“IS your wardrobe full but you feel like you have nothing to wear?”
With that question in mind, a large-scale ‘clothes swap’ – believed to be the first of its kind in the state – is set to hit Penang’s shores this week.
Under the banner ‘Swap For A Cause 2020’, this novel fashion event invites people to pool together their good-quality used clothes and exchange them.
Organised by the Hey Melissa Tan website, environmental conservation organisation Redo and green solution provider Green Hero, the event is aimed at being a holistic green programme with proceeds being channelled to Children’s Protection Society (CPS) and animal welfare organisation, IAPWA Penang.
Climate activist and model Melissa Tan said she first attended a clothes swap in a Kuala Lumpur home two years ago and had since organised roughly eight swaps of her own in and around the capital.
“Each time, it is a thrill to be able to provide everyone the opportunity to rehome their preloved clothing as well as score themselves a brand ‘new’ wardrobe.
“My last swap hosted last month in Bangsar south saw 75 people bring home 645 pieces of clothing!
“Imagine, that’s 645 pieces less that people may have bought new, 645 pieces that aren’t wasted and unused and potentially ending up in a landfill,” Tan told in an interview.
The rules of the event are simple: Bring unwanted clothing in good condition (no torn, worn-out or soiled pieces), set them out on the racks and tables at the clothes swap, then start ‘shopping’!
“One-to-one swapping is not necessary, you can swap as many as you want but we will set a maximum amount to prevent hoarding.
“It is pretty free and easy. We ask people to think about pieces that they wouldn’t mind giving away to a friend, not pieces that they should be recycling.
“While a few swappers are like-minded individuals like myself who are pursuing either minimalism and/or zero-waste journeys, the majority are people who may never have engaged in environmental activities before,” she said.
A clothing revolution
Tan, a Kuala Lumpur native, said she began spending half her time in Penang about a year ago, which made it a logical location for her next clothes swapping event.
“I get roughly 50% new, first-time swappers at the swaps I host and I always encourage people to bring their friends and
introduce them to the idea, so that we can get more Malaysians on board with a greater carbon-friendly relationship with fashion.
“We, as a society, have been trained to over-consume over the last few decades – particularly in fashion.
“We buy and discard fashion at accelerated, unsustainable rates.
“This over-consumption has wreaked havoc on our environment and we often overlook the societal impacts it has as well,”
said Tan, listing overspending, shopping addictions and pressures to be ‘Insta-worthy’ as just a few of these consequences.
Tan, who is also a popular emcee and actress, was earlier this year named Malaysia’s ambassador to the Earth Day Network (EDN) – the world’s largest environmental movement.
“The goal behind all my clothes swaps is to induce people to rethink their relationship with fashion and redefine it into a more sustainable, wholesome one by exploring alternatives,” she said.
On what happens to ‘unswapped’ clothing at her events, Tan said the items would go through a filtering system to determine where they go next.
“There is a massive amount of leftover clothing after each swap.
“Although I always try my best to set firm ground rules like ‘no torn, soiled clothing or clothing that is too worn out’, they still do show up occasionally.
“So, I have a filtering system to make sure we only rehome the appropriate items to charities, while the rest are rehomed in local communities and/or recycled responsibly,” Tan said.
“I am not supportive of wholesale item donations to charities.
“Charities are overburdened with item donations and a lot of ‘dumping’ happens, meaning items that do not show up in good usable condition or items that are not useful to charities.
“A lot of volunteer effort and man-hours are spent on trying to sort through and find use out of item donations and many items eventually end up in a landfill,” she added.
Preloved thrift stores
Thrift stores have long become very popular in a number of countries overseas and Tan positively noted that secondhand fashion was gaining traction in Malaysia.
“Preloved stores in Malaysia can offer a diverse experience; charity shops selling locally donated goods, bundle stores and vintage stores importing preloved fashion from higher income markets like Japan and US, and finally, local resale platforms or stores that are a little more curated.
“In KL, where I’m from, bundle shops have mushroomed in the last few years and people are starting to see it as a viable option for shopping, attracted by the affordable prices and the thrill of the ‘hunt’,” she said.
However, Tan added that there is still a long way to go in convincing people to replace their consumption of new fashion with sustainable secondhand shopping.
“I think many who do shop in bundle shops go for the experience of ‘treasure hunting’ and not necessarily replacing their consumption of fast fashion.
“Many are also still put-off by the notion of wearing secondhand clothing.
“Over the years as well, the thrifting experience in my personal opinion has suffered because we are so inundated with fast fashion.
“This ‘disposable’ fashion often does not last very long; they get torn or stretched out or are in just generally bad shape after a few washes, so by the time they land up in a secondhand store they are less than appealing.
“Rubbish in, rubbish out as they say.”
Tan notes that there are a
number of good thrift shops like Blackmarket Preloved in KL or the WCC Value Shop in Island Plaza, coincidentally a stone’s throw from the upcoming clothes swap.
“They may not be bargain bin prices, but it’s worth paying a little more for a more pleasant, secondhand shopping experience.
“When you give people a different way to experience fashion and they actually find that they enjoy it, it becomes a stronger testament that practicing ecologically- responsible behaviour does not inhibit your lifestyle.
“It enhances it,” she said.
Swap For A Cause 2020 will be held at Island Plaza, Penang, on Sept 12 from 11am to 5pm. The entrance fee is RM30 to raise funds for CPS and IAPWA Penang.
For more details, call Susan
(010-288 4712), or Calvin (011-618 22477).
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