Swap Goals and Money

This will be contentious, buckle up! On our long-term mission with Mara to explore all other swaps in Barcelona, we went to one last Sunday. This one. And, before long, I had gotten myself into an argument about the political rationale of swaps with the organizers. Yeah, considerate and polite, I know… So due to that unplanned outburst, I’ve been thinking about what triggered it… and I’ve arrived to the goals of different swaps – as that was clearly the difference between theirs and mine – and the role money can play in them.

This one on Sunday, organized by Hot Chili Chicas Go on PutFoot, was an instrumental charity swap. One paid 10€ at the entrance for a drink, swap + two charitable causes: The Put Foot Foundation that provides school shoes and supplies for children in Southern Africa and AADAS, an association in Barcelona which helps victims of sexual violence in Catalunya. Clothing swaps are only part of their fundraising efforts, they are doing also pub quizzes, movie screenings, fitness classes, auctions, etc. My first disclaimer here is that after quite few years hanging around bigger and smaller NGOs and overseas development aid activists, I am also pretty unsure about such micro overseas charity efforts. But that’s another conversation…

Going back to the swap as such, in that swap-for-charity scheme of things a clothing swap is the very attractive lure that gets people donating. As you can imagine, this does not fit neatly in my perception of the current textile abundance. Of course, the more circularity of garments, the better, but I see no reason for such hype around a swap…

In my social media bubble, swaps are popping up so often, I can hardly keep track… but the attendees at this one seemed to have really hungry eyes, following the new arrivals with hawk-like concentration. Adrenaline was in the air, and I took it as a sign of first-timers’ excitement. Maybe I just don’t have enough time to observe humans at my own swaps… I had been told about people having their favorite ‘providers’ and trailing them while they unload their discards but had never really seen that in action.

Finally having some time to just observe… and a glass of cava indeed helps!

A swap-related magic belief that I really struggle with is the one about the inherent value and infinite recyclability of all garments. While the material and labor input is undeniable even for the worst quality garments, thinking that all leftover garments ‘just haven’t found the right girl’ is ludicrous. In a world full of worn out and skewed-seamed 3€ Primark t-shirts, unfortunately, swap leftovers (and stuff that have to go directly to the orange container instead of a swap) is the first sign of sanity. So many of the garments surrounding us has a very low first-hand use potential, not to mention any potential to become a prized second-hand find.

For me swaps are clearing houses, separating the grain from the ashes, because doing it collectively it is much quicker and precise process. Yes, in some cases one woman’s garbage is other’s treasure… but I also hope that my swaps also serve to learn to recognize quality instead of jumping to anything free and sparkly. Indeed, after what I have seen at swaps throughout last three years, there are two big groups of fashion fails that poison the swaps: (a) the worn out, ripped, stained low quality basics, and (b) the extravagant, uncomfortable, and badly engineered garments that have been worn very little if any. And the mission of a top swapper is to recognize that stuff for what it is and steer clear of them.

Yes, it is unfortunate but I console myself thinking about the reasonable garments that get saved out of that primordial soup. A wide-enough ‘offer’ is the key to make sure that there is a good-enough soup to waddle through. A 100% circulation rate has never been part even of my utopian swap fantasies. Yeah, I know, you can’t *always* predict what will break, pile or lose shape, but often you can… I can only hope that people honing such selection skills would also apply them to their purchases and leave the producers and distributors stuck with their deficient wares.

Mara being a faster-than-light swap clearing house in person.

For me a clothing swap is a complete creation that doesn’t need a further charitable cause. The goal is to swap garments and hence put them into new, loving hands instead of eating dust at the deep end of a wardrobe or at the landfill. There is also a secondary educational goal to indirectly teach people – through repeated visions of heaps of free clothing and repeated satisfaction of having quenched their thirst for novelty without having paid for it – that buying (new) garments is so passé. My secret plan is that a repeated, very visual first-hand experience of the incredible garment abundance we live in should make an imprint that there is no need to buy new, that there is no real need for them. Almost all our acquisitions are pure whims, hence – as with all drugs – it is preferable to follow that impulse in a controlled environment and actively reducing the harm caused. And the best way to create that educational experience is a free and deeply ‘communist’ swap.

Yes, some money is needed to organize the swap I’d like to attend. Although we have a very friendly deal with Ateneu Roig – no rent for the premises in return for users getting their drinks from their bar – there are the little stupid expenses: tape, garbage bags, and snacks, snacks, snacks… And my own time, and that of the volunteers, is not included there.

For the number-curious, here are the Ateneu Roig and Un Armario Verde income from the last five Ateneu Roig swaps, pretty volatile and not really impressive, as you can see. After the last swap in September 2019, my net gain after the direct expenses came to a stunning 12.57€. Again, without even trying to include my time, the IT costs of the blog, electricity for cooking and laundry, etc. I’m celebrating the fact that I am breaking even with the direct costs, as the nervous damage is priceless.

And to remind that my purity is not absolute, we actually did a ‘paid’ swap in June, at Imprfcto bar in Parallel. Following the same strategy described above, we included a drink in the price – 5€ – and provided all the usual snacks. And it paid off alright: 77€ for the bar and 102.71€ to share between me and Mara. Again though, after deducting the expenses, I had 9.09€. In this case it also meant the additional 15€ for the taxi I had to take back home. That’s why I prefer my swaps in Gràcia and at the same place because much of the stuff stays at Ateneu Roig…

However, it did feel weird, especially when some of the Ateneu Roig regulars came in, apparently oblivious to the 5€ thing. In some cases neither me nor Mara had the guts to ask for the fee… Well, I had taught people that swaps are free, what did I expect? Now I’ve been training the uncustomers to consider my swaps a ‘taquilla inversa’ events, with varying results.

And money feels nice. I like money. Even better than social media likes, money is a very real form of recognition of a good job: money has changed hands, hence something of value has taken place. So I’m not against receiving payments. I had set up a Ko-fi account for a year or so and tried to promote it – i.e. ‘if you didn’t have cash to tip the swap, send your digital money this way’ – but nobody ever gave me those 3€. People love free shit… and my heart loves providing that utopian experience

Also, until the end of 2018 I was well paid via my PhD scholarship, and treated spending on events and IT maintenance like spending on books and fun courses: and investment I chose to make. Now that my unemployment benefits are over, I do fret about money. Often. But I also know that trying to charge at Ateneu Roig swaps would be off brand and logistically difficult (think of that huge garage door). Harvard Business Review will tell you any day that ‘Whatever funding mechanism is used to cover the costs of excellence, it is best thought out as thoroughly as possible prior to the launch of a new service, rather than amended in light of experience afterward. When a service that’s been perceived as free suddenly has fees associated with it, customers tend to react with disproportionate displeasure.’

So I actually agree with the Sunday swap ladies who tried to convince me that y time had to be remunerated… just that I have users with three years of free swap experience to accommodate. And going back to the beginning, my priority is that glorious free swap experience, planting that seed of dissent, doubt …and rebellion against the fashion system. And costs will have to be covered in alternative ways.


So, while I’ll be trying to control my self-righteous temper at social occasions, Ateneu Roig swaps will be (as always) free in any foreseeable future and other possible future venues might have other rules. No charitable goals beyond fomenting circular garment economies and conscious consumption will be promoted. If you would like to economically support my self-employed life, send donations via PayPal at jauatkales [a] gmail.com, leave generous tips during the December swap, or engage me as your KonMari consultant and wardrobe coach

How do you feel about money in sustainable/upcycling/anticapitalist events? It feels great to say ‘oh, enjoy, it is all for free’ but landladies don’t tend to follow he same logic. Do you feel comfortable paying for a swap? Does it help if it has a further charitable goal instead of giving the organizers some pocket-money?

September Swap (11th!) recap

My pride and joy, happy uncustomers.

As I keep responding people who come to me all excited about how great the swaps are, ‘yeah, I’ve been doing this since 2016 and this is the 11th time, I’ve learnt a thing or two…’ There were no force majeures during this event, all went well, all as usual. So I have only a couple of points to write down for the history and such…

My swap stuff to be carried from home is down to one carrito and one bag, yeah! Practice, eh.


On volunteers

Chus and Patri being the heroes until the very end.

While I love everybody who gives their time, social networks or money to swaps, it always feels to little. And I know that the problem is mine. This is my love project, and my unconscious measuring of people’s dedication by my own standards are clearly ludicrous… but I still do that. And numerous bitter experiences have confirmed that I cannot trust anybody to do what they promised they’d do until they’ve done that. Well, we don’t have a written contract, I pay no money and circumstances change, indeed. On the other hand, I know very well that I am unable to set up and wrap up a swap alone.

That said, *thank you* so much to those who came early and those who stayed late, and those who shared the event on FB and IG, those that left tips, and those who keep liking Un Armario Verde stuff on social media. This time, I have to thank especially Liisa, Lorena, Coco, Effie, Virginia, Cynthia, Grace, Patricia, Chus… and Mara from across the ocean! xoxo


On wrap up

The final countdown being performed by Grace, Cynthia, Patri and Chus.

It’s f*ing exhausting! If the setup is at least filled with the excitement – and more people volunteer for this part – wrapping up a swap is quite horrible… I try to entice people with the fact that you get to go through all the things, maybe still take something for yourself, make snide comments about other people’s stuff, but even I didn’t have much fun this time. Taking into account that it takes place after 5+ hours of being on my feet and has to be done so as to return Ateneu to its best possible state, ugh. I just kept observing how the light went out of those who had volunteered to stay until the end, poor creatures. Again, thank you so much for enduring so much, and I hope to see you again!


On leftovers

First of all, I’ll bite the next person who’ll ask me what do I do with the leftovers and then roll their eyes at me. F*ck you! You make a comprehensive survey about the textile reuse/recycling opportunities in Barcelona and take a reasonable decision about what to do with these bags and bags of (mostly) low quality / worn out clothes. And then physically carry it out instead of being philosophical about it. Dear people, your textile garbage is not amazing, nobody wants it!

So, for those at the back, for many times now, we pack it up and take it to Botiga Gratis of Banc Expropriat who run a very similar affair to my swaps but do that every working day for 3h (if you ever need any basic clothing or just want to browse sth, c/ Quevedo 13-15 from 18:00 till 21:00). It is not far but requires at least two trips for at least two adults with the aid of supermarket trolleys. And it has to be done on Monday or Tuesday after the swap, as Ateneu has other activities to do instead of just keeping a space full of bags and the Botiga Gratis ladies rest on weekends. So far I think I’ve had only such ‘volunteers’ for the Botiga Gratis part that I can coerce emotionally because they are friends: Liisa, Mara, and, I think most often throughout these years, C ♥.

The political choice I mentioned earlier in choosing the next step in the reusing/recycling chain is a complex one… The official stance of the city of Barcelona are the orange Roba Amiga containers. It is a Catholic-church affiliated NGO and they have the municipal contract for all textile residue management. They have shops that resell, they export to other countries, and they make pulp for industrial rags, carpeting, isolation, etc. I estimate, though, that the likelihood that somebody will wear the same garment you have deposited in the orange in Barcelona is very small… only if they are part of the illegal resellers that routinely break in those containers.

Botiga Gratis is not perfect either. They are also overwhelmingly full of low quality stuff, so seeing our haul does not necessarily make them happy. And they don’t believe in textile recycling – their hate for second-hand shops and resellers is visceral indeed – so all their discards go to the gray container and straight to the landfill. Not cool for all that polyester and other materials that will be there forever. 200+ years, Fashion Revolution dixit:

Taking into account the actual quality of the leftovers, the most considerate way of doing this would be to take the good things to Botiga Gratis and the bad ones to a Roba Amiga container. We actually separated them while sorting this time, again, with an extra effort from those tired volunteers, but ended up not doing it… because the closest church that had a container according to Roba Amiga homepage was brandishing a sign ‘we are not accepting clothes for Caritas’. F*ck it, said we and just hauled it to Botiga Gratis.


On finds: for me

I got a new pair of – this time – fake birks… the most hilarious part is that I didn’t notice that it is a Natura copy until I started taking photos at home. Well, welcome to the family! The old ones have had 250+ wears and are very ready to be discarded, so the bar for the performance of the new ones is a low one. They are longer but much more narrow than birks, so my hobbit feet will have to work hard to deform that length into width.

I also picked up a couple of things with a hope to refashion them, I’ll let you know if that happens.


On finds: for people who are coming

Washed and KonMaried, ta-dah! Also, a dachshund ribbon fixes everything.

My friend Luisa is expecting and this swap – unexpectedly! – offered me a chance to give her a babyshower present. Being me, knowing that she has already got quite few hand-me-downs for the baby, and her knowing me well enough (and being a fan of swaps), buying something new felt inauthentic… so, after asking her first from the swap if she was interested in 4 new-looking Primark 100% cotton onesies size 86cm, a gift was born. I hope Clarinha likes them too, they are soft and look quite comfy to poop in.


Here you have my rant, see you on December 14th then! Because, although I complain and get tired, the show must go on… because it makes so much sense, because this is the thing that has do be done. And, as my love for rags is intense, it clearly has to be me doing this. I love you, swaps.

What are your swap experiences? Ever attended one? Ever organized one? Ever thought of organizing one, found this post, and now think it’s not such a good idea? Do it! All those sad garments at the very bottom of the wardrobe needs some airing out and somebody new to hang out with.

All my swap finds

Swap X was an important accomplishment for me, and we are innovating in the next one – see you next Saturday for fashion joys and Belgian beer – so I’m marking it with a personal recap of all garments I’ve ever taken from the swaps I’ve organized. In total, 18 items / 10 events = 1.8 per swap. And 12/18 are still in my wardrobe. Only in the first swap I was apparently so excited about having pulled together an actual event where my envisioned swapping magic could happen I didn’t even look for things…


Swap I – October 1, 2016.

Nothing, according to my data… I know, cute.


Swap II – January 28, 2017.

(1) Liisa MnS lace dress (out in Swap V) and (2) Liisa velvet skater skirt. This was so funny for us because I was hanging out with Liisa so often then we could’ve done this without organizing an event. I love it when people tell me of similar swap interactions: ‘I picked up this and this amazing thing, and you know what, my best friend had brought them here, isn’t that cool?’ It is, darling, it is the coolest thing.

The lace dress was clearly not meant for repeated rough wear, and piled and felted with other layers. I wasn’t familiar with de-piling technology back then, so out it went after 20 wears. A good bodycon has been on my swap wishlist since then. The velvet skater skirt is still going strong at 63 wears.


Swap III – May 27, 2017.

(3) Julie cardigan (out in Swap IX) and (4) HnM striped mini. I wore that cardigan 96 times (plus some uncounted lounging around the house) before I grew tired of it and passed it along. The little skirt is at 31 wears and has been difficult this winter: it requires a pair of black opaque tights to be worn comfortably, and in Barcelona that means November-February only. Maybe I’ve just outgrown little jersey miniskirts? It’s an unclear ‘stays’ at this point, it will have until the end of 2019 to prove its worth.


Swap IV – September 30, 2017: pre-post, recap post.

(5) Laura polka dot dress (out in Swap V) and (6) Esprit floral shirt (out in Swap IX). The blue dress was pretty, twirled beautifully, and so plastic it suffocated me as if I was a sausage in cellophane. So out it went after 11 wears. The Esprit shirt was 100% cotton, beautifully finished, and oh! that floral pattern… but just too big for me. For it to keep a cool shape I needed to be very crafty with my waistlines, otherwise it just looked sloppy. So 51 wears and by-bye.


Swap V – February 3, 2018: recap post.

(7) Forever 21 and (8) Atmosphere shorts. This is where my swap finds started to slide into loungewear… happily, so far. Both are with me still, most of their wears not counted (in the spreadsheet: 66 for the t-shirt, 31 for the shorts) as I mostly lounge around in these. I already mended a hole in the t-shirt – it is flimsy Forever 21 cotton mix jersey, after all – and it’s getting some new ones. Help, where will I find another incredibly soft and perfectly body-hugging t-shirt??? …at the next swap, I hope.


Swap VI – May 12, 2018: pre-post, recap post.

(9) Home slippers, (10) winter gloves, and (11) Zara cardigan. This one went really well, mostly thanks to Margareta who had seen my wishlist online, spotted these things at the swap, and then just gave me the slippers and the gloves. The gloves are what they look like, basic and protect my hands from the bicycle wind. The slippers were exactly what I wanted: loafer style, warm and fluffy, rigid sole, *my size and width*, and made in Spain… I still have them but the sole is crumbling away, so – despite my efforts with the glue – they will end in textile garbage pretty soon. But what a glorious ride it has been!

The cardigan stands at 87 wears now. I did a basic mending of a hole it had when I picked it up and then added a fun ribbon (with duckies; from Carmen’s archives) on top of it to begin with, and now it’s unraveling again. Oh, Zara, you and your stupid nylon/cotton blends not meant for walking… my new plan is to just embroider it all over the edges, hopefully in the style of Liza Smirnova (especially, this!) and Ezra W. Smith. A glorious 3-in-1 plan: (a) mending the unraveling parts, (b) learning to embroider, and (c) improving this little cardigan beyond the wildest dreams of its creators. Hell yeah!


Swap VII – September 15, 2018: recap post.

(12) Pink lounge kaftan. A no brainer: the thinnest viscose posible for the those summer days when having a thin layer of fabric feels better than the naked stickiness… Barcelona, pum-pum-pum-pum-pum, Barcelona, oooooh! The material is very flimsy and the hem splits are already breaking, we’ll make an assessment once the summer is over.


Swap VIII – December 1, 2018: recap post.

(13) Fake Vans slippers (out in Swap X) and (14) black Mucha dress. I really like the idea of skater slip-ons, but Vans are just not good enough people to buy them new… and these ones turned to be made for sitting, not walking. despite being my size and having a pretty pattern, that sole was basically cardboard and 12 wears was I all I could do in these. I haven’s worn the black Mucha dress yet (what is a Mucha dress in my head? here), but have high hopes for it to fill the relaxed flapper summer dress void in my heart…


Swap IX – February 9, 2019: pre-post, recap post.

(15) Bershka cutback (out in Swap X) and (16) Benetton pink sweater. These are results for my perfect top quest. The cutback top had me widgeting with the bra all the time, so 13 wears together was all we could do. The wool Benetton one, after Mara’s embroidery intervention and some de-piling, and ten wears, is now happily waiting for cold weather to come again.


Swap X – May 11, 2019: recap post.

(17) Red lounge pants and (18) yellow lounge pants. It has been only a month, but the red ones are happily integrated in my wardrobe and oh! so comfy. The yellow ones need that elastic change, I’ll keep you posted once that happens.


So, what have we learned, folks? That swaps are great! It is the perfect playground to do so many things, and there is time for browsing even if your are organizing/helping out, wink-wink… You can experiment, and bring things back if they didn’t work. You can radically reduce your wardrobe knowing that garments are not scarce and you can always fill it again. You can pick up wacky garments for your upcycling and refashioning projects.

My strategy by now is that of having a clear, very visual, very exact wishlist (Pinterest is my tool of choice for that) but then still be flexible if something that truly speaks to your most authentic self jumps at you.

What have been your best swap/second-hand/hand-me-down finds? Do you have an explicit strategy for these events/places? Are you more of a wishlist person or the intuitive picker?

Renova la teva roba: Barcelona’s municipal clothing swap

Yes, this is the post where I’ll tell you how the municipal clothing swaps work in Barcelona, and why I think my swaps are better than theirs… Brazen, I know, but bear with me. Most of it is about *how* it is done, not the fact that they are doing this or why would they. The overall goal, as stated in their website is to promote ‘el consum responsable, la prevenció de residus i la sostenibilitat’. Great, we are obviously on the same page!

To be more diplomatic, I see how their secondary objectives are very different from mine, and I don’t think that theirs work in their favor. My major disclaimer here is that I haven’t spoken with people in charge of this activity yet. I plan to do that once my thesis is out of the way, so I am oblivious to possible probable institutional squabbles that might have shaped the architecture of Renova la tev roba at the City council. So I hope there will be a second part of this post explaining how it came to be. And I didn’t go to all the locations (yes, plural, more about that below), so it could be that I just had bad luck… Well, this is my experience as a normal Barcelonina who wanted to take part in the municipal swaps.

Down we go to the details, and, gosh, how many details… and that is my first disappointment with the priorities of these swaps: you really have to pay attention to the small print. The idea clearly is that you learn that the month of swapping (twice a year!) is coming, download the bulletin (I also uploaded a copy here) and carefully study it.

Because there is a lot to study… (1) This May there were 18 spaces where you could go and swap, all across Barcelona. (2) Each of them had different days and hours when the swapping would take place. (3) You have to go at least twice because at each location there was a time window of gathering your discards and then another one for picking up new-to-you things. (4) There is a limit of what you can bring: 10 garments max, and only 2 max if they are winter jackets. (5) Only clothes and accessories, no footwear, no underwear, no linen, no other objects. (6) The same limit applies on what you can take: 10 garments max, and only 2 max if they are winter jackets. (7) When you give your discards, they are looked at by the staff/volunteers to check for stains, rips, etc. and, if accepted, you are given vouchers according to what you have brought, ranging from 1 point for t-shirts and accessories to 5 points for winter jackets. (8) When you come back to pick things up, you can take only what your points will buy you, e.g. if you brought three t-shirts, you now have three Renoves which can get you other three t-shirts, or a bag (one point) and a cardigan (two points), or a dress (three points). (9) Vouchers are valid only for the current edition. (10) But you can bring them to other spaces, i.e. discard in one location and go pick things up in another… Is you head spinning already?

It is clear that the second-order objectives are ‘decentralization’ and ‘justice’ as in avoiding free riding. The decentralization part makes certain political (keep the neighborhoods alive!), organizational (externalize this to already existing network of Centres Civics or Ateneus), and accessibility (people might be more willing to go if it is nearby) sense. However, it also means that the possible amount of garments and energy available is divided by 18 and scattered around. But I could buy that…

That acute fear of free riding is just weird, though. I know I had it before the first swap I ever hosted. And I have observed it at the Botiga Gratis of Banc Expropriat. It is this fear that, if you say that something is free, a horrific hombre del saco will show up and take everything. And you little helpless organizer will just stand there in your impotence because in your naïveté you had said that is was free… which is (a) absurd and (b) has never happened. For me the biggest argument against these formal ‘protective’ measures is that they promote the opposite of the idea that clothes are so abundant that there is no need to stress about them.

So, what exactly did I experience?


Espai Intercanviat, Programa Millor Que Nou.
Dropped off on May 22, browsed on May 25, 2019.

I had been curious about Millor Que Nou for a long time, as it is the municipal hub for all kinds of activities that promote reuse and resistance to programmed obsolescence: repair and maintenance workshops, talks, and an ongoing exchange of objects. Take a look at their workshops, they sound great nad trying them out is on my to-do list! So I picked two good enough but nor exciting anymore pieces from my wardrobe: my mom’s gray cardigan (2012, 219+ wears) and her jersey dress (2016, 24 wears), washed and folded them, and went to Sant Antoni.

And that was swift: an employee of the Espai Intercanviat took my stuff and chatted a bit. I made her explain all the details to me again, just trying to catch her at ‘this is ridiculously complex’ but she wouldn’t. She did admit that many people brought too shabby things. I got my five Renove points (cardigan = 2 Renoves, dress = 3 Renoves) on a little slip of paper and went away. Having forgotten to take any pictures…

For the day I could pick stuff up I revised my Pinterest wishboard, and went back to Sant Antoni. It was a rainy Saturday morning, and I think there were only two other persons going through the clothing available, one of them with a baby and looking at baby stuff. The point system here was interpreted as needing to mark every garments with its ‘price’, color coded. And somebody had gone through all the garments putting little stickers on them. Tedious and a bit pointless, imho. These people have a lot of space, just separating by ‘price categories’ could have worked out fine. And the categories are pretty clear as not to create confusion at the ‘check-out’.

The supply was the typical lower-end second-hand one would find in a Humana on a bad day. Bershka, Decathlon, piling, worn out jersey, stretched knits, and the occasional hole… all that ‘no rips, no stains, our people will check this before accepting’ quality control is clearly just to weed out the complete aberrations that people should recognize on their own and discard in the orange container.

My purple dress was hanging there, looking quite sad and stretched on an unfriendly hanger… I didn’t see the cardigan. I hope that means that somebody had already picked it up.

And, if you came looking for a wallet, a belt, a bag, or a starfish fancy dress for your toddler, it might have been your lucky day! I came in looking for a headband, a short and thick sweater, a bodycon dress, and a basic 3/4 sleeve t-shirt, and went home empty handed. But I am very spoiled by now. For somebody whose luggage had been lost, there were plenty of options to start anew.

The weirdest thing I saw: used coffee capsule earrings. ‘Price’: 1 Renove. I’m all for reuse, but who thought that this was a good idea? And who would like to wear these, even if your beloved niece gifted them to you? If somebody gets this, please, explain!

The second weirdest: a jacket with a Humana price tag still on. Imagine all the travel and sorting this jacket has been through, dude, it deserves a comfy retirement by now.

The books and the shoes, and the toys, and the electronics were all off-limits until the Renova event ends it goes back to its ‘we swap everything’ policy. The year-round scheme is a bit more elastic: they also count your given up items to permit you to take some. Hold on, here comes the funny bit that creates even more questions about who thought the Renova la teva roba scheme: in the Millor Que Nou exchange clothing is given away with no strings attached, assuming – according to the employee of the space – that ‘clothing is a human right’ and that, if people came asking, they really needed it. She did not seem to realize the glaring contradiction between that statement and the setup for Renova la teva roba.


Casa Orlandai.
Dropped off on May 29, browsed on May 31, 2019.

OK, for those uninitiated in class differences by neighborhood in Barcelona, Sarrià is posh… so I was curious. Maybe this was the magical place where rich people exchanged their beautiful frocks? Was this a possible entry point for the quality vintage that does not turn up in Humana?

Although I still had my 5 Renoves from Millor Que Nou, I also wanted to try out discarding garments there. C’s jeans that I had modified (2018, 30 wears) was the garment I had to get rid of. I had put a real effort in making myself wear them, and they never felt great. Bah… Jeans are not the easiest swap thing, as you have to try them on. And I was bringing a pair that wasn’t even true to its measurements, not even a pair of men’s pants anymore. I tried to at least warn people with this sticker:

The Centre Civic is a beautiful modernisme villa with a sunny backyard café… and as this is not a year-round activity for them, the clothing containers were in the hallway and I was attended by one of the reception ladies, don’t know if employees or volunteers. My data was taken down carefully… both the type of items I had brought and the sociodemographics: gender, age, neighborhood. She was somehow very surprised – ‘oh, what a great idea!’ – that I had modified my jeans, but lamented that I had only three Renoves. Then I asked about the possibility to use the other five from Millor Que Nou and she, after having checked if those points were truly from this year’s edition, confirmed that and said that, well, eight Renoves was already a nice amount…

And I was told that there are additional rules! Surprise. According to the lady who attended me, the event had been such a success in the past that, to avoid overcrowding, there would be raffled turns to control the number of people who enter in the swap. So not only one should come back on just one particular day, it also necessarily had to be between 17:00 and 18:00 to get my raffle number and then possibly waiting for your turn until 18:30. This already felt like so much effort…

So I did arrive 35 min before the magical 18:00 of the raffle, got my number – 35 – and read my book in that sunny backyard while eyeing others present. My field notes read: ‘The patio is filled with beautiful rich mothers and their wild toddlers. An English-speaking bunch too, the only ones that smoke. Unclear if they are all here for the swap or just part of the everyday routine of this place. How many people are doing the same strategy of going to the posh neighborhood? Few here look like they don’t belong.’ I was really hoping that that bunch of cool moms would be there to swap… seemed befitting.

As the designated time approached, I didn’t really notice any movement. I was waiting for those moms to move inside! A few minutes to 18:00 I went back to main door just to find it locked, and a run-around to the patio-door got me there at a moment of post-raffle frenzy. It took me a couple a minutes to figure out that they had actually opted for first-come-first-served model and numbers up to 45 were allowed to enter now. Then I got lost in all those modernisme stairs, and – after having my raffle number taken away at the entrance – stepped into the swap at 18:07 (that’s the time stamp on the first photos)… and it’s a memory blur there because I was so shocked about what I saw. I might have laughed hysterically. Maybe only on the inside. Here, do you see anything weird in these pictures?

Dude, I had never seen a swap were there are more people than garments! And such nervousness about grabbing sometthing, anything. This was the farthest possible thing from mindfully swapping. No changing rooms, no mirrors, just taking whatever there was. I actually saw an elderly gentleman taking a thick, sparkly jersey cocktail minidress. There might be a perfectly reasonable explanation to it, but still… And there were barely a couple of things left at that point. Only a heavy air of stress and scarcity. Add to that the final scrutiny and queuing to ‘pay’ at the exit, and it all smelled too much of my family’s mythology about soviet and postsoviet scarcity.

Maybe they brought in more things just after I left at 18:09… Maybe they had just started earlier for those with insider knowledge, i.e. numbers 1-20… I’m still unsure what to think of this. I came out shocked and texting Mara and C the photos. I just needed witnesses, I needed their confirmation that this was clearly ridiculous.


So… this brings me back to my initial point of Un Armario Verde swaps being better than the municipal one. They are. Obviously, we do not cover such territory but we are also not a public entity with a network of spaces all around the city. Our overall offer is wider and nicer than in Millor Que Nou and, well, there are no feeling of scarcity, as opposed to my second experience. If the main overarching goal is to teach people – via material experiences – that garments are abundant and there is no need to shop new, one has to create places that feel that way. D-oh!

Being a confirmed obsessive compulsive data freak, I don’t think I’ve ever said this before but, these people are too focused on controlling and data gathering. Chillax! Make a party out of it. Teach people that there is an abundance of garments out there…

Until I get an insider’s perspective on this, have you, beloved Barceloninas, tried the Renova la tev roba swaps? Maybe it was a wild party at Lluïsos de Gràcia or Fort Pienc, and just happened to have chosen badly? Or, having read all this, do you think I’m overreacting out of self-interest and bias towards my own events?

May Swap (10th!) recap

May swap – the 10th! – was, well, normal… Typical. As planned. Pretty much a well-oiled and known event. The highlights and aftertastes include:

(a) There were enough people, not too much people, feeling even a bit empty at times. The only approximation to the scope and attendance I have are the FB event numbers, so… I have FB ‘reach’ stats since Swap IV, and these thousands of people – the record 19.7k for Swap IX – who have scrolled past it on their FB feeds is why I often joke that it’s surprising that we haven’t had to call Guàrdia Urbana just yet. Well, this is how one learns that reach does not translate into action… and the reason why I’ve had several unexpected conversations along the lines of ‘oh, those swaps are yours? Sure I know them.’ Or people who come by and, when asked, say that they probably saw the event on Time Out. Ha!

I have also learnt that ‘interested’ doesn’t mean shit. Some of those turn up but what they actually serve it to show the potentials – as they cannot see the FB reach – to what extent is this event an appealing idea to other FB users… To illustrate my point with an example: 148 ‘going’ for Swap IX vs. 150 ‘going’ for Swap X make sense, the 343 additional people who clicked ‘interested’ did not turn this one into a more crowded swap. But it is satisfying to see the number grow, or, well, stay high.

(b) As for the demographics, fun fact: the audience is a faithful reflection of who I am. Early thirties expat smarty-pants all the way… Men’s corner is a rather sad affair, children and older people are not necessarily catered to, and the class bias are enormous. Easy-to-implement ideas on how to mix it up a bit are most welcome!

(c) Being featured as one of the ‘official’ Barcelona swap-thrift events. All it took was one FB message, but felt and looked cool anyways.

(d) Seems that the separation between bar money and tips/taquilla inversa is finally clear. Cool. By having all the free stuff inside the event space and leaving the drinks at the bar, geographic distance did its magic.

Also, I had a lot of fun making my lettering signs that would guide people to the bar (and the tip box). So much so that I forgot to take a picture of them. Here’s one from the ‘dress rehearsal’ at home:

(e) To be completely open about the money, these are the stats since I started having a tip jar… Keep in mind that I spend around 25€ for the snacks and then there’s the tape, the garbage bags, the incense, the posters I had printed *and* the time invested. Time for finishing the thesis? Time for growing my KonMari consulting business? I won’t even try to calculate the hours spent because that would be very depressing, especially taking into account that a great part of it is answering idiot questions in two languages to people who clearly haven’t even clicked on the event description. And the time and resources of other people, too, of course. Thank you so much, Mara! And Margareta! And Patricia and Chus! And Lala!

We get – quite consistently, curiously – 30€ in tips. Except for Swap IX which was 7.30, and truly enraged me. Hence my money anxiety after these 10 editions… An anti-capitalist labor of love is alright but I am angry when it clearly isn’t appreciated because the dots are not connected. If every person who passed through a swap put just 1€ in the tip jar, this would be amazing. Even if only those who come by and thank me effusively for the ‘amazing idea’ would do so… It sounds incredibly naïve, I know, but it’s rather unpleasant to run an anti-capitalist operation in a capitalist world with no capital. Who knew?!

I already shared my fatigue after the Swap VII, then mostly about the lack of volunteers, and this circles back to it. I’m working on how to square the circle and continue my labor of love while getting all the right feels out of these event, as opposed to feeling exploited and like paying a great party for other people.

(f) And, talking about volunteers, we have a problem. My angry September post got quite few reactions of ‘oh, but just ask for help’. I do. A week before the swap I dutifully ask for volunteers, with clear hours and ‘job’ descriptions. And, with very few noble exceptions, I get the typical Wild West scene of tumbleweed on an empty street. Yes, back to the appreciation of the effort needed to host a swap the way I like it…

This time the setting it up started late, so some people had to be sent away at 11:00 because the ‘shop’ was not there yet, and it just happened that only three of us wrapped it up. Thank you so much, Margareta and Anouar! The open question is how to ensure timely and numerous volunteers whose pay is the pleasure of taking part… I thought it was enough, but clearly I’m weird.

(g) There were a lot of leftovers this time. Aimee (or any other crafter, remember the offer to come pick up whatever?) wasn’t there to collect any of it, so the wrap-up and final disposing of was lengthy. I prefer to think that it is because my loyal un-customers are losing their attachment to the idea of clothes as a scarce resource and shedding garments instead of accumulating…

This is just a fraction of leftovers, on their way to Botiga Gratis:

Both the wannabe Vans slip-ons that I had picked up at the December’18 swap and the ballet flats I tried on during this swap ended up at the Banc Expropriat. Hope somebody there will be happy to adopt them!

As for me, I have two new lounge pants. The yellow ones need a couple of new elastics, and the red ones can accompany me on a new yoga journey whenever that comes. Cool, thank you my beloved anonymous donors!

And there is a care suggestion too: (a) do a more-ritualistic-than-truly-cleansing (i.e. cold, short and gentle) wash of your new garments to make them symbolically yours, acquire the smell of your detergent, and (b) be cautious while doing it, as you don’t want that first wash to be the one hat destroyed your whites. Just be adult about this!


Do you have any swap experiences? Have you ever organized a swappy event? If yes, how did that go? If you have read this far, what advice would you have for my discontent?

February Swap (9th!) recap

Oh, the February (9th!) swap! The sun was shining, the afrolatin music was on, the vermouth was had… and some outrageous – and some less outrageous – pieces were swapped and adopted. And I was very happy. So this time there are no critical remarks. You can find them in previous recaps.

The mandatory ‘bring it on’ Saturday morning elevator selfie. That flower ball is my new official swap headgear:

Doing our best to welcome all creatures in need of a t-shirt, vermouth, carrot stick or a Saturday walk:

If Facebook is to be believed, this was the most visited swap so far. This is the current record at FB reach. At no point it felt too crowded, though. I keep fearing that one day I’ll have to call Guàrdia Urbana to contain the crowd, but we haven’t been anywhere close to that.

However, we ran out of food really quickly. But now we have a new official ‘we are out of food’ snack: popcorn! Turns out people really love them some microwave popcorn. Not organic, not zero waste, but vegan and much better than alcohol on an empty stomach.

Gender and age integration is an ongoing challenge for the swap, as – surprise, surprise! – most uncustomers have my age and my gender. I’m not really sure how to actively encourage underrepresented groups (suggestions are most welcome!) but I’m very happy when they appear, especially the ladies. Because señoras is the real quality mark of an event, they just effortlessly add class. And if I learn that they are into prints as Luisa’s mother-in-law or *animal* prints as Silvia’s mom, my heart just melts! True role models indeed.

The unplanned fail was that I smashed the objective of my camera… I was carrying it in my chain strap purse… and after some happy jumps the chain went ñeh and the purse down to the floor. I bought a new objective after the weekend, but my photographic abilities were meh for the rest of the event. So many of the photos here are courtesy of Margareta. Thank you so much! And lesson learnt: next time the camera will come to the swap into its protective bag and not in a flimsy purse.


And finally we got a little upcycling initiative to take advantage of the textile gathered! For a long time I had wished some refashionistas, patchworkers, quilters, trapillo knitters etc. would turn up and take the some supplies as quite few items at the swap might be pass their prime or suboptimal as that particular garment but still full of potential to be transformed into something else. So I couldn’t have been happier when Aimee wrote: “Hello hello! So I am finally making a bunch of upcycled yoga bolsters, as I think I mentioned to you! A yoga teacher friend of mine also has four yoga bolster covers she needs to stuff with rags. Wondered if you could ask people to bring their unwearable clothes and we can make a rag collection bin? I will then tear it up and it will go into a useful, high value item!” Yes, please!

We designated a big ‘Rags for Aimee’ bag and then the magic of rebirth happened… First, after bringing it home: “It makes me feel so satisfied to have something useful to do with it […] and bolsters need SO MUCH stuffing!” And then: “Hey hey! I finished the bolsters and gave one away. Will take a pic of the two remaining ones and send it to you- perhaps you will feel some satisfaction or perhaps you will be able to use it in a blog post or to talk about where our clothes go in this mad world. […] They weigh like dead bodies but they’re super great for yoga 🙂 […] Can also be used piled one on top of the other as low seating.” And she dyed them herself: “Yes! First try at the shibori method.”

Take Aimee’s example, let me know if you want to come pick up specific items for a project and COME GET THEM. That is, of course, if you need bag-loads of stuff. If you are into small scale refashion and just looking for a theater or fancy dress costume, feel free to just pick up, of course. Although I’m always happy to receive those ‘after’ pics. Like these fabulous ladies who, convinced by Mara, are casually showing off their swap finds:

It could be because Aimee took away three bolsters worth of clothes, but this time the leftovers were really light. Excellent! As I described in the December swap recap, I’m not very comfortable with pushing so much stuff on the Botiga Gratis ladies…


My swap finds this time are two bodyhuggers: cute and flattering to begin with but we’ll see how they perform in the long run. The striped Bershka cutback number intrigues me because I’ve never had one of those fashionable back holes before… this seems to be bra-compatible, hence promising! The pink one needed a fix (thanks, Mara, the result is great!), and now it’s only about the longevity of this Benetton wool mix… how much will it pile?


Do you have any swap experiences? Have you ever organized a swappy event? If yes, how did that go? Or do you have any other routine sources of quality hand-me-downs: family, friends, etc? What’s your best-ever (or just latest) swap find?

February swap + my outgoing pieces

We shall swap again! And to encourage wardrobe editing before the event, here’s how I think about what stays and what goes. I have to admit that it gets harder to discard things as they become fewer – these items have survived many editing festivals, so there is some function or value ascribed that has saved them before. Yet despite the reduced number, there are still garments in my wardrobe that do not live up to the standard of “would this be a part of my optimal wardrobe?”

I try to let go of fears about needing them or pondering about the likelihood of anybody wanting them. I have one historical reassurance for this and one additional mental trick. The reassurance is the story of my red denim jacket and the mental trick is possible due to the relaxed concept of my swaps. For very surprising that it is to myself, several pieces are leaving my wardrobe this time… Remember, in September all four items that left our household were not really mine.

But this time there is some honesty work to be done, bear with me as this is not easy. I have some emotional investment in each of them, either because I have worn it so much or because of the exact opposite – having worn it only a little (less than 30 times) makes me feel guilty about bad past choices. The usual stuff… Here we go:


The pink Julie cardigan

Basics: 55% ramie 45% cotton, made in China. Picked it up at swap Nº3 in May 2017, Julie’s mother in law used to own it. 94 wears since then (darn, almost #100wears).

What’s good about it: it makes every outfit look a bit like Gudrun Sjödén dressed me, which is a good thing. The color is great, the floral motif is awesome. Cute buttons, too. And it is a cheaper-made copy of the Oleana cardigans. The fabric is a bit thick, so it holds shape and has required very few washes. I’d dare to say that it is mint condition (no piling, all original buttons) which is rare for garments I’ve worn so much.

Why not anymore: I prefer shorter and more fitted layers. This one is a roomy cut that feels a bit slouchy lately. And it is not that warm – no wool, no synthetics – which can be pro or a con in Barcelona.


The WAG crop top

Basics: made in their Cape Town workshop, 100% cotton. And nice, stiff, and beautifully patterned cotton it is. But I bought it in November 2017 and have worn exactly 10 times.

What’s good about it: the color, the pattern! And the cut is cool. Nicely covered arms, and décolletage that can be opened more or less depending on the occasion. Very nice for very high waists (or very bare midriffs).

Why not anymore: If I haven’t made it work so far, I probably wont. And, since I relaxed the waist of the skirt (31 wears, they are staying), the gap between them makes me even more uncomfortable. The waist can be made to look good in photos but in real life it’s a bit too fussy because the strings that keep it together are just that, and they move with time. So during events you might have to the powder room to readjust it. For people who like to stay still and look good, basically. Also, careful when washing! It still leaks color, so hand washing it in cold water separately from anything else is a must.


The Esprit floral

Basics: 100% cotton Esprit shirt I picked up at a swap in 2017. 51 wears since then.

What’s good about it: the pattern is cute, the fabric is lovely, the finishing on this garment is a joy in itself. Mint condition still.

Why not anymore: the cut! It has taken me a long time to admit that this beautiful thing is not my size, not fitted enough. I keep having this with button-downs for years now: I want them but then my body reminds me that these things are cut (almost) straight, and, if I don’t want the usual problem of popping buttons, I need them big. And I don’t like big…


The Zara lace top

Basics: bought in a Humana in Oporto last September to calm an ‘I want a thing’ anxiety. Zara. Made in Portugal, unknown composition. A cotton/elastane mix, I’d guess. 15 wears since then.

What’s good about it: an easy black top that covers the waist with lace hem adding some interest.

Why not anymore: the cut is weird or, well, innovative! Sleeves are part of the torso piece, and there is an additional seam on the back. And I can already some piling and where exactly the first armpit hole will happen. Taking into account that I bought it with the tags still on, this a classical ‘why you really don’t want certain fast fashion garments’: they look good at the beginning but then age very quickly.


A ‘maybe’! The green patterned top

Basics: Oh, wow…bought in a Humana during my first trip to Barcelona in 2005. No brand tags, no composition tags (but purely synthetic), no ‘made in’ tags. 39 wears since 2016, quite some more before that.

What’s good about it: it looks great! And is one of very few synthetic garments that does not asphyxiate me. And it is so worn in it feels like home… Look, look, a highschooler me in April 2006:

Why not anymore: the shoulder points… this is a beautiful boat neckline that would require a strapless bra to be proper. My bra straps keep peeking out, even after I put sewed some holders in (like so). Also, the wear is considerable. The elbows have lost the pattern and are basically white. And I see some future holes coming… It has received some fixes before, because 14 years for a second-hand garments is a lot. I still have a couple of days to decide, though.


What is your inner dialogue before retiring garments? Is it more separating pains for the old friends or guilt for those that never really became friends?

December Swap (8th!) recap

Swap Nº8 came and went. Remembering my exhaustion and despair after the previous one, I (a) was going to do my best to be the most relaxed possible around it and (b) was on a lookout for how it went if I didn’t have other high-stress commitments bookending a swap. After that last recap post, several people gave me advice on how to do it better. Most of that centered around ‘ask for more help’ and ‘stop cooking’. Ha! I can’t do that. My inner grandma insists on feeding people. And as nobody has offered herself to cater for this event just for tips (that this time did not even cover the cost of food and tape), it’s a bind I see no exit from.

To try to stay sane took the previous two days off work (hello, thesis that has to be handed in by X-mas) and made sure I had no plans for Saturday evening or Sunday. Shopping happened, taking the seed suitcase to Ateneu happened, cookies and tortilla happened.

The monster-size vegan bread cookies…

And it went fine. People came and swapped. There was tea and snacks. I beamed at the opportunity to shrug off all the ‘oh, what a great idea!’ with a ‘yeah, I’ve been doing this for more than two years’. I was accompanied by an enthusiastic bunch of volunteers from the very beginning until the very end. Thank you all!

On that positive note I am toying with two ideas for the next one (9th of February, btw): (1) to skip the Banc Expropriat thing and just bring it all to the Roba Amiga container, and (2) to insist that tips are actually ‘taquilla inversa’.

As for Botiga Gratis of Banc Expropriat, I went to ask if they were still OK and accepting stuff as rumors about their eviction come up all the time. The answers are, yes, they are open and active, but their backroom is full to the brim with bags and bags of garments. While the idea is wonderful and clearly working, it is not working enough. The Botiga Gratis has clearly become a guilt parking for the socially conscious graciences who share the stigma of the containers but then do not acquire their stuff exactly where they bring the old garments. I’ve noticed this spark in the eyes of Swap uncustomers when informed that the leftovers go there, they feel great about it! No, dude, your worn out fast fashion jersey is not charity. It’s garbage you refuse to dispose of properly.

So my new plan is to add another didactic dimension to this work and educate people why Roba Amiga is the thing to do. First of all, that is the official municipal response: used garments and textile waste go to Roba Amiga containers, and those people take care of sorting and figuring out whatever can still be done with that. If any other alternative would appear – ganchillo crochet enthusiasts, patchworkers, pillow stuffers, etc. – I’d be very happy, but they haven’t yet. And organizing a whole different shift (and people don’t want to do this; fuck, I don’t want to do this) of bringing bags and bags to Botiga Gratis when they already have bags and bags wastes both my and their nerves and time.

And, yes, I have to give this thing a bit more of a capitalist spin and suggest that everybody who benefits from this event considers paying me. If every person who passed through the event last Saturday would have left an euro in the tip jar, I wouldn’t be complaining, because that would have covered all the food, all the tape and then some… but it is not the case! So taquilla inversa – i.e. ‘pay what you want/can if you consider this a good idea’ – is the big poster I’m preparing for the next Swap.

The leftovers.

The magical team that wrapped it up, swept, washed up, and locked the door. Thank you!

As for my commitment to stay calm and do less. Well… it started well. We had a very late lunch after the Swap with C and some friends, I was happily decompressing and munching seitan. At home I had Pride and Prejudice and drawing waiting, so it seemed perfect. But instead I got what seems to have been my first migraine, leading to going to bed at eight and just staying there. Miserable. And the shitshow continued on Sunday when I woke up with pain in my left foot that made it hard to walk. On Monday at the GP they confirmed that 8+ hours on foot is not a good idea, especially for my apparently not well healed last year’s sprained ankle. Bah! The ‘don’t overdo it’ part clearly didn’t work out this time. But I’ll try again…

The little pink jersey was the only garment that left my wardrobe. And I even know who has it now!

On the bright side, what did I get? A pair of Vans-like slippers and an off-shoulder dress in 100% black lyocell. Neither of them is a whim. A pair of sneakers is always a good idea because I burn through mine. These are my size but I expect them to give a little to become extra comfy. My current plan is to wear them around the house to break them in. The only problem there is that my May swap slippers (thank you, Margareta, for spotting them!) is now at the comfiest point before they break… These are the new ones:

And the dress is a shape I call Mucha dress, although poor Alphonse is probably rolling in his grave because of it. But for me they do recall his heroines: off-shoulder, generous and drape-y cuts, florals and ruffles, and playful about tiptoeing between a nightgown and a dress. Not full length, though. I’ve had two such pieces so far that I wore to threads… which was easy given the flimsy fabrics and my constant tugging of the dropped elastic waists and/or shoulders. This is the spirit of a Mucha dress in my mind:

My Pinterest wishlist featured a couple of Mucha dresses:

I had never imagined one in black or any solid color for that matter, but here it came: no signs of previous wear, Zara, made in Morocco, 100% lyocell. This one does not have an elastic dropped waist to tug at which will probably prolong its lifespan and has pockets! The Zara thing is starting to worry me a bit because of 9 second-hand garments I’ve adopted in 2018, four (!) are from Zara. But to hell with them, I have a new Mucha dress for once it gets warm again… Or maybe even for January with tights or leggings?


Do you have any swap experiences? Have you ever organized a swappy event? If yes, how did that go? Or do you have any other routine sources of quality hand-me-downs: family, friends, etc? What’s your best-ever (or just latest) swap find?

The urge to acquire

Sometimes the urge to acquire knocks at your door and says ‘hey, you really really need something new… no, you *deserve* it… how could you possibly go on without a mustard cardigan’, and your shopping fast goes out of the window. Sounds familiar?

Since I started pruning my wardrobe in 2014, I’ve mostly observed others going through these dynamics: friends telling that they just *need* to buy something new every month, seeing how some wardrobes fill up immediately with new things once the old ones are edited away, people digging through swap piles frantically to take away something, anything. And, no, I am not immune. It happens rarely but I had a recent flare-up that got me thinking…

Let me set the stage for you: September, Porto, late afternoon, vacations. After lunch C went back to the apartment for a siesta and I went to see an exhibition on Frida Kahlo photo archive. Nice. After coming out of the museum I just walked around and ended up in front of a Humana, suddenly having it very clear that I was going to buy something there.

After a short mental scan of my wardrobe for possible need, I proceeded to meticulously review every top and dress in that shop to select my winners. As after the September swap, I touched the garments, looked at fabric composition tags, scoffed ‘ugh, 100% polyester, of course’, looking for something nice in at least 100% cotton or viscose. While linen or silk would have been nice, Humana in Iberian peninsula is not that kind of place; as with the swaps, what goes around, comes around. And after several trips beyond the fitting curtain I had two garments that made sense for my wardrobe for €12.78. Both of them can be assumed to be functional replacements of a ‘beyond repair’ garment I said bye bye this summer, like so:

To make it even funnier, both are Zara, made in Portugal (the black one) and Morocco (the white one), and the black one even had its tags on: from the original €17.95 to €7.59, even less than the price tag said because in Humana they do all kinds of ‘sales’ – all for €4, all for €1 – and that day it was the -20% day. And on top of that – just to make fun of my fabric composition obsession – none of them has that information. The tags on the white one have been cut off, and all the intact tags on the black one does not reveal the material… my guess would be a cotton and elastane mix + synthetic lace for the black one and no clue for the white one, except for the synthetic lace panel.

Although I can rationalize this episode of the urge to acquire much better than the previous time I heard the the little voice of ‘oh, you are so buying something here’ in the WAG shop in Cape Town last year which cost me €160, I am still curious about that voice and where it came from. I wasn’t sad, I wasn’t tired, I wasn’t hungry, I didn’t need a lift-me-up. But I needed a garment, and I needed it now.

I can think of two different but resonating dynamics for this. First, food cravings! Assuming that food cravings can be similar to shopping cravings not only in the good way of ‘my body is smart and wants natural yoghurt / comfy shoes, so I shall provide’, but ‘my body is weird and wants pickles in ice cream / a giant pack of chocolate chip cookies / another supermini dress I’ll never wear…’

The cravings story I like to tell has a morality subplot to it – as does garment acquisition after you have learnt enough about the harmful ways of the fashion industry – and involves anchovies. I’ve been an ovo-lacto vegetarian since 2006 and mostly vegan since 2011, but there were episodes in late 2000s when I just wanted a can of anchovies (always when it was already sitting in my mom’s fridge, never in shop). So I would eat it and move on. With no remorse, btw. And nowadays I act similarly around cheese and ice cream. If it feels like a good idea, enjoy it and relax. If it happens rarely enough – and only you can feel what’s rarely and what’s bingeing – just do it. Relaxing your standards occasionally to improve your quality of life is a good idea. And helps to not get too caught up in the purity politics of holier-than-thou. Note to self: Nobody needs another judgemental and suffering martyr.

I considered a photo of anchovies to illustrate my point but that somehow seemed too triggering. Here, look at this moldy piece of milk robbed to calves instead:

Second, selecting from a fixed set. Contrary to Clarissa trying to expand our horizons thinking beyond the given – look up her smorgasbord analogy; in a nutshell, even if you are presented with a multitude of readily available options to chose from, think about what you want without looking at the buffet as your true wish might be on another table – we tend to treat the given set as final, even in fleeting situations. I’m sure I’m not the only one who, when unpartnered and open to encounters, would enter a bar/party/class and without even thinking about it, do a hypothetical potential mate selection along the lines of ‘if this bunch of people would be the last bunch of people on earth, who would I…’ Why? It’s ridiculous. If you are somebody doing this with garments at shops or swaps, play the game, but try to keep in mind what you already have in your wardrobe. For example, when you have selected a winner at a swap, ask if you would swap anything out of your wardrobe to bring this one in. If the answer is no, reconsider taking it.

I keep reassuring people that it’s fine to bring their swap finds back the next time. The frantic buzz of the swap – as in shops during the sales – alters our decision making and sends it into a post-apocalyptic mode of thinking. Relax! Just shrug and bring it back on December 1.

As for me, I think I’ve found the perfect pastime that allows to open a safety valve for wanting things and prevents me from the scarcity-mentality browsing: sewing magazines! I stroll to my local libraries, fetch a pile of Burda and Patrones, and leaf through, annotating via phone photos and sketches things I like. As I’ve taken up learning to sew, these are fantasies that could be made reality but not immediately. The results look like this and may or may not turn into real garments, but I had my hour or two fantasizing and evaluating along the lines of ‘oh, this is nice… yuck, who thought that that was a good idea? …wow, I could totally enjoy one of these…’


What’s your relationship with that little voice? Do you have it? Do you indulge it or ignore it?

September Swap (7th!) recap

The 7th Swap I’ve organized – marking two years since the first one – came and passed, leaving many people with new-to-them garments and me thinking. Hold on, because this won’t be an uplifting one.

A) I got less joy out of this Swap than ever before. Is it because it’s not new? Is it because I didn’t find anything that I was looking for? Or is it that I was just too tired? I do think that I’ve got too hung up on how the event should run, so spending Friday shopping and cooking seems normal. Yes, that’s correct: prior to a Swap I – the person supposedly employed full time to write her PhD thesis – take a day off to prepare the food. It started with ‘let’s give people snacks’ turning into ‘vegan tortilla would be great’ and now suddenly the norm is tortilla, brownies, fruit, and more things… I should really rethink this, as I’m clearly shoulding all over myself and making another time squeeze out of ‘apart from organizing the Swap, I should also feed people, and it should be wholesome, homemade and vegan, of course’. In case you were coming just for the brownie, stay tuned, because it might not be there in December

The other reason for tiredness was that exactly the night before I gave a Skype lecture to Liliana’s students at Mexicali CETYS. It was a great experience, but meant intense preparation and some anxiety, especially about the technical side of the event. Here you can see my YouTube back-up of that lecture (in Spanish). So I wasn’t at my netal and physical best, but…

It is still the case that even under ‘normal’ conditions it takes a lot of work, carried out overwhelmingly by myself and by enlisting C’s unwilling support when I truly cannot manage it on my own. The basic to-do list includes: 0) spamming like crazy about the event through blog and FB weeks in advance, trying to think of new things to say and more people to reach, (1) bringing the leftovers to Ateneu on Thursday or Friday (because it it physically impossible to take that suitcase and all other stuff that needs bringing in one one-person haul), (2) shopping which might involve several different places (Casa Perris for chickpea flour, Mercadona for pistachios, Casa Ametller for chard, etc.), (3) sometimes bringing the clothes rack from Patricia’s home to Ateneu if she can’t make it early Saturday morning, (4) making the tortilla, (5) making the brownie, (6) washing fruit and tomatoes, putting snacks in containers, (7) running through the check-list to make sure that there is tape, scissors, tea towels, sharpies, curtains, water filter, etc., (8) packing it all and bringing to Ateneu… (9) taking the photos during the event while (10) making sure that the music is on, that everybody is happy and knows how this works, where the bar, ice, bathroom is… and after the event (11) making sure that everything is tip-top at Ateneu and that they have earned some money out of the event and that nobody will have to clean up or repair anything after us, (12) dragging back home all my stuff and the leftovers, (13) washing up, laundering the curtains and putting things back at my place, (14) picking up the leftovers not selected for the next Swap and bringing them to Banc Expropriat. And (15) making a cheerful recap post and starting to promote the next event. December 1, btw!

Already typing the list makes me nauseous. And dreadful of the next event.

This is just the basic checklist for point 7 above!

I have got some help for almost every event, and I am truly grateful to those people – C, Liisa, Mara, Coco, Margarita, Patricia, Chus, Aina, Roraima – but they are typically there only on the day of Swap and also often require additional coordination… Nope, delegating is not what I am good at. Controlling is, ugh. Also, I have trust issues, the stupid ‘if you want to make sure that it is done well, do it yourself’. And it turns out to be much harder to mobilize somebody for half an hour on Monday evening to bring the leftovers to Banc Expropriat than to have them hang around after the event.

Another character flaw of mine in relation to this is dismissing people’s gratefulness during the event exactly due to this twisted thinking of ‘dude, you have no idea about the amount of work that went into this’. The pure gratitude, no matter how heartfelt, does not registrate with me. No, share the event on your FB wall repeatedly, consume from Ateneu’s bar, leave me a tip, volunteer to cook for the event, to set it up, to wrap it up, to bring the leftovers to Banc Expropriat, to keep the ‘seed’ leftovers at your place… Now we are talking!

B) I had a fantasy of creating a whole natural fiber corner, which is impossible unless you have somebody curating in it real time… and then, when dragging heavy bags of leftovers from the previous Swap, sweared I would take no leftovers ever again.

Both of these somehow merged into a new leftovers policy: keep only 100% natural or regenerated fabrics in good condition with intact fabric composition tags. No synthetic mixes, no pure plastic garments, no cut off tags. That was an interesting experience, that turned into a 3-in-1! A unified criterion for selection was nice, as previously there had been some clashes of ‘who the hell thought that this was worth keeping?’ And there were many exclamations from the wrapping-up volunteers along the lines of ‘yes, something, finally!’ and ‘not even 97% cotton?’ turning the into into an education event of developing the hand for natural fibers and raising awareness of how little there is going around in our events. And there was less for me to carry home. Win-win-win.

My ‘girl who moves house with a bird in her hair’ Saturday morning pre-Swap selfies from February and September.

C) Which brings us to the quality of the garments swapped… I’m only half-joking when I speak of swaps as immediate karma, because – statistically speaking – you are bound to get back exactly what you brought, as there is no other place where the garments will come from. And if somebody had any doubts about fast fashion and our life being an abundance of poorly made mixed-fiber garments, swing by on December 1 and you’ll see! there are several reasons: (1) That is what our wardrobes are made of! My key audience is young and more or less precarious women. This is what we have. Even more, (2) these are the discarded garments! Supposedly the better ones stayed in the wardrobe. People consistently overestimate the state of their clothing, so the discards tend toward truly worn-out, truly ugly, and truly irreparable. Also, (4) the magical line between ‘this is swappable’ and ‘this is textile waste’ still eludes people. So by the end of the vent we have piles elbow-deep of garments that nobody wants. I’d prefer less but better.

(The disclaimer here is that I truly see only the leftovers, as during the event I’m too busy with parts of the to-do list mentioned above to calmly browse through things. So unless something really jumps at me or an attentive friend picks out things for me because they’ve memorized my wishlist – I owe my best-slippers-ever and winter gloves to Margareta, btw – I go through garments only during the wrapping-up or at home after the event. I truly hope)

D) The quality of discards brings us to me passing the buck then to Banc Expropriat. First, every time there are rumours of them being evicted again from the public property they are squatting. So I get extra anxiety of ‘will I go there and find it closed forever?’ with all the leftover bags that Ateneu couldn’t be more eager to get rid of as they occupy valuable space. Second, the Sphinx-like faces of the ladies that run the Botiga Gratis still leave it unclear if bringing stuff is a good or a bad thing for them. I’ve teased out thus far that they hate Roba Amiga because ‘they resell donations’, although unfortunately that’s true only for a fraction of what they get due to poor quality and people not really buying that much. At the same time the backroom of Botiga Gratis is full of bags of clothing, indicating that also they are inundated by the same abundance as second-hand shops. I really want to research that place and its dynamics in depth once I hand in the thesis…

Bags, bags, bags of garments nobody wanted.

E) I had nothing to swap away. This is new and weird. In principle the expected result after 4 years of curating, but weird still… What left our household were C’s windbreaker and jeans, Marina’s backpack and leggings my mom passed on to me but I ended up not really liking them:


At the end I did calm down, rested, went through the leftovers and picked for myself a little bright summer loungewear garment… but the doubt (and wish to improve the experience for myself) stays. What would your advice be? What would you change if you were me? What would you drop? Or what additional help would you ask for?

Swap masterpost, or all the resources so far

Another swap is coming! It has been too long… And always trying to improve our common experience swapping, here I have gathered all swap-related posts so far, hopefully useful for both first-timers and swap fans alike.

In my head there are two sides to swap prep for an un-customer. If your job is to show up and participate – which is a great job and without you there wouldn’t be an event – there are two questions you have to have answers to: (a) what am I taking to the swap? and (b) what do I want to bring home from the swap?

Step 0: Knowing what will happen

If this is your first swap, you want to know the rules of the game! There are many ways to exchange garments, so make sure you are in tune with the event you are going to. Important questions include the level of formality of the swap, if somebody else checks the garments for admittance, it there is a strict brought-1-take-1 policy in place. Of course, there will always be people happy to explain you the event in situ, but at least I appreciate prior knowledge before stepping into something new. And it is good to know these things when selecting what to bring to the swap. So these are all posts about swaps and lessons learnt in chronological order:

February 2017: Why We Swap and How.

October 2017: September Clothes’ Swap Recap.

February 2018: February (5th!) Clothes’ Swap Recap.

May 2018: May (6th!) Clothes’ Swap Recap.

Step 1: Vision building

Now back to you! Having a clear vision on how you want to dress helps a lot, both for editing the exisiting (the key question being ‘does the future me wants to wear that?’) and in moments when the Swap is flooding you with garments you never wanted that suddenly look kind of cute: Vision-building for your wardrobe.

Step 2: Editing

Preparation for a swap is a very good reason to take a good look on what you already have and see if there are garments that no longer fit your body, your style, your life. The internets will offer you a million ways to do a wardrobe revision, here you have my proposals: Constant Gardener: Edit your wardrobe! and Wardrobe pruning for minimalists: KonMari stairway to heaven.

Step 3: Sorting

Once you have a pile of bye-bye garments, the next task is to decide which ones are worth bringing to the swap and which ones are not. A swap is not a textile recycling plant to bring your rags to! Take your textile garbage to where it belongs, in case of Barcelona, the orange Roba Amiga containers or your local deixalleria / punt verd. I suggest the key question of: would you lend this garment to a friend? Like, if a friend visiting you had lost their luggage on their way, would this be something you would offer them? Things NOT to bring to a swap include anything truly worn out (unless it’s a vintage leather jacket), permanently stained, broken… if you think that the unravelled seam can be easily fixed, fix it! And wash it all, of course. Remember, a clothes swap is karma made into an event: if people bring sad rags, we have only sad rags to pick from. Here you have examples of ‘what I’ll bring to the next swap’ posts with descriptions of my reasons to send garments away from my wardrobe: We shall swap again and September swap + my outgoing pieces.

Step 4: Paying attention to the materials

Not all fibers are made equal and in the world of fast fashion there are sometimes very idiotic fiber choices, like using thick synthetic fabrics for summer garments or lining natural fiber garments with synthetics. So pay attention to the material tags while you are editing and sorting to find out what are your favorite – and least favorite – materials, especially if you are discarding something because you just cannot breathe while wearing it. More on fibers, here: Get to know your fibers (and stop cutting the tags).

Step 5: Wishlisting

At this point you should have a solid vision of how you want to dress in the nearest future, a pile of swap offerings and a pile of textile garbage. And an emptier wardrobe… So now the question is: do I need anything to complete my wardrobe? (If you did the full ‘brainy’ process from Constant Gardener: Edit your wardrobe! you already have a list, congratulations!) Of course, swap is not fairy magic that fulfills all the wishes, but knowing what you are looking for helps. Especially if you get carried away by pretty things and good deals free stuff. As with all vintage hunting, there is always space for serendipity and the inexpected, unimagined treasure, but you might want to know that you do not need more t-shirts while a shortish skirt for colder months would be a great addition. This is an example of my wishlists:

And for the September swap I’ve decided to go a level up in imagining detailed imagination, so I made a Pinterest board. While even the internets might not have ready-to-pin exact photos, I really enjoyed this exercise, because it also serves to refine your desires. We all know that when we say ‘I want a new bodycon’ or ‘I need a white blouse’ it’s not just any generic garment. If you then decide to relax your criteria or find an even better cut than you had imagined, cool, but clear desires really help. Sometimes it even gets too much, if you keep hunting for the right garment: Swap VI and the problem with the threadbare.


Following these steps you should be ready to swap happily and fruitfully! Here are just additional mini-points:

If there is a Facebook event, tick that you are going and share the event on your timeline! Diffusion really helps, especially to you as you get a bigger event to find your whlist items at.

If you want to get more involved in the event, ask the organizer if you can volunteer with something. The most likely answer will be yes as there are so many things to do. And you will be sudddenly part of the organizing team and will have an even better entry-way to make new friends at the event, and feel superuseful and sustainable.

It’s OK to bring back something you picked up at the last swap. This mode of garment acquisition is the safest way to experiment and has the best return policy: Curating the 100% comfort wardrobe.

Have a solid breakfast before! And try your best to not to be horribly hungovered. For your own wellbeing. The format of my swaps is a Saturday morning pica-pica with beer or vermouth (and water, and tea in winter), but snacks won’t do enough for your empty stomach.

Enjoy the event! It’s a party, after all. And a party filled with likeminded people who don’t mind that typical second-hand smell – I still have no clue where that comes from, the internets says it’s just humans – so take your time to socialize and make friendships.


Do you have any swap experiences? Additional tips or rituals you do to prepare? What’s your best-ever (or just latest) swap find?

May (6th!) Clothes’ Swap Recap

Some of the very satisfied un-customers!

Swaps are becoming a very pleasant routine. I know how to prepare, what to bring, to ask help (learnt it last time!) and then to rely on the little army of helpers to do the bulk of explaining, because everybody who steps in this for the first time, needs at least a ‘Hi!’ and ‘let me tell you how this works’. Thank you so much Mara, Margareta, Patricia, Coco + all others who have come, shared on FB, brought their friends! This only works when you all show up.

Seeing how many things end up returning to the swap, I keep thinking if there’s a way to steer people towards picking and choosing in a more conscious way… On the other hand, I know that also for myself I need looking at things calmly at home and a period of trial. And our ‘best return policy ever’ (i.e. just bring it back next time and it never happened) is one of the great advantages of swapping instead of buying. However, having a clear style vision and a solid wishlist has helped me a lot!

If in February there were very few leftovers, this time we’ve set a record of 24 bags continuing their journey to the Botiga Gratis of Banc Expropriat. Looked like this:

The only thing that is still lagging are the garment stories. I do believe that swapping becomes an even better experience if the garments have an additional story. People who happen to pick up stuff their friends brought attach that knowledge to the garment and it enhances the emotional link. Of course, not all garments will be Latvian grandma’s post-war underskirts, but the great majority could have at least the basics: from whom, where from, if you have worn it for a specially memorable occasion… As the events are becoming too busy to attach the stories in situ (or I haven’t found the right volunteer just yet) I’ll invite people to do that as homework and bring their garments with stories already incorporated. Let’s see how that works in September!

What did I get? Oh, I had a great day, made several new friends and brought home three new-for-me garments. The funniest part of this swap was that my wish list was taken seriously: several people approached me offering garments they have spotted that fit my descriptions. So sweet! This was the list and I’m happy to report that with no effort and a little help of my friends I’ve ticked off 3/7. I think that’s a great success.

The lucky winners are: home slippers, winter gloves and a consulting-appropriate cardigan. Yes!

I’m in love with the slippers, they are exactly what I needed – sturdy sole with a comfy and supporting upper. Best slippers of my 30 years and made in Spain. Although I thought I’ll be wearing them in winter as I have a pair of swimming pool Birks for summer, I basically haven’t taken them off since Saturday.

The gloves will carry me through the cold morning bicycle commute for at least next season. I don’t expect much longevity from them, as I’ve had enough similar pairs of cute little gloves for Latvian winters and they don’t tend to last. I really should get serious about this when I’m in Riga next time and invest in a pair of sturdy wool finger-gloves (as opposed to mittens which is what most of the artisan glove market is about, as there is more surface for artistic expression). For both the slippers and the gloves I have to give thanks to Margareta who had clearly read my wishlist with outmost attention anddid some curation while I was busy with other swap proceedings!

The cardigan is the one we’ll have to put to test. While the fit and look is exactly what I was looking for – relaxed but put together – it had a hole already (one of those typical stupid ones that knits get at the edges of the label), but I fixed that with a clumsy piece of ’embroidery’. What I didn’t expect but should’ve known better is that the shitty material composition (really, Zara, 70% cotton and 30% nylon for a fucking knit?) is prone to make smells instead of magically getting rid of them as wool does. So I spent my Monday at work discreetly smelling my armpits and wondering why there was a whiff of a high-school locker room around me. If the problem persists after a wash (because clearly somebody brought it to swap without washing it), we’ll have to say goodbye and finally go looking for a proper wool cardigan!


Have you ever organized a swappy event? If yes, how did that go? Or do you have any other routine sources of quality hand-me-downs: family, friends, etc?

Swap VI and the problem with the threadbare

This Saturday is the sixth (!) swap (what’s a swap?) and I’m doing my wardrobe pruning in preparation for it. However, as my wardrobe goes shrinking, there’s another dynamic I’m less comfortable than letting mint condition garments that are not working for me find new owners… the pieces I’ve worn out completely are driving me nuts!

The initial wardrobe editing is about taste, future self and frequency of wear/fit in your life. All very personal and subjective. And if it ever comes down to ‘this is pretty worn out’, most people have replacements already waiting for them right there in the same wardrobe. Yes, there might be pieces that one might want to work hard enough to find or make a copy but those don’t tend to be urgent as there’s an abundance of other garments. However, when I’m down to two bras, one pair of yoga shorts and eight pairs of footwear in total, seeing them wear out is a heart-breaking emergency. It’s as if, once selected as optimal, I’d expected them to last lifetime and they have tricked me by wearing out. Finding exact replacement for secondhand or hand-me-down stuff I’ve worn for years is not easy. And in many cases I would prefer not to buy anything directly from those people anyways.

I already shared my yoga shorts replacement fail and it hasn’t got better since then. The Decathlon shorts I bought second-hand in 2015 are in rag condition, and I have a strong aversion to going to that shop and browsing for new similar ones (as there are no identical ones available). According to their home page, I could get similar ones in organic cotton and elastane mix for f*ing incredible 4.99€ without a word about where the fiber or labour comes from. You tell me how that price is possible!

Looks that the solution of the shorts saga will be to – for a set of other reasons – switch back to home practice, so that showing my privates to people won’t be a concern at all. I still should admit myself the truth and send the old shorts to the orange container (oh, yes, those are well beyond a swap-worthy mint condition).

My parallel struggle with shredded-by-wearing items has been my sneakers. After discovering Veja Taua in early 2015, I though I was set for life. Oh, how naive! After three pairs worn to the point that my left little toe was sneaking out (always the left one!), I am now facing the hard truth that they are not planning to restock them ever again. I did try another of the more modern-looking sneaker models and I’m now breaking in their next best canvas sneaker, but it’s not the same. I want my Taua back! I’m even seriously considering buying the last available Taua in my size, although the color combination – white, very white – is clearly suboptimal for my lifestyle. Or writing them a very heartfelt love letter pleading for a new release of the black ones…

(On a side note, this is one of the big advantages of  heritage brands and styles. If you happen to like a model that the company has been doing for decades already, it’s pretty safe they’ll keep doing it instead of succumbing to demons of innovation and oh-no-that-was-limited-edition-and-we-will-never-do-it-again. I was just assured of this by the lovely Toni Pons salesperson in Born. They’ve been making Montgri since forever, so it’s not going anywhere.)


According to my archives, that’s what November 2012 looked like in Salamanca, Spain.

It’s the time for the black flower shirt too. It has been patched up in armpits three times and keeps unraveling around them. This little viscose hand-my-down from my mom has seen so much more than #100wears. For years it has been my go-to throw-on for travel, errands and everything in-between. I draped perfectly, covered butt to be worn with leggings, felt amazing and looked lovely. Bye, bye, my love, I hope to find something similar enough one day.


On a more typical note about garments that will go to the swap looking for new friends (for my outgoing for the previous editions see here, here and here), the only substantive swapped-aways will be garments I thought of as heirlooms until trying to wear them again after years of having them stashed away in my mom’s wardrobe. Both the military field jacket and the pink corduroy skirt date back to 2003 and 2006 respectively, my past self wore them a lot and they are in great condition. But not for my current self! And that’s enough. I hope they have a lot of wears with somebody else ahead of them.


How do you deal with the conflict of knowing that something is worn out beyond repair and that you cannot replace it? Have you ever made bespoke copies of industrial garments you had loved? Have you crossed oceans, deserts and all the internets combing for a replacement?

#FashionRevolution Fix it! workshop + easy fixes

My Fashion Revolution week fortnight this year consists of two events: an experimental small-scale fix workshop and the swap Nº6. You are still on time to put the swap in your agenda (and you already know the drill) but the fix workshop was something new.

Stemming from my own limited skills in fixing and mending, seeing it as a generational problem mostly (hi, fast fashion, bye, upkeep skills!) and knowing that practice makes perfect, I simply announced a Saturday afternoon when up to ten people could come together at the back of our Ateneu and try to fix their garments. It wasn’t a course and there were 0 powerpoint presentations. The setup included wine, tea, cake, and an opportunity to show your holes and unraveled seams to others, get some input on how to fix in and give it a go.

I was very happy to have my favorite social-sciences-person-turned-textiles-person Julie to host the workshop with me. Her knowledge of materials and dyes and passion for creative fixing (+ she introduced the rest of us to the notion of sashiko and with India Flint!) did so much to ground and structure my enthusiasm. At the end it felt like a little tea party in a parallel dimension enjoying the sorority and fixing the world one stitch at the time.

The concept was to bring only simple (we are just starting here, you know) manually (not to hassle with sewing machines) fixables, and the list was pretty much the expected. Here you have the issues we came across and suggestions what to do about them; these are a mix of the very basics and a bit advanced that we didn’t tackle this time but there were questions about the possibility of doing it:

Unraveled seams: 1, 2, 3.

Holes in jersey: 1, 2.

Holes in socks: 1, 2.

The typical jeans inseam problem: 1, 2, 3.

Putting in bra-strap fixers: 1.

Making a slit: 1, 2.

Hemming jeans: 1, 2.

Changing the shape of a pair of jeans: 1.

And to dabble just a bit into creative fixing, here you have FashRev suggestions to embroider, put patches or pom-poms on your garments to hide stains or rips or just to refresh them.


The take-away message? Almost all garments are fixable, just google it! The internets are full of kind people showing how to fix anything. Especially if you let go of the idea of returning the garment to its initial state and think about fixing as giving it a loving upgrade instead, the possibilities are endless. And I have a feeling that this won’t be our last fixing event, so stay tuned.

Have you fixed anything recently? Do you aim for perfection, for creative expression or for just getting it done?

February (5th!) Clothes’ Swap Recap

Every swap is a whirlwind of happiness! I’m worried beforehand and tired afterwards, but it gives so much meaning and so much satisfaction that my high during the events must be palpable. Another one came and went, and here is what I’ve learnt (see below for all the previous lessons and the logic behind the events):

Lesson 1: Ask for help!

What it looks like when I’m heading for a swap! Yeah, sore back and arms is part of the deal.

Liisa left for York, and I was left figuring out how will I do it all on my own. So I asked for help in the event, and help I got! I am immensely grateful to Mara, Coco, Margareta and Patricia for showing up on Saturday morning and then co-owning the event throughout the day + Aina, Silvia, Paola and Laura for chipping in with the wrap-up. It totally worked, we should have done this much earlier, and I’m looking forward to the next time we meet!

Thank you, Mara!

Lesson 2: Treat Facebook event stats with a bigger pinch of salt!

On Facebook this event went beyond any other I had organized. 11k reached and 336 saying that they are interested or coming while the previous event had reached 3.8k and 88 ‘interested/going’. See the difference? It was pleasant to see it take off, but I panicked just a teeny tiny bit and feared disorder and chaos… that never happened. There were certainly enough people but not too much, for the first time we ran out of food, there were less garment leftovers than previously (only one trip to Banc Expropriat), and people did not want to leave so it lasted longer. Great part of the vermouth success was our in-house DJ Diederik who not only entertained us with afro-latin tunes but also had mobilized his friends and colleagues making our swaps have even more PhD holders for m2 than before.

I’d say that Spring 2018 will be all about reds, blues and florals!

Lesson 3: Be (even) more cautious with the false positives!

We had our first true false positive case of somebody’s belonging being swapped away without their consent. Luisa had forgotten her scarf in the area dedicated to personal belongings, so at the end it was assumed that it was a swap garment somebody had discarded and away it went on the neck of another person five minutes before Luisa came back looking for her scarf. Ugh! Seems that the internets have helped us to bring that scarf back home, but it was still highly unpleasant for everybody involved. We already had this *almost* happen before, but this now is a real lesson that (1) it has to be repeated that the personal belongings’ area is exactly that, and (2) in case of doubt and ‘forgotten items’ found there, those garments have to go into the seed suitcase and wait either their owners or the next swap.

Lesson 4: Put more focus on garment stories!

Turns out it’s not only me who loves garment stories. People like connections, d-oh, they squeal when the garment has this little additional touch of personality, the proof that it has been pre-loved! We had been holding on to these three garments for a few swaps, because weird garments need more time to find their new weird people, but it finally happened. Seeing that writing the good-bye notes on the spot did not really work well, my plan for the next one is to poke people before the event to prepare their garment stories at home. And these have a double function: saying a proper farewell from those giving the garment away, and already steeping with meaning and putting a name on a piece of clothing for those picking it up at a Swap. So start making your garment love notes, people!


I had no time to browse during the event, and nothing caught my eye from afar (sometimes that happens, that was the case of the Esprit floral shirt during the September (4th) Swap). And, as I had so many helpers this time, I have no idea what was left over and what of that was selected to stay in the seed suitcase. But don’t cry for me, Argentina! First of all, living out of my full wardrobe still feels very abundant, and I have my sneaky keeper’s privileges.

Come week of the Swap our little room felt like a storage unit: there was the seed suitcase and stuff that Lesia, Liliana and Liisa (yes, I have a strong preference for ‘L’ friends) had left. So I went through them just for fun… and scored my new favorite t-shirt and a yoga shorts that will replace the old ones once the short pant season comes!


For previous Swap updates and lessons see:

February 22, 2017: Why We Swap and How
May 10, 2017: We Shall Swap Again
May 31, 2017: May Swap Recap
September 6, 2017: September Swap + My Outgoing Pieces
October 4, 2017: September Clothes’ Swap Recap


Following Monbiot’s reframe that the post-industrial economy are converting us – in the best case scenario – in the people who volunteer at the food bank and run marathons [and] in [our] time off, [we] work for money, what are your activities that are supposedly reproductive or even non-productive (in the usual GDP sense) but that give you enough meaning and joy to carry you through the working week (yeah, I know, I’m at a low point of my thesis that does not spark joy)?

Educational afternoon: The True Cost and Upcycling Barcelona

Despite some challenges – the Catalan procés has monopolized the attention of many people in Barcelona and people seem to enjoy clothes’ swaps more than brainwashing sessions, even if vegan quiches are provided – we had our screening of The True Cost + an additional perspective on the current fashion revolution from Virginia Rondeel, fashion designer dedicated to upcycling and co-founder of Upcycling Barcelona.

Our beloved audience.

Quiches designed to lure in the unsuspecting.


The True Cost presents itself as “a groundbreaking documentary film that pulls back the curtain on the untold story and asks us to consider, who really pays the price for our clothing?” However, unless you have spent last 15-20 years naked in a hippy/Amish community, you should have at least a foggy idea that garment making is not a local seamstress business anymore and that somehow you can now get garments for ridiculous prices. The True Cost is a well made piece of consciousness-rising that packs into 92 minutes all the basics of what’s wrong with fast fashion. It is well paced and emotionally charged, taking the viewer on a guilt trip across the universe. The perfect choice to start – or restart – the conversation on garment industry and alternatives to fast fashion. And it leaves you willing to take some action, so…


To give a more local human touch to the story, Virginia from Upcycling Barcelona took the floor after the movie and talked about her way of slowing down fashion here in Barcelona: creating garments from post-consumer shirts and curating a space for other upcycling designers and wannabe upcyclers. In their shop you can find selected second-hand garments and pieces made of tablecloths, inner tubes of bicycle tires,  industry samples, etc. even upcycled bridal gowns + sewing courses for those wishing to take back the power to fix and modify our clothing.

Virginia is also one of the founders of l’Associació de moda sostenible de Barcelona and involved with the Fashion Revolution activities in Barcelona. Here you have a glimpse at the second-hand and upcycled neighborhood fashion show she organized in April, commemorating the Rana Plaza tragedy and reminding that other fashion is possible:


Not to forget that our very legal screening was made possible by crowdfunding friendfunding. Thank you so much, Kristine, Marina, Jeanne, and Mery + our anonymous tip-jar donors! Unfortunately, their generosity wasn’t enough to fulfill my part of the promise and provide them with so many #fuckfastfashion stickers that they could cover all Cambridge, New York, Salamanca, and Barcelona respectively. I tried to compensate lack of glamour with lots of love, so I got out my magic markers and reimagined my friends as paper dolls… It will have to do this time.

Yes, these are not all. And, yes, I have to work on my scanning skills.


In this little circle of at least partial converts last Saturday we defined one very important function of events where preaching to the choir is on the menu. It is a way to reaffirm ourselves as not crazy, not marginals, and not alone. And that is already a lot. Because, only if we find the resilience to keep cultivating our own little sustainable parcel, we have the basis to talk to those yet to be educated and convinced.

For the ground I’ve already covered about this topic of converting (your wardrobe) and convincing (others):

Baby steps: Detoxing a wardrobe takes time – on developing a personal strategies of procurement, being honest what sources work for what kind of garments for you; this step will permit you to prioritize your investments.

Persuasion or #fuckfastfashion, but gently – my answers to the most common (fake) arguments in favor of fast fashion. I start the post with a warning that anger and blaming do not help, be gentle.


What have been the moments / movies / books / people that have quided you towards sustainable fashion? Do you remember the aha! moment? What reassurance in your fashion ethics do you turn to “when you’re weary, feeling small“?

September Clothes’ Swap Recap

The swap was a whirlwind, so photos are few but precious. And it’s a pleasure to see happy returning un-customers!


It has been a year since our first swap, we  – me and Liisa – have had four and each of them better than the previous one. And we keep learning, here are some of my observations after this one:

  • We have to do a better job at explaining the whole concept! There are people who arrive thinking that money is involved, there are ones that just drop stuff off as if we were a recycling point, there are people expecting a formal 1:1 swap… Oh, well!
  • The abundance of garments is overwhelming. There are always a lot of things left after the event is over (this was the situation in May, see below for this time’s leftovers), but I hadn’t seen the tables becoming piles that people can literally dig into.
  • We are becoming very good in sorting through garments afterwards, spotting stains, holes, pilling, and sloppy seams. As always, only one suitcase of garments stays with us to serve as “seed” for the next swap, but this time we had no problem in closing the suitcase. We rise to the occasion and become ruthless and picky! Only quality timeless pieces stay for the next time we’ll play shop.
  • I had a personal a-ha! moment with a brand item I’ve been coveting for years. I’ve been drooling over Oleana cardigans for years now, I even ventured into their shop in Stockholm this summer just to touch things and to look at the price tags… beautiful wool blends, stunning colors and patterns, made in Norway, and more than 300€ for a new cardigan. And last Saturday here comes Julie with a vintage Oleana hand-me-down from her mother in law. I tried it and had to admit that the cotton-ramie made in China knock-off I got from her in May fits me better. Oh, the frustration! At least I know who got that Oleana, and I hope Silvia will be very happy with her new Precious.
  • But don’t worry about me, I got a dress and a shirt, so I’m very well served. The dress is 100% polyester which saddens me a bit, as I forget my goal of reducing synthetics in my wardrobe every time I see a nicely patterned plastic! The shirt I haven’t taken pictures of yet is a 100% cotton Esprit number, also blue and with a gorgeous floral pattern. You’ll see…


We tried a new thing: garment stories! This was only a trial that we hope to expand next time, as knowing the story behind the garment does makes difference. I love those stories of mothers in law who wore things, friends who made things, garments that were brought back from faraway trips or found somewhere unexpected. Clothing is a deeply personal experience, tell me more about yours.


As always, a huge amount of leftovers to deal with. Be ready, Banc Expropriat, we are going to inundate you with pre-loved garments!


And we have our next date! This time it’s not a swap, it’s a movie! With some delay in plans, we finally have the date and time for The True Cost. Facebook event is here, mark it in your agenda and invite friends!

September swap + my outgoing pieces

We shall swap again! And to encourage wardrobe editing before the event, here’s how I think about what stays and what goes. I have to admit that it gets harder to discard things as they become fewer – these items have survived many editing fastivals, so there is some function or value ascribed that has saved them before. Yet despite the reduced number, there are still garments in my wardrobe that do not live up to the standard of “would this be a part of my optimal wardrobe?”

I try to let go of fears about needing them or pondering about the likelihood of anybody wanting them. I have one historical reassurance for this and one additional mental trick. The reassurance is the story of my red denim jacket and the mental trick is possible due to the relaxed concept of our swaps. I’m still kind of on the fence about several of the items described below (guess which ones!), so I’ve made a deal with myself: if nobody will want them, they are coming back home. I know for a fact that I’m not the only one calming my separation anxiety with this kind of tricks and me being there from the start till the finish of the event increases the chances of these garments finding a new body to adorn.

So these are the ones looking for a new home on September 30 (in order of acquisition):


#1: The blue peasant blouse

Came from: It’s family vintage that my mother and her sister wore in early 1980s. Came into my wardrobe sometime in early 2000s. However, I’ve worn it very little.

Made in: Latvia by a former colleague of my grandma.

# of wears since January 2016: 9.

Overall # of wears: Many but stretched over a period of more than 30 years.

Why? The fluffy sleeves are a bit too much. But mostly because this garments shows all the sweat (and I sweat a lot).

Whom for: Somebody who enjoys the peasant blouse trend and is willing to stick to this style when the trend is gone (or wait until it’s back in 2032 or so). Also for somebody who sweats less than I do.


#2: The HM romper

Came from: This is one of the last fast fashion items I willingly bought in 2012 when still browsing shops for recreational purposes.

Made in: I was still in the tag-cutting phase, so that information is lost. An educated guess would be Bangladesh or Cambodia.

# of wears since January 2016: 24.

Overall # of wears: A bit more than that, but it clearly didn’t become a beloved staple.

Why? Also this garments shows all the sweat, especially under the breasts if you are not wearing a bra.

Whom for: Somebody wishing to discreetly channel Esther Williams, at least that’s how I feel when wearing it (like this!). Again, for somebody who sweats less than I do.


#3: The Nike workout shirt

Came from: Bought new in 2013 for yoga because it has an incorporated bra part. This shirt has seen so much yoga, it should have a yoga instructor certificate by now.

Made in: Cambodia.

Overall # of wears: A lot. Not counted as this was never part of the proper capsule.

Why? The neck straps had worn out and I got them shortened, now I’m not sure about the new fit.

Whom for: Anybody looking for activewear and having a more delicate back-neck than I do. Maybe it just needs some more wear to stretch just the right amount for me…


#4: The floral dress

Came from: My mom used to wear this around the house in summer, I snatched it from her for the same purpose in 2014 and never gave back.

Made in: Some fast fashion hell, most probably.

# of wears since January 2016: 29.

Overall # of wears: Much more than that, as wearing it as loungewear was never counted. And my mom wore it beforehand.

Why? Feels worn out.

Whom for: Anybody looking for a very relaxed and easy to throw on beach/leasure wear. I wear it as a strapless dress and without a bra, because the two rubber bands give it enough structure. However, I’d look into replacing the rubber and taking the straps completely off to give it a reboot.


#5: Kristine’s yellow dress.

Came from: A hand-me-down from Kristine. Mine since 2015.

Made in: ?.

# of wears since January 2016: 20.

Overall # of wears: A bit more, but it’s clear that I’m not giving it all the love it deserves.

Why? The material and print are very nice (the print remind me of home textiles for summer houses, that’s the reason I adopted this dress), but I have an issue with the neckline. It’s weird on me, I’m not sure if it’s because of shoulders/back or breast size.

Whom for: Again, a relaxed beach/leasure number for hot weather. There has to be a body type to enjoy this little number!


#6: The fish necklace.

Came from: A gift from my mother-in-law. 2016.

Made in: China, maybe?

# of wears since January 2016: 48.

Why? I have a complicated relationship with necklaces (for me headbands are easier to wear). I have made myself wear them since I started doing the tracked capsule, but… among the four necklaces that I have, this one is the weakest link.

Whom for: Anybody looking for a low-hanging whimsical but delicate accent piece.


And for a moment of wishful thinking… What would I happily pick up at the next swap? These are very specific, but – hey! – a girl can dream. In all affairs of pre-loved clothing I pursue a bimodal strategy: I have a clear vision of what I’m looking for and open eyes for an unexpected treasure. Thankfully my idea of “treasure” has evolved and I’ve become much harder to seduce than some 15 years ago. There are still things that I’d gladly incorporate in my wardrobe, though:

A) A top that could serve as a modesty garment under the purple jersey winter dress of Riga capsule. I use the little lace blouse for such purposes in Barcelona, but having another one as versatile in Riga would be nicer than carrying this one back and forth.

B) A pair of comfy gym shorts for the Riga capsule. Again, a have my comfy shorts in Barcelona but an additional pair in Riga would be less hassle.

C) A pair of winter gloves. May random second-hand gin-promoting gloves are too short and too big to be optimal, and the long pair I got second-hand in New York didn’t survive even one winter.


What’s on your outgoing and incoming lists? What strategies do you pursue when (un)shopping?

Why We Swap and How

I have a feeling that we are drowning in clothing, (almost) all of us. And all statistics about textile production and retail back me up. The 52 mini-seasons instead of 4, the cheapest prices ever, materials that don’t last, planned obsolescence… (Do a Google search!) Makes my head spin, and not in a cute way. No, this is Exorcist-type of head spinning.

While I’ve been receiving a steady flow of hand-me-downs from friends and family for years, only last year a community Clothes’ Swap become a reality. So far we have hosted two such events in our beloved Ateneu Roig and have the next two already in works.

Two excited Swap organizers, yours truly and my comrade in arms Liisa. Photo by Grete.

Following the Marxist principle “from each according to her ability, to each according to her needs“, the process is as follows:

1. We set up our “not-shop” on a Saturday morning, display clothing we have brought, unpack snacks and turn up the music.

2. Friends, acquaintances and random passers-by bring in their still OK but not-working-for-them items and display them together with the rest according to category (i.e. t-shirts with t-shirts). The assumption is that these items have no owner anymore, so you don’t look for them when you leave.

3. People have a drink, chat, get to know each other and browse through the things… try on whatever speaks to them and stash away what they like.

We chose not to enforce any brought-1-took-1 policies because, at the end of the day, the goal is to find a new home for as many items as possible (read: to reduce demand for new things, our environmental footprint and the amount of textile waste). Also, everybody, including ourselves, is busy having a good time, and we are playing shop here not police… And it would make little sense due to the fact that most people bring more than they take away.

At the end of every Swap we have been left with a big pile of things nobody wanted to adopt. Both times we went through the pile packing a “seed” suitcase with items who in our humble opinion could get lucky next time (i.e. good material, mint condition, reasonable design) and stuffing bags and bags of things to donate. This is fun, we get to appreciate first hand all the variety of garments we accumulate. Urban anthropology full force! After the first Swap the donations pile went to a container of a local textile waste organization, but the second time we did even better: it went to a neighborhood initiative that hosts a “free-shop”. I hope that we’ll be able to repeat this, because I recently learned that – contrary to what I had understood beforehand – said textile waste organization ships stuff abroad. Not cool. Every garment that gets reused or recycle here is a baby step towards a more sustainable textile economy. Inundating already depressed economies with our garbage is just not-in-my-backyard escapism.

Lessons learnt so far as an organizer:

  1. We here live in a breathtaking abundance of clothing. There is way too much stuff in our wardrobes and people are happy about the possibility to drop off some of it.
  2. Textile recycling initiatives in Barcelona are sub-optimal. All we have are two NGOs, each with its own network of containers and shipping garments abroad is part of their strategy.
  3. While there are some amazing gems in perfect condition, a lot of things that have come our way are worn out and unusable or made of extra thin materials that have two washes left before it disintegrates. This speaks of our inability to assess quality when buying, inability to recognize when stuff is past mint condition, and inability to get rid of it in a sustainable way.
  4. We overvalue the stuff we already own and are bound by sunk cost bias. That’s why I am very skeptical of “just sell it online” advice. Unless you have your grand-grandmas prewar vintage in mint condition, keep in mind that nobody needs that poorly made fast fashion jersey. We all have wardrobes full of that stuff, thank you very much. This has been the most sobering lesson of clothes’ Swaps so far: garments that looked fine at home seem very different when you detach yourself from them, especially when you realize that nobody wants to take it home. And that’s OK. If Tyler Durden claimed that we are not beautiful and unique snowflakes, unless you have been pursuing an alternative fashion strategy for a long time, odd are that the contents of your wardrobe aren’t either.

And as an “un-customer”:

Since autumn 2016 everything I deem outgoing-but-wearable gets an opportunity at a Swap. As I said above, it’s a double lesson: (a) lots of joy when somebody adopts a garment I brought, or (b) a sobering experience when nobody wants my stuff. Both feel healthy.

It has been an even more curious experience when browsing through stuff and looking if anything sparks enough joy to bring it home. I spend the preparation of the Swaps and the whole event making sure people have all they need (conversation, drinks, changing room, bathroom…), I enjoy that a lot and I’m too psyched to browse.

After the first Swap all the leftovers ended up in my flat and I went through them at home. Interestingly enough, there were plenty of things I’d wear if my luggage got lost but none that I would take if one of my current possessions would have to be swapped out for that. None. I took it as a very positive statement about the robustness of my existing wardrobe.

During the big sorting after the second Swap two serious garments came home with me: the M&S lace dress and a velvet skater skirt handmade by a friend of Liisa. I did not make myself donate an already owned item (I do not have a 1-in-1-out policy, see, there are restrictions that I don’t subscribe to!), but I could have. You can read all about the intense wearing those two things got after the Swap here and here.

The funniest thing is that both of these pieces were Liisa’s before, so I could’ve got them without any Swap. Yet the energy in both events we’ve had has been so amazing, especially every time we’ve said to a first-timer “it’s free, take it, enjoy it!” We live in an abundance of clothing, it feels so good to do something that allows them to circulate and find the humans that fit them best.

Help yourself!

Organize your own clothes’ Swap! Making a low-key one at home among friends is rather easy, a community event with more degrees of separation is a bit more challenging but still feasible and oh! so enjoyable. Here you can access a checklist that has helped us to have a very smooth experiences with our Swaps. Have fun swapping!

Also, if you are in Barcelona, a “like” for our Facebook page will make sure that you will know when our next Swap will take place.