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Stop shopping, try swapping: Introducing the Sheffield Clothes Exchange at Union St

This Saturday (27th January), Union St will be hosting Common Thread's first clothes exchange of the year!

We decided to catch up with Jess from Common Thread to learn all about the wonderful world of clothes exchanges, the concept behind them, and what you can expect from their first event of 2024.


Hi Jess! For the uninitiated, could you explain to us what a clothes exchange is?

“Sure! First off, it’s not our concept - this is a thing that has existed for ages. And the first community clothes exchange that I came across actually started in the Netherlands.

“But the way we do it is that we work on an honesty policy basis rather than a token system. Lots of exchanges count the amount of items in and count the amount of items out, and they keep records.

"We keep it simple, and we say bring a bag of things you don’t need anymore, and take a bag away. The items that you bring must be clean and in good condition - so no rips, tears or stains.”

Do you have to donate clothes to come along?

“We say bring a bag, take a bag, but you can drop off donations anytime. And sometimes you don’t have anything to donate when the exchange rolls around. So it’s not essential to bring a bag. 

“It is essential to pay if you just want to come as a punter, but we do want it to be accessible and there are always volunteer slots available. If the cost of the event (£5) isn’t accessible to some people, they should request to volunteer.”

clothes exchange sheffield

What’s the thinking behind a clothes exchange?

“Well, basically fast fashion is awful - in a word! Everything is outsourced to countries where labour is cheap, inspections are virtually non-existent, and the materials are sourced as cheaply as possible and in the least sustainable way.

“But a lot of the costs of fast fashion to people and the planet are hidden, and we don’t necessarily know about them. And the fact we’ve been advertised to for so long, it means there’s a certain pressure to dress a certain way and to follow trends. At the clothes exchange we do understand that and we’re not trying to judge anyone. The idea of a clothes exchange is an accessible and fun way to introduce people to the idea of slow fashion.

“What we’re trying to say is: stop shopping, try swapping. You’ll get the same thrill and fun as you do when you go shopping, but you won’t be supporting businesses like that. Instead you’ll be supporting a co-operative way of doing things. You’ll make friends, you’ll have a good time, you can bring your Gran, you can bring your mates, you can bring your kids, it’s very inclusive, it’s non-judgmental, and you will genuinely have a great time. And in the end you’ll come away with some quality new clothes - for an absolute bargain.”

What if I don’t find something I like?

“If you can’t find something for you, go shopping for friends and family. Because there’s no limit on how much you can take it away - so treat it as a library. If you take things and you don’t end up wearing them, you can always bring them back.”

Can I repair old clothes there?

“If you have items that you want to repair or restyle then keep them on you and take them to the repair station. Our volunteers there will help you repair them if they can, or give you advice on how to get them repaired.”

What’s different for this edition?

“What we’ve decided for this one is that we’re going to spread it out over three floors rather than two, so that we can get more stuff out. And we’ve upped the amount of volunteers we’ve asked for as well. So I’m hopeful we can get a really good variety of clothes.”

Cheers Jess!


You can buy a ticket for Common Thread January 2024 right here.

And you can stay up-to-date with Common Thread Sheffield on their Facebook page.


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