at the ready, neatly folded clothes in their bags, waiting for items to be screened [see box].

Doors officially opened to the first Swapsies event at 10 am, where the buzzing swappers dived into the waiting piles and racks of clothing. The most organised chaos ensued with complete strangers offering friendly second opinions on clothing to unsure participants, and even passing on items they thought best suited another.

As one swapper enthused, ‘Even if someone doesn’t come away with anything, it’s a great day out with your sisters’. She has returned to each Swapsies event, often with her daughter in tow, to continue sharing with her ‘sisters’. While the events are not exclusively geared towards women, they predominate.

Our Swapsies team has also ventured into a kids’ toys and books swap, where a magic show was offered as a treat for the teenyswappers. There have been six Swapsies since 2010. Ideas for the events continue to evolve, and each is different. One evening swap was followed by a band and supper. A friend played sweet old-soul and R’n’B vinyl to accompany the most recent and, along with sunny weather, made for a groovy-tuned day.

Funds raised at the events – from the participation fee and food sold – have been donated to local charities and organisations. Sara and I wanted to follow the ‘Think globally, act locally’ ethos. We hope to hold more Swapsies events in the future, where locals can swap till they drop.

For more information try:


Facebook: Bega Valley SWASPSIES

Instagram: @begavalleyswapsies



  • Choose a partner(s) that you know you can collaborate with.
  • Organise a venue, e.g. hire a hall, with a side room to act as a change room, six weeks before the event.
  • Set about publicising the event, using posters, flyers, newsletters, Facebook, newspapers or radio, anything!!! Write and deliver a media release with all the relevant information, including a contact person. Allow yourself at least four weeks.
  • Encourage swappers to take advantage of a pre-event drop‑off option. That way there will be ‘product’ at the ready when the ‘customers’ arrive.
  • Screen the clothing for quality ~ it doesn’t have to be a designer label but it does need to be clean and good enough for someone else to value it ~ no daggy trakky-daks!
  • Set the venue up the day before as it is easy to underestimate the time it takes to do this.
  • Offer complimentary tea and coffee for the swappers. Have someone make and sell snacks. Even a comfy spot to sit with the paper or a magazine (perhaps a copy of pip) will let swappers re‑energise.

— Play music, have fun, mingle, network …


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