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.