I only came across the Great British Clothes Swap a couple of weeks ago, but I'm already hooked! It's such a friendly bunch of people, all with a heart for buying and swapping preloved clothing. I'm enjoying the styling inspiration and absolutely loved the package I received of two gorgeous dresses, a cosy pink jumper and a vintage Laura Ashley jacket - all for £20! What's not to love? I wanted to find out more and contacted the founder Laura Naudé with a pile of questions.
Could you explain what the Great British Clothes Swap is and how it came about?
The Great British Clothes Swap is a group on Facebook, where people can post photographs of clothing or accessories that they no longer want; and then browse other people's posts to find suitable items to swap for. If a swap can't be found, then members sell their items to one another within a set price limit. I have long enjoyed real life clothes swapping events: there is a real thrill to be found in clearing out things that are no longer serving you a purpose, and coming home with exciting or practical new-to-you items ready to give them a new lease of life. It is a great way to try out new styles or looks as well, without having to spend money. I often wondered if there was a way to make it happen online, but I never got around to doing anything about it. Partly because I wasn't sure if anyone else would find it as much fun as me, and partly because life kept getting in the way and there was no pressing need to make it happen. Then obviously Covid came along and made us all reassess a lot of things. Back at the start of lockdown in March 2020, there was an initiative named Lost Stock. People have divided opinions about this initiative, but one of the positives in my opinion is that this led to a different Facebook group that was set up by another lady, for people to swap the items that arrived in their mystery bags if they weren't suitable. The people in that group enjoyed swapping items so much, that someone mentioned it would be great to have a place to swap clothing items of any brands - I went ahead and created The Great British Clothes Swap imagining we'd maybe get about 100 people joining it. I had no idea it would be as popular as it has been!
There is a real thrill to be found in clearing out things that are no longer serving you a purpose, and coming home with exciting or practical new-to-you items ready to give them a new lease of life.
Could you tell us a little about yourself and your relationship with preloved clothes?
I am a 36-year-old full time mum, living in Nottingham with my husband, 4 kids and our newly acquired kitten. I have always loved shopping in charity shops - it was a favourite pastime for myself and my mum on a Saturday morning as I was growing up. I used to get really excited when I found something amazing for like 20p! My favourite childhood find was a pair of jade green denim hotpants shorts, that I then took to school to use for PE (we didn't have a compulsory uniform) and I remember telling another girl proudly that I'd found them whilst rummaging the weekend before in a charity shop, and she said she'd never even been in a charity shop. I felt very sorry for her!
There was nothing more exciting than family friends turning up with a carrier bag of clothing that their daughters had outgrown, for me to have. I have had some absolutely amazing hand-me-downs over the years! The favourite of these was a black velvet dress, with a purple satin polka dot ra-ra skirt and big purple bows on the back: it was incredibly 80's and made me feel like a princess.
As a teen I slipped into the high street fast fashion scene, but adulthood has pulled me firmly back into the Preloved arena and I'm loving it. As well as buying Preloved, I will often use my sewing machine to adapt, tweak or upcycle items. As a mother, I also actively look for clothing secondhand for my children, and am passing on my love for charity shops to them too. My children know that when we are finished with an item of clothing it is time to pass it on to someone else - and as they grow out of their clothes, we regularly fill bags for our local clothing charity who give clothes directly to families who are living in clothing poverty.
What’s the best item of clothing you have swapped/bought from the Great British Clothes Swap?
Oooh this is a hard one, because I have swapped and bought a LOT of items! If I was pressed to pick a favourite though, it is probably the black velvet FCUK cat suit I got sent as part of a blind-bag mystery swap fairly early on. It is absolutely incredible and I cannot wait to wear it on a night out once all of this is over! I loved that the person had the guts to send such a statement piece to a stranger too, which was a risk that definitely paid off.
What are the main ups and downs of running a site like this?
The ups are definitely seeing so many people choosing to shop secondhand. Especially those who have never tried it before! It is wonderful to see such a fun, loving, and accepting community that has grown in the group. There is a real vibe of wanting to help one another out, and also a real sense that we are in this for the right reasons. My initial thoughts in starting the group seem to be echoed by the majority of our members: we are all striving towards a more eco-friendly way of living, and want to keep items out of landfill. We also all want to look and feel good in our clothes, and have a guilt free way of getting new items.
The downs are few and far between, but among them is when I have to deal with members who are not sticking to our group rules or adhering to the general ethos of the group. I also hadn't realised how many hours it was going to take out of my day. I really feel that the group members do appreciate it though, and I've got a great team of admins who help me to handle all of the work.
We are all striving towards a more eco-friendly way of living, and want to keep items out of landfill. We also all want to look and feel good in our clothes, and have a guilt free way of getting new items.
What are the main reasons members on the site buy, sell and swap preloved clothing?
I think a lot of people join looking for a new way to update their wardrobe. The idea of being able to use your existing clothing as a kind of 'currency' to be able to get new or different items isn't unique to our group alone, but it definitely makes us stand out from a lot of other selling sites. I like to think that the majority of our members are also trying to take steps towards a more sustainable lifestyle too, and by swapping or buying in the group they are helping to reduce their own carbon footprint and that of each other too.
Do you think this is something that has been brought about by the current situation or do you think it’s a more permanent shift in thinking?
The group definitely happened because of the pandemic we're currently in, but I have every intention of continuing to run it going forwards and I would like to think that group members will realise that buying secondhand is a brilliant way to live. I personally think that the lockdowns we have been through will have given us all pause for thought and made us question our life choices a bit. I am seeing a huge shift in cultural thinking and a trend towards more eco friendly and sustainable choices in lots of areas of life. Clothing is a pretty huge one for a lot of people. I feel that clothing companies are hopefully going to realise that in order to survive, then need to make a big shift to being ethical in their production of new items too.
What advice and encouragement would you give to someone who’s never bought a preloved item of clothing before?
I would say, go for it! Try it out by buying something cheap to start with, so that you can feel it isn't too much of a risk. Or even better, swap something in our group that you've not used in the last year. You will enjoy seeing it make someone else happy, and hopefully receive something that makes you happy too! If you wanted to try a new look, set yourself a budget and then go browsing for something that you feel would push your comfort boundaries a little - you never know, it may be the exact item you never knew you needed until you tried!
What’s your vision for the future?
I would love to see a massive community grow within the group, of people who are striving to live a more sustainable ethical life. We can't all be perfect, but we can all make small changes that lead to bigger changes, and steadily we can begin to really make a huge difference together. The pressure that buying secondhand or Preloved items can put onto unethical businesses to change, is massive. By starting small, and making consistent conscious changes, we can set off ripples that can literally change the way the clothing industry is run. I would love to see a wide-range normalisation of shopping ethically, and buying secondhand. We need to pass this way of thinking on to our children, and teach them to be responsible with our belongings and our choices too.
We can't all be perfect, but we can all make small changes that lead to bigger changes, and steadily we can begin to really make a huge difference together.
If you, like Laura, love clothes and have a passion for seeing a change in the way we buy clothes, then you can find The Great British Clothes Swap here.