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, pilling, 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?

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