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May 2006
Gotta Swap
The Satya Interview with Wendy Tremayne


Tired of your same old clothing? How about those jeans you have been meaning to toss for months or even years? Today’s fashion-driven society compels us to desire new apparel. Unfortunately, the balance between staying up on the trends is not only beyond suffering bank accounts, but also causes ethical dilemmas.

Swap-O-Rama-Rama is your answer. At this community clothing swap, you’ll search through a mountain of clothing to satiate your wardrobe. You will also be able to visit a variety of stations where skilled artists teach swappers how to sew and revamp your finds. You can learn to crochet, knit, embroider, silkscreen, sew on buttons and patches, create iron-on appliqués, even design your own new clothing labels like, “Recycled” or “Modified by Me.” And as if you didn’t feel good enough about recycling and reclaiming your creativity, all leftover clothing is donated to a shelter for homeless people.

The swap takes place three times a year in over ten cities, and participation only requires a bag of clothing, a $10 donation and an open mind. Maureen Wysehad a chance to catch Swap-O-Rama-Rama founder Wendy Tremayne between San Francisco and New York swaps, to speak about the ethics and joys of trading goods.

How did you conceive of the Swap-O-Rama-Rama?
It was very logical. In 2001, I was doing some experiments about monetary systems—where value comes from and what it is. I lived about a year trying to barter as much as I could. Everything about my life turned into how resourceful and creative I could be and how I could get around the use of money. At the same time, a friend moved to an un-hip area of NYC, and wished people would come to see her. I said, why don’t we throw a clothing swap? I hadn’t produced clothing swaps before, but it all sort of matched up—I needed clothes and she needed an introduction to where she lived. The night before, we were at a Krishna service singing the round “rama, rama, rama.” So we named the event Swap-O-Rama-Rama.

I wound up doing about three a year, for three or four years—always in someone else’s apartment. But my feelings about consumerism, waste, gluttony and the whole bit were growing and I realized the swaps could have education built in. They started morphing with my political beliefs.

What was your inspiration for going a year on barter?
In 2000, I went to Burning Man for the first time. It had a gift economy—no monetary system—and reminded me of the value I carried, but had put aside to survive in the corporate world. I really felt the need to explore exchange as currency. I didn’t know what I was looking for but knew I needed to make some discoveries. And barter was just so brilliant—I was never so abundant than the year on barter.

What are some of the reasons to swap? What makes it eco-friendly? Socially responsible?
The foundation of the swap is to reuse. It doesn’t require the production of any materials. People come together with a bag of clothes and dump it into a collective mass—between 5,000-10,000 pounds of clothes in a day being recycled. You find clothes you like and take them to any number of DIY stations to learn how to embroider, do iron-ons, silkscreens and other modifications. It is an invitation to take creativity back from industry—to be the creator instead of the consumer. And the event gives people a way to try things without investment. They don’t have to buy a sewing machine or knitting supplies, they can just check it out.

Before the industrial revolution, you or someone you knew made everything you had. Every object around you was imbued with meaning and there were no heaps of trash. We [need to] get back to that experience. Once you make or modify something, you don’t throw it away because you made it more meaningful. Participating in our creativity and making things will reduce landfills because objects regain meaning.

Speaking of which, do you know what percentage of waste is clothing?
Textile waste is currently 4.5 percent of residential waste. And there’s 8.75 billion pounds of textile waste produced a year in America. Not only that, our junk clothes go to poorer nations. It looks like we’re being helpful, but it’s totally destructive. They’re making textiles and hand-making goods, and we’re putting them out of business with our garbage. It’s insane.

What has the response been to the swap?
The response is fantastic. It’s fun. I often describe it as a room full of screeching girls, although it is really very balanced male to female. I didn’t know if people would make things, even if I gave them workshops and DIY stations, but they are non-stop. It’s a very giddy, fun, exciting day. People write to me, “I love that I don’t have to go shopping anymore, I love that I can just wait for the next swap, I can put back stuff I don’t want anymore and not toss it in the trash.”

To start or find a Swap-O-Rama-Rama in your area visit www.swaporamarama.org. Or if you can’t wait until the next one, invite some friends to your home to trade unwanted clothes and donate the leftovers to charity.


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