Monday, July 15, 2024

Fast fashion is wasteful, and thrifting is flawed. The solution: swap!

Must read

Jannine Mancilla, 32, and Nicole Macias, 34, bonded over a shared love of DIY fashion and hand-me-downs, and frustrations with an environmentally destructive industry and a throwaway culture that creates huge amounts of waste. So they came up with a radical idea: asking people to offer up their old clothes – for free. Their Los Angeles clothing swaps have grown from humble origins to “overwhelmingly” popular events that receive hundreds of pounds of clothing donations each month, helping attendees save the planet and keep money in their pockets.

Jannine Mancilla: All of us at Radical Clothes Swap are first-gen Mexican American and grew up with an immigrant, sparse mentality. I grew up with hand-me-downs from my siblings and cousins. We had that cookie container that never had cookies in it, that we would reuse to hold a sewing kit. I grew up mending my own pants. When skinny jeans were a thing, I would sew them by hand.

Nicole Macias: I still get my brothers’ hand-me-downs. There’s nothing like a beat-up old shirt or a sweater to sleep in or just hang around in. Bipoc communities have always done this because we’re resourceful. It was ingrained in our upbringing and our lifestyle. A lot of times we’ve had to, because we couldn’t afford to buy new wardrobes every new school year.

In 2021, I was invited to participate in a back-to-school community event for young people, and I thought about what I could bring that wouldn’t require the kids to spend money. I had been inspired by a company called Suay Sew Shop that does textile repurposing and has a free rack at their store.

I was blown away by that concept – you could just grab a sweater off a rack and it’s free. So I decided to have a free rack at the back-to-school event. I donated five items from my own closet and did a shout-out on social media asking people for clothes they wanted to get rid of.

The response was overwhelming. I got all types and sizes of clothing: pyjamas, winter coats, jeans, dresses, shorts, workout clothes, you name it. I couldn’t even fit all the bags in my car and had to borrow a friend’s catering van to haul everything with me.

After that I did four more swaps and ended up with more and more clothes. Jannine, who I’d never met, hit me up on social media and she was like: “Hey, I like what you’re doing. I’ve done this before. Do you want to team up?” I had already agreed to a community event in [the Los Angeles neighborhood of] Inglewood and told her to come. She was like: “Yeah, let’s do it.”

I showed up with my clothes, my wagon and some hangers. Jannine showed up with a canopy and a table and some hangers. We were hanging clothes from the canopy. It was so ugly, but people loved it.

Jannine: People were so thrown off by the concept that it was all free.

We are ruled by capitalism, and if people aren’t profiting, they don’t take an interest in it. Giving out something for free without expecting anything in return is radical.

Guests sift through clothes, all available for free. Photograph: Stephanie Noritz/The Guardian

We don’t ask anything of people. We don’t even ask them to post and tag us. When we created an Instagram, we were throwing out names. Nicole threw out the word “radical” and we were like: “Wait, that fits, because what we’re doing is very, very radical and unheard of. Who just gives out clothes or anything for free without expecting anything in return?”

That’s how we came up with Radical Clothes Swap. There’s literally no catch: you’re keeping money in your pockets and saving the environment a little bit by shopping for free.

Nicole: At first people were unsure, but now we have a following. Since March, we’ve probably held about five per month. Angel City Brewery is our main swap, every second Saturday of the month. We’re also at the Rivian Pasadena Hub every last Sunday.

We typically get up to 100-plus folks that visit us and, on average, about 50 of those people donate clothes to swap. We’ve estimated that each of those people donates about 6-10lb of clothes, so we receive up to 500lb of clothes per event. We tend to go home with extra donations, which we store for future events.

A lot of people don’t understand that a lot of thrift stores are so overwhelmed with donations that sometimes they just throw clothes away. For people who do thrift, they’re also starting to find that the quality is not good. A lot of it is fast fashion that’s priced at regular store prices.

From left, the Radical Clothes Swap co-founder Nicole Macias; the manager, Enri Navarro; and the co-founder Jannine Mancilla at an event at the Los Angeles Zoo last month. Photograph: Stephanie Noritz/The Guardian

Jannine: What also makes it different from thrift stores is the connections that people make. It’s so beautiful to see people come to our events who don’t know each other, and then we turn around and we see them laughing and talking. It’s not just a place for people to shop for free, but to build community and make connections with other like-minded folks.

When we were growing up it wasn’t cool to wear second-hand clothes, but now it is. White people are thrifting more, so prices are rising because there’s more demand. In a way, this is us taking back that power that we’ve had, something that we’ve always done.

Nicole: Our end goal is to open up a physical space where we can host more educational workshops, like mending and fabric dyeing. We’d love to expand outside of Los Angeles and California.

I feel like Bipocs are always the trendsetters, and this concept of swapping is coming full circle. There’s no money involved. There’s no exchange. It’s community at its core, just giving back.

  • My DIY Climate Hack is a series about everyday people across the US using their own ingenuity to tackle climate change in their neighborhoods, homes and backyards. If you would like to share your story, email us at

Latest article