A pair of denim dungaree. A silk tie/dye crop top. An indigo kurta with copper sequins. A red leather laptop bag. A purple spaghetti blouse.
On a closet rummaging spree, I was counting the not-used months. The dungaree not worn this year. The crop top been sitting ironed for two years. The red laptop bag used 4 times in 2 years. The sifting around was hyper and the guilt of being an environment load started buffering. Then, the mathematical horror piled up. The dungaree must have consumed 8,000 litres to be stitched to my size. 14,000 litres for the bag. Several silkworm corpses for the silk crop top. With each piece of clothing, self-reproach got louder and louder. That’s when I decided to do what I have never done before. Attend a clothes-swap event, a mode of clothes-swishing in which you barter clothes, accessories, bags. You walk in with 6, you can take back 6. You take as many as you bring in. Of course, there’s the rule of unswappables (No, underwear, please).
The crowd in Goa’s Sadhana Dell ‘Arte was milling. Women were walking in with bags of clothes, the volunteers running a quick quality check and handing signed numbered coupons and organisers Sunieta Narayana and Dattaprasad Shetkar flitting in and out with instructions and tying loose ends. Narayana, an environmental engineer by training and a fashion designer by choice, in a fuchsia layered dress, silver shoes, a neckpiece coiled around her neck and a septum ring making a bohemian statement. Shetkar, Goa’s TEDx organiser and brand consultant, in black with a mustard yellow sleeveless
Sunieta Narayana and Dattaprasad Shetkar, organisers of Clothes Swap event in Goa’s Sadhana Dell ‘Arte. Photo credit: Shripad Mayekar
With a 6-number coupon in hand, I sat on a red plastic chair as Narayana talked of slow fashion, the need to not-buy, of the fashion industry being the world’s second-biggest polluter (after oil) and how she joined a crowd-acting campaign in which people vowed not to buy anything new for 90 days. While a few from the mostly-women crowd threw questions and lauded, others got twitchy about the closed doors behind which hung clothes on tidy racks.
When the large wooden doors opened, a woman walked in as if into a fairytale. Sequinned off shoulders, jacquard stole, printed shirts, minis, long dresses, shrugs, boleros, skirts, jeans… Hundreds of clothing items on racks and tables. Few even their price tags on. The ones quick on their toes picked the best, headed to makeshift trial rooms, while others did look test in front of tall mirrors. I waited in a corner for the crowd to thin. I was in no hurry to barter. Or pick what is euphemistically called ‘pre-loved’ clothes. Gauging the enthusiasm of others, I assumed the clothes swap had been sewn neatly into their minds.
Esmeralda Lobo (left), owner of Sadhana Dell ‘Arte, picking a ‘pre-loved’ dress. Photo credit: Shripad Mayekar
Clothes swapping, however, is not newly bent, it is almost three decades since Suzanne Agasi hosted the world’s first known/documented Clothes Swap event in San Francisco. India yoked itself to the swap shelf much later. Clothary, one of Bengaluru’s first clothes’ swapping platforms, threw a swapping party in June 2015. A little later Shenomics, a leadership company organised Conscious Closet Party, a one-time event. In December 2017, Recode, a store that deals with pre-loved clothes organised SwapSwag and in October 2018, Fairtrunk joined hands with Greenstitched for Mumbai’s first-ever Clothes Swap.
This was the second Clothes Swap event organised by Sunieta Narayana. Photo credit: Shripad Mayekar
Worldwide, clothes swapping is so big now that it has a dedicated website (
clothingswap.com) and even Readers’ Digest stitched up a long-form How to Host a Clothing Swap.
Tugging three kurtas and a black cotton shirt off the swap shelf, I was not peering into the Reader’s Digest to-do. Instead, a mathematical table was buzzing in my head. That rainy day in Sadhana D’ll Arte, I saved 30,000 litres of water. Or, was it 32,000 litres? A hundred silkworms from the dying. A few kilograms of pesticide from the cotton crop. And maybe, just maybe, added a few seconds to Earth’s life.
Preeti Verma Lal is a Goa-based freelance writer/photographer