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Clothing swaps tackle environmental justice and self-expression

Two clothing swaps at Western Washington University encourage students to learn and explore an affordable way to shop.

A colorful variation of clothes hung up along a clothesline, blowing in the wind. Clothing swaps encourage sustainability and reduce textile waste.// Illustration by Alfie Short

Two clothing swaps were held by Western Washington University organizations. T.A.G. Team for Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Students held their quarterly clothing swap on March 2, while Zero Waste Western along with University Residences Sustainable Living hosted a Free Sustainable Clothing Swap on March 4.

A clothing swap is an organized event where people can bring clothes they no longer use and trade them with other participants. Anything from pants, shirts, sweaters, shoes, hats and belts are on the table for students to grab and bring home.

The Free Sustainable Clothing Swap was a three-hour event in the Viking Union’s Multi-Purpose Room Long lines of students waiting to check in stretched down into the VU lobby.

CLOTHING SWAPS BODY 2
Participants of the T.A.G. Team for Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Students Clothing Swap on campus in Bellingham, Wash., on Friday, March 4, 2022. Those who attended looked through clothes brought by regular and new club members, searching for something new that suited their personal taste.

“I like the idea of encouraging people to shop sustainably, I think it’s kind of fun,” said first-year Preston Leathers, a participant at the Free Sustainable Clothing Swap. “I had some stuff I wanted to get rid of and donate, so it’s a good opportunity.”  

Students participating in the Free Sustainable Clothing Swap were encouraged to take an item and leave an item, but due to clothing donations from outside sources, they could take home more clothes than they brought. 

These initial donations are called “seed” clothes and were acquired through clubs such as Western’s Backcountry Squatters and organizations like the Western Career Closet, said Zero Waste Western Coordinator Kait Schultz.

All leftover clothing is being donated to local non-profit organizations.

Participants were also able to enter a raffle to win a gift card to a local thrift store, make pledges to sustainable habits and learn about the costs of fast fashion.

“Anytime that people can make choices individually where they’re wanting to buy ethically, we always say that the best thing to do is to buy second hand or to borrow or to lend with friends,” said Kate Stragis, executive director of ReUse Works, a local nonprofit. “We also are really big promoters of mending things that we have.”

(Free Sustainable Clothing Swap promotes reduction of textile waste. Read more here.)

T.A.G. Team's clothing swap was held on campus as well, open to any current or new attending members of the club — the location is not specified for safety reasons. The turnout was somewhere around 20 to 30 students who brought a wide variety of items to sift through.

This clothing swap allowed students to sort through items of all different shapes, sizes, colors and styles without breaking the bank. Some participants brought large clothing hauls, while others only brought one or two items, but there were no requirements or limitations on what students could give or take. 

CLOTHING SWAPS BODY 1
A clothing rack of items available at the Sustainable Clothing Swap in Bellingham, Wash., on Friday, March 4, 2022. The swap aimed to combat fast fashion and teach attendees about conscious consumerism in the process. // Photo by Ryan Scott

It also presented students with a safe space to comfortably explore any styles that stood out to them.

“I know when I first got to college and I first started transitioning, I didn’t really have any clothes that felt good to me,” said fourth-year Ian Nava, an Officer of T.A.G. “It’s a nice free way to give away clothes that don’t make you feel good anymore, that will hopefully make another person feel good.”

Natalie Mote, store manager of Worn Again Thrift in downtown Bellingham, said that as a non-binary person themself, they flip between traditional feminine and traditional masculine styling. Mote believes there are no rules when it comes to fashion.

“Clothes can be an opportunity for anyone, not just those who identify as genderqueer, to subvert traditional gender roles,” Mote said. “At Worn Again Thrift we do not separate any clothes by gender, because we believe that anyone can wear anything.”

On the other hand, Mote said it’s critical to recognize that the thrifting world isn’t perfect. 

“It’s important to remember to never shame those who are unable to find items that work for them in vintage and thrift stores,” Mote said. “However, for those who are able, shopping second-hand is a massive way you can combat the fashion waste crisis.”

(Read more about T.A.G. Team and how clothing ties into style and gender expression here.)



Simone Higashi

Simone Higashi (she/her) is a third-year News Editorial student and senior reporter for The Front. Simone likes to knit and read in her free time. You can reach her at simonehigashi.thefront@gmail.com


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