Perennial Gets Creative to Host Safe Clothing Swaps

Perennial St Louis Clothing Sawp

At the beginning of pandemic Perennial, a sustainable non-profit workshop, paused their popular clothing swaps. “People were heartbroken, but they understood we needed time to figure out how to safely host an event that regularly attracted over 100 people to a small space,” says Perennial Executive Director, Katie Carpenter. After some brainstorming Perennial was able to reinstate the swaps in a new socially distant format with participants dropping off their gently worn items in advance, a group of dedicated volunteers working extra hours to get everything set up ahead of the event, and a limited number of people attending across staggered timeslots. “It took more work, but it was worth it to see familiar faces back in the workshop finding perfect items again,” says Carpenter. At a time when people were thinking about resourcefulness and looking for community, it was no surprise that the swaps sold out fast.

Clothing swaps are becoming more popular between friends as folks look for ways to refresh their wardrobes while combating fast fashion. But what happens when your friends aren’t the same size or don’t have the same taste as you? That’s where Perennial comes in! When you get to choose items from a wide variety of donors the chances of finding something you’ll love goes way up. Perennial collects donated gently worn clothing in all shapes, styles, and sizes (but unfortunately, they can only take clothing on designated days ahead of swaps due to lack of storage space) then volunteers sort items by type and size, kind of like a department store. Then participants are encouraged to take as many items as they like. All Perennial asks is that they weigh the items on their way out so the organization can track how many pounds of textiles the events keep out of the landfill.  On average participants take home about 10 pounds of clothes. Each swap diverts between 600 and 1,000 pounds of material.

One reason people love the swaps is because the quality of items is so high. “We tell folks that the swaps are only as good as the donations we receive, so if something is in awesome condition but no longer fits it’s going to find a good home,” says Carpenter. The clothes that are leftover at the end of the swap tend to be worn out and lower quality, prompting folks to think twice when they buy new items and consider how the item was made, what materials were used and how long it will last. Perennial offers free access to swaps for their community outreach partners, they take materials they can use for their creative reuse classes, and anything that is left at the end gets picked up by Remains, a local textile recycling company. Perennial looks forward to hosting more people at the clothing swaps in 2022. www.perennialstl.org