SWOP teaches sustainable consumption habits while keeping clothes out of landfill

SWOP teaches sustainable consumption habits while keeping clothes out of landfill

By Lucy Jones  November 15th, 2020

The clothing exchange is keeping clothes in circulation by finding new owners for pre-loved items.


This year has thrown some curveballs our way, but it has also required us to pause, think about what we want our future to look like and reset accordingly. For National Recycling Week this year we are looking ahead to our Future Beyond the Bin, where materials remain in circulation and what was once seen as waste is understood as resource. To that end, we are asking Australians from all walks of life to share their inspiring stories of how they #gobeyondthebin at work, home, school and in the community.   

By now, you’re probably familiar with the refrain that ‘fast fashion is killing the planet’. A 2017 report by the Ellen Macarthur foundation found that more than half of the fast fashion that is produced is thrown out in less than a year. The short life of clothing means that one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or incinerated every second. These stats are enough to turn you off buying new clothes ever again, but that doesn’t mean that you need to resign yourself to wearing the same outfit for the rest of your life.   

Community clothing exchanges like the Australian chain SWOP, which has stores in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, provide a sustainable alternative for people who want to get creative with clothing without harming the planet. SWOP buys pre-loved clothing, shoes and accessories off people in the local community and sells it on to new owners.  

“Our aim is to provide our customers with a way to shop that is not only socially and environmentally responsible but also affordable,” SWOP’s Collingwood Store Manager, Ellie Graham, explains.  

Since opening their first store in 2013, the clothing exchange has witnessed a rise in the number of people who are interested in shopping sustainably.  

“People from all walks of life are educating themselves on environmental issues and society at large seems to be shifting towards greener consumption habits,” Ellie says. “We’re seeing people engaging with SWOP on a daily basis that have never participated in a clothing exchange process before and people that are doing Buy Nothing New challenges for the first time shopping alongside diehard lifetime op shoppers.   

In addition to reselling clothing, SWOP makes regular donations to charities through its social enterprise OPY. 

Where SWOP’s waste-reduction journey started:  

“A fundamental concept of SWOP is that our clothing should be more valuable to us, and our clothing exchanges are set up to create an alternative to sending unwanted clothing to landfill by promoting a circular fashion economy. Buying fast fashion, or clothing that is poorly made and designed to fall apart after a few wears, just isn’t sustainable. We want to encourage more and more people to make the switch to the second-hand lifestyle, starting with their wardrobe!”  


What SWOP does to reduce their environmental impact: 

“We refuse fast fashion. We choose not to resell poor quality clothing items already sold at a very low price that have not been made to last. 

We reduce the amount of clothing going into landfill by purchasing pieces from people in our local community to resell in our stores in exchange for cash or store credit.  

Our staff reuse everything possible in store, we recycle packaging and use any paper and plastic as stuffing for shoes and bags on display in-store. They have even been known to repurpose cardboard boxes as protest signs for climate change rallies. 

Everything for sale in all of our stores is a direct result of recycling! Each piece has been hand selected by one of our buyers to go out on our shop floors to have another life.  

We try our best to reduce our environmental impact by encouraging customers to use their own shopping bags (we have brown paper bags as an alternative) and we use compostable post bags for our online sales, which became a huge part of our business this year during the COVID-19 lockdowns.  

We also use these gorgeous handmade thank you cards for our online orders from Sunsprout Studio that are made from recycled post-consumer waste paper and infused with different types of seeds that you can plant.”   


How SWOP goes #beyondthebin: 

“A key part of the SWOP process is engaging in an ongoing discussion with our community around consumption practices and encouraging our customers to make ethical and sustainable fashion choices. We’ve also recently been doing a ‘Mend It In A Minute’ video series on Instagram with some hot tips for fixing up those pieces you have at the back of your wardrobe waiting to be repaired. 

Our beloved social enterprise OPY is a not-for-profit op shop that donates 100% of profits to charity. At OPY we sell clothing that our customers have brought into SWOP that doesn’t meet our resale criteria. Each month we choose a different charity to donate to. Currently we’re donating to Skateworks Project, recently we have donated to Women’s House Shelta, WIRES and Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.” 


National Recycling Week takes place from November 9-13. For more information and to find out how you can get involved, head here.


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Lucy Jones

Lucy started her career working as a writer and editor in print and digital publishing. She went on to create content for Australia's leading sustainable fashion platform while completing her Master of Cultural Studies. Lucy spends her downtime at the beach, crocheting and hanging out with her cat Larry. She believes words can change the world and is stoked to help Planet Ark spread the message of positive environmental change.

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