Second life for old clothes

(From left) Lee, Yong and Jhivitaa showing the nice outfits they got from the swap.

ONE woman’s unwanted clothes became fresh additions to another’s wardrobe at the Swap For A Cause 2020 event held at Island Plaza, Penang.

Dresses, blouses, gowns, tops, T-shirts, jackets, pants, footwear and more all found new owners.

Close to a thousand pieces of clothing were believed to have been swapped during the two-day event, which attracted around 80 participants.

Besides paying a small entry fee, all participants had to do was bring their unwanted clothing and set them out on racks and tables.

Then they could simply pick their desired pieces from the other pieces put up by others.

Among those enjoying the thrill of the hunt were friends Carin Yong, 25, Amanda Lee, 25, and Jhivitaa Shan, 27.

They brought over 60 pieces combined to swap and took home a similar amount.

Yong, who is an accountant, picked up a liking for thrift shopping after being introduced to it by her sister.

She scored herself several nice dresses, among other pieces.

“I realised how harmful the fast fashion culture can be to our environment.

“While the thrift shopping and swapping culture isn’t that strong in Penang yet, this is a good start, ” she opined.

Lee, a solicitor, had a similar epiphany after seeing a documentary on fast fashion and decided to attend the recent clothes swap after reading about it in The Star.

“People tend to overlook how fashion contributes greatly to pollution.

“I wanted to take a small step and do something that’s within my power.

“I’ve been thinking of getting a denim jacket for some time and managed to get one for free here, ” said Lee, a keen follower of the zero-waste movement.

Jhivitaa, a finance associate, added: “This practice can help the environment. These clothes are in good condition and have lots of use left in them once washed and cleaned.”

Homemaker Rdeen Phillips, 48, said she had occasionally swapped unwanted clothing with friends before as it would help prevent still usable pieces from going to landfills.

The Filipino, who has been living in Malaysia since 2000, brought 12 pieces to give away and scored herself five in return – three tops, a dress and a pair of shoes.

“I came with an idea of what I needed. I managed to get some on my list plus a couple of extras, ” she added, feeling pleased with her haul.

The swap, believed to be only the second such event held in Penang, was organised by the Hey Melissa Tan website, environmental conservation organisation Redo and green solutions provider Green Hero.

Tan, a zero-waste advocate and model, said fast fashion had become one of the biggest polluting industries today, causing severe environmental impact such as deforestation due to land being cleared for cotton farming or chemical dyes leeching into water sources.

Most clothing also contain polyester, nylon, acrylic and other synthetic fibers which are derived from fossil fuels. Every time they are washed, hundreds if not thousands of fibers are released into drains which ultimately go into oceans.

According to statistics from the website, microplastics like this account for the significant majority of plastics in the planet’s oceans, rather than whole items like cups or straws as commonly perceived.

Tan also pointed to statistics by the Kloth Cares fabric recycling movement which estimated that Malaysians produce up to 2,000 tonnes of waste from textiles and other wearable products daily. It is said these make up 5% of solid wastes in landfills.

“Women generally feel more pressure to buy new and fashionable apparel to keep up with peers. Often, an item of clothing is used once or twice and then just sits in the cupboard.

“We consume fashion way faster than our parents or grandparents. Back then, people would tailor a piece or two each year and wear it for a decade. Now, we buy lots of clothing and use each piece for just a couple of months.

“That is unsustainable. Clothing swaps allow one to consume fashion with less impact on the environment. It also fosters a sense of community.

“Often times, when women see a friend in a nice outfit, they’ll ask where she got it. You end up buying duplicates. So why not share? You get to see another person enjoying the clothes you loved.

“I work in entertainment but have not bought anything new in three years. It saves me a lot of money. At each swap, I can get myself a whole new wardrobe, ” said Tan, who splits her time between Penang and Kuala Lumpur.

The swaps, she added, have a free and easy vibe. It is not necessary to swap one-for-one as everybody contributes sincerely. The only rule is no torn, worn-out or soiled pieces.

Co-organiser Calvin Chan said they would organise more such swaps if there is continued interest. While the swaps are predominantly for women’s clothing now, he hopes to have more men’s and children’s pieces at future events.

“Most of the pieces at swaps are still in good condition. So why keep them in the cupboard when others can wear them and reduce consumption? We hope to encourage people to be more mindful of what they buy, ” Chan shared.

The swap, held at the mall’s 3rd floor event hall, also benefited St Nicholas’ Home Penang, Children’s Protection Society and animal welfare organisation IAPWA Penang.

The organisations also set up stalls selling their house-made handicraft items, pastries and souvenirs, with St Nicholas’ also offering visitors foot reflexology services.

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