Free Clothes and the Spirit of Sharing

by Gretchen Hilburger


My coworkers and I love free clothes, so for the past couple of years, we have had our own mini-clothing swaps, bringing in a few items every couple of months to trade with each other. We work at an agency that serves people who are formerly homeless, so after organizing and attending a few clothing swaps in the past with my own friends, I mentioned to my coworkers that we should try to do a clothing swap for our clients.

A few of us got together and started planning out the logistics to host the clothing swap. We decided to hold it in December, just a few weeks before Christmas and a few weeks after we had moved to a new office space. We also decided it could serve the dual purpose of welcoming the clients to our new office, while exchanging clothing and toys to use as possible gifts for the holidays. 

The event, we thought, would be a good time to clean out closets and combine that with the spirit of giving.

Sure enough, over the weeks prior to the event, we had many clients asking when they could drop off clothes at our office or give them to their case managers during their home visits—whether or not they planned to attend the actual event. We found that so many of our clients wanted to get rid of clothing they no longer needed, give to others, and find some new items.

The day of the event, we transformed the conference room into a clothing store for our clients. We displayed the clothing split into different sections for men, women, and children, then further organized the sections based on the type of clothing (skirts, sweaters, etc.). 

Gentle music was playing in the background and a part of a table was dedicated to activities for children to do drawing and craft activities while they waited for their parents. Another corner table was covered with snacks, hot apple cider, resources for better budgeting, and ideas for alternative gifts at the holidays. In the end, we had a turnout of about 10–15 clients. This may not seem like a lot, but it was a steady flow throughout the day, with clients staying and hanging out for awhile, taking their time with digging through the generous piles.

One woman brought in beautifully pre-wrapped boxes and labeled on the outside what age and gender child should receive the gift, which we could then give out to clients who came later to the event or bring to clients who could not make it.

A brother and sister came and “shopped” for their mother who could not make it because she had to work.

One client rushed in on her lunch break with a huge bag of baby clothes and had just about five minutes to browse to take a few things for herself, and within the hour another client rushed in looking for baby clothes that came from that exact client.

Although it wasn't really a clothing swap where donors and receivers interacted directly, it was certainly a success. All the clients who came left with huge bags of new-to-them items and raved about how great it was and that we should do it again. A few were curious how to do their own clothing swap with their friends or families.

Due to the large number of donations we received, over the ensuing weeks our makeshift “clothing and toy store” (ahem, conference room) remained open for about 5–10 clients who came to shop later. We donated the items that were left in the end to other organizations that helped distribute the clothing to those in need.

Check out New Dream's Guide to Sharing and our video on how to host a clothing swap.