Swap meets are a thing of beauty. They fill a void for the bargain hunter who can forgo the latest designer jeans and satisfy himself with a secondhand pair at a tenth of the price. There’s always a fashion hidden away somewhere, far from the racks of the big chain stores – you can always get a head start on a forgotten trend before it gets ‘rediscovered’ all over.
Then there’s the concept of a fair exchange. Efficient lifestyles are supposed to make us feel good about ourselves. We leave feeling satisfied, even virtuous, when we imagine the alternative fates for our worn-out housewares. Waste. Neglect. Needless languishing in an attic, or fodder for a landfill.
But what happens when you bring the swap meet into your company’s break room?
The Clothing Exchange, a five-year-old Melbourne-based company, is selling the idea by promoting clothing swaps in corporate environments. And while the concept itself may not be revolutionary, it could give employees a creative outlet for expanding their fashion and social consciences.
Going green, pushing a brand
Hosting a clothing swap for employees can have various benefits, some of them not so obvious. For one, “You are able to engage your staff in an enjoyable, environmentally-friendly event,” according to Linda Vydra, The Clothing Exchange’s Melbourne Coordinator.
The original exchange was developed to address the problem of wasteful consumption. The company claims that problem costs Australia more than $10 billion per year.
“While people attend the event seeking a free wardrobe update, they often find themselves equally elated by the prospect of seeing their unwanted clothes getting a new lease on life,” said Vydra, “and feel good taking part in collective action to reduce their ecological footprint.”
And yet, hosting a clothing swap as a way to “go green” isn’t just about goodwill gestures: it can also provide a stage for the upward entrepreneur. Designers can use it as a brand positioning initiative and leverage their brand as sustainably aware by hosting swaps for their customers.
The company also promotes the planning of the swap as an exercise in teamwork: volunteers need only to bring their enthusiasm and can gain some crucial management skills in the process.
Never underestimate the HR benefits of giving employees more social space to interact. Not that there’s anything wrong with spending your lunch break bidding for shoes on eBay. Sometimes, though, a simple in-person trade can make an impact, kindling a friendship with a workmate whose fashion tastes you never would have guessed based on their passive office attire.
Give a garment, take a garment
The Clothing Exchange operates on a simple premise: guests can take as many articles of clothing as they bring to the swap.
Buttons are used for accounting and guests check in their garments, shop and check out with them by making their button payment. Quality control measures are necessary to ensure that everyone gets a fair deal (so that no one gets shortchanged a button at the day’s end).
There is an additional opportunity to pledge a donation of any leftover clothing to a charity of your organisation’s choice.
The event seems to be gaining traction, if the clothing swaps hosted at Telstra and BP are any indications.
Telstra Project Manager Diana Vidovic praised TCE’s service, calling the event “both fun and sophisticated.”
And Linda Vydra says that the swap need not be limited to corporate spaces. In Melbourne alone, TCE has taken up shop inside the Georges Building, beside the whale bones at the Melbourne Museum and within the thoroughfare of the Federation Square Atrium. (Hosts operate in Adelaide, Brisbane, Perth and Sydney as well.)
“Sustainability is a focus in all businesses and we offer a creative and fun solution to people involved in doing their part for the environment.”
She adds that it’s “an event that can ‘pop-up’ at any place or space. It is a self-contained set-up that can be assembled quickly and dissassembled quicker, without a trace.”
Sounds like sustainability, all right. If it catches on, expect more employee demands for Casual Fridays.
Image by Thomas Fano