Sustainability: Clothes Swapping

This article originally featured in The Procrastination Paper Sustainability Issue, in January 2020

Sustainability is having a moment, with fashion particularly under the spotlight. The average lifespan of a garment in the UK is just 2.2 years and every week we send 11 million items of clothing to landfill. With some fabrics taking up to 200 years to decompose this is a huge environmental catastrophe! But what can we do to reduce the impact of our wardrobes while still enjoying fashion?

For the past 5 years I have been part of the team who run Leeds Community Clothes Exchange, a volunteer-led project which aims to extend the lifespan of clothing and reduce the amount that is sent to landfill. We started our monthly swaps back in 2008 and have now over 3000 members!


Clothes swapping is one of the easiest ways to reduce the impact of your wardrobe, whether through an organised swap or on a smaller scale with friends. By increasing the lifespan of our clothes by just nine months we can reduce their carbon footprints by up to 30%!

Before getting involved with LCCE I was your average shopper, making regular purchases from fast-fashion high street stores. After going as a swapper, I quickly started volunteering and learning more about sustainability. In 2016 I committed to a year of no new clothes, with only swapped, secondhand or vintage items allowed, and I’ve never looked back!

Fashion is a great way to express ourselves, and shopping (or swapping) more consciously doesn’t mean you have to opt out completely. My personal style has become much more adventurous since I started swapping – you can try something without commitment. I’ve seen vintage dresses, designer shoes and even wedding dresses swapped at LCCE and now sport an almost entirely swapped wardrobe. It’s a great feeling to see your unwanted item taken off to it’s new home, and spotting them being worn at a future event or making an appearance on their new owners instagram!

Over the last few years a network of clothes exchanges has sprung up all over the country so if you search for one in your local area you should find one near you – and if not, why not start your own? All you need is clothes and some like-minded people to swap with. 

Swapping not for you? No problem! Charity shops are available on every high street, and they’ve really upped their game, with seasonal edits and influencer collabs! Some even have online stores where you can get your second-hand fix from the comfort of your sofa. Reselling apps like depop are also great places to pick up second hand items, particularly if you’re after a particular brand or style. 

My top tips for swapping:

  • Try everything on! Size labels are often misleading, and you never know what might fit if you give it a try.
  • Keep an open mind. If you go searching for a specific item chances are you won’t find what you’re looking for, but sometimes the right item will leap out at you.

Written by Co-Director Lauren Cowdery

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