The Global Rise of the Fashion Swap. The practice of swapping fashions has recently been attracting attention worldwide, particularly in Europe and the United States.
This is an activity aimed at making more effective use of resources by providing a forum for people to exchange free of charge those fashion items (clothes, shoes, bags, accessories, etc.) that they don't use anymore and that sit in their closets because, for instance, they no longer fit.
One example of a fashion-swapping event is the Swap-O-Rama-Rama, which
started in the U.S. in 2005. Here, people exchange clothing and attend
workshops to learn how to make modifications to secondhand clothes. In
London, fashion swap events sponsored by the credit card company VISA
focus on the swapping of specific brands.
There are various sizes of fashion swap events -- from small ones among
acquaintances to large ones sponsored by large companies. People and
organizations -- ranging from non-governmental organizations to large
firms -- interested in sustainable lifestyles while still enjoying
dressing in style hold these events any format they wish. This freedom
of style is one of the many attractions of fashion swaps.
The amount of clothes that each participant brings and takes away may
vary, but they each bring their surplus articles and take home "new"
ones. As goodwill spawns more goodwill, this type of activity works well
socially, and is continuing to gain popularity throughout the world
Fashion Swap Arrives in Japan
Japan's first major fashion swap event, "xChange," was held in September
2007 in Tokyo. Junko Niwa, a pioneer of this activity in Japan,
explains the meaning of the name: "'X' means 'anything.' I hope that
xChange will be a venue for exchanging anything, including ideas,
knowledge, and convictions, in addition to clothes. I hope it will
create something new and produce positive change."
The xChange events are designed to exchange not only fashion items but
also information and sentiments from the owners of the clothes, using
what is called an "episode tag." Participants put tags on each of the
items they bring and write their name and a brief episode concerning the tagged items.
For example, on the tag of a white jacket the former owner wrote, "This
is a gift from a friend, but it's just not my style." On a tag attached
to a pair of red pumps (shoes) a person wrote, "These don't fit me
anymore. I hope someone who loves red can use them." Just as shoppers
check price tags, some people check the episode tags before making a
selection, first imagining who used to wear the item. The episode tags
make people aware of the human connection -- something that can't be
counted in monetary terms -- and also promote the exchange of feelings
and communication by exchanging goods.
When asked for feedback, participants say things like, "I'm very lucky
to get such lovely clothes for free," and "I was happy to see someone
try on and choose what I brought here." Unwanted clothes for one person
can be new and exciting for someone else. Plus, xChange achieves close
to a 100-percent reuse rate by donating leftover clothes to companies
that reuse or recycle secondhand clothing. Anything they cannot use,
they then donate to developing countries or reuse them as rags.
Textile Production: Many Issues behind the Scenes
In the food industry, organic and "fair trade" products have attracted
much attention, but this trend has not been as evident in the fashion
industry. It is not widely known that the production of cotton, a major
raw material for making clothing, actually causes major impacts on the
environment. For instance, the amount of pesticides used for cotton
production is said to be about 25 percent of total pesticide use
worldwide. Cotton growing consumes large amounts of pesticides,
insecticides, and chemical fertilizers. Defoliants are sometimes used to
make cotton leaves fall off during the harvesting process. The heavy use
of agrichemicals has inflicted serious damage on the environment where
cotton is grown and on the health of farm workers.
In addition, some places suffer from water shortages due to overuse of
water for irrigation, since cotton growing requires a large amount of
water. The Aral Sea in Central Asia, for example, is drying up because
of excessive water use for cotton growing.
Statistics indicate that the average Japanese buys ten kilograms and
throws away nine kilograms of clothes a year, and over 2.1 million tons
of textile products are reportedly incinerated and disposed of in
landfills as burnable garbage each year in this country. It is also said
that 80 percent of the time, most women wear only 20 percent of the
clothes they own, which means most of their clothes are left sitting in
their closets. The environmental impacts of the clothing industry are
larger than most people imagine, if we consider all the processes from
raw material procurement to product disposal.
Alternatives to Mass Production, Mass Consumption, and Mass Disposal
While acknowledging these problems, xChange's approach is to suggest
ways of enjoying fashions that have less impact on both the environment
and the producers of clothing materials, rather than emphasizing
restraint and regulation. The purpose of the xChange event is not to
suggest that people "try to avoid buying clothes." Instead, it aims to
encourage women to continue taking good care of their clothes, and let
their unneeded-but-still-wearable clothes be used by someone else
instead of discarding them. One of the xChange's core messages is:
"Let's minimize waste and change our ways of consumption."
Another message is: "Let's think about our connections to material
things." This means considering where the goods we use come from and
where they go afterwards, and what effects the act of purchasing goods
has on the environment and the producers of the goods. "It is crucial to
be aware of the fact that our purchases could unintentionally lead to
environmental destruction and poverty. If we are aware of that, we will
probably try to take better care of our belongings," says Niwa.
Although the xChange's fashion swap is an exchange of goods in the
traditional sense, we could also see it as a new attempt in the context
of our modern society, which is built upon the global market and the
monetary economy. This event promotes lifestyles that use material goods
in a simpler but more enriched way, by restoring basic human
communication and reconsidering the existing social systems that are
based on mass production, mass consumption, and mass disposal.
Expanding Ethical Fashion Brands
In addition to offering a venue to exchange secondhand clothes, the
xChange events also introduce ethical fashion brands, which are produced
in ways that are conscious of both the environment and the working
conditions of producers. These brand clothes are made of organic
materials produced with reduced impacts on the environment and under a
regime free from child or underpaid labor -- in order to keep production
in line with ethical and moral standards.
A popular ethical fashion brand in Japan is the People Tree brand of the
Fair Trade Co., which sells through 350 retailers across the country,
and also offers catalog and online sales. Since its foundation in 1995,
the company has implemented fair trade principles, by which it purchases
goods produced in environmentally conscious ways from countries in Asia,
Africa, and South America, and sells them in Japan. As sign of the
growing interest in ethical fashions, its founder, Safia Minney, was
chosen by the Japanese edition of Newsweek in 2007 as one of the top 100
social entrepreneurs changing the world.
Since its start in September 2007, the xChange event has been held every
two or three months in a different region of Japan, always attracting
many participants. This success is probably because anyone can easily
participate, and also because it is an active event that gives
participants opportunities to enjoy fashion without increasing the
impact on the environment -- or their pocketbooks. Niwa, expresses her
ambitions by saying, "I hope to turn this into a larger and more
profound movement by collaborating with entrepreneurs, artists,
journalists, fashion and beauty schools, corporate sponsors, local
governments, and so on." She added, "I also hope to create a venue where
people can exchange not only clothes but also daily-use items."
Many eyes here are watching fashion industry trends and the xChange
movement, which holds much promise of continued growth.
Written by Keiko Hoshino
source: Japan for Sustainability, http://www.japanfs.org/index.html.