Bex from Kumeu Clothing Swap & Shop chats with us about organising a clothing swap

Q: Kia ora Bex! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, Kumeu Clothing Swap, and your neighbourhood? Kia ora! My name is Bex and I have lived in North Auckland my whole life. We have a beautiful community vibe across the district, and people love to get involved in community events and help out where they can. My background is in recruitment and HR, as well as a two year stint in London working in logistics. But my real passion is working in my community and helping to create good where and how I can. My Mum is a total ideas person, and I love organisation and planning. In 2016, the idea for our first ever clothes swap was born. It was mostly just family and friends, and we hosted it at our home, but quickly realised we would have to expand for the next year to fit all the clothes into one room! We raised $1200 which went to Womens Refuge, and the left over clothes we divided between Dress for Success and Women’s Refuge. 2017 came around quickly, and in our bigger and better venue, we raised $1600 which went to Dress for Success. Again, with left over clothes going to Dress for Success and Women’s Refuge. Fast forward to 2018, and the clothes donations we had were more than double the previous year. So it was a quick scramble to acquire some more racks and coathangers before the big day. We raised a whopping $4135 for the Sophie Elliot Foundation – more than double the two previous years combined!! The left over clothes were donated to Dress for Success and the Massey Community Church. In 2019, we had by far our biggest year yet. Over 300 attendees, fabulous sponsors, food, clothes galore, and we raised $15,000 for the Mental Health Foundation. Our 2020 event was postponed twice due to Covid 19, but we were finally able to go ahead on our third date and we raised a fabulous $10,000 for Parent Aid North West. In 2021 we once again partnered with Parent Aid North West and raised another $10,000 for them. 2023 has been our most successful swap by far. We decided to include a silent auction as part of our event, and we were overwhelmed with the support from the community. Parent Aid has now come on board and teamed up with us for the event, and they do such incredible work across the North West Auckland community, so people were delighted to be able to help with item donations. We had a fantastic day of swapping and raised $21,700, which was so fitting as it is Parent Aid’s 21st year of operation. 

Q: Swapping clothes is a fun way to bring people together.  Can you share more about that? It sure is, and I have to say that one of the beautiful outcomes every year is seeing the people of our community come together for the event. It really does spark a special feel in the air, and whether that is people’s excitement for new clothes, the fact it is a charity event, or that we are all caring for our environment by swapping rather than buying clothes. Everyone is so positive and happy to be there which makes it such a joy to organise. Often we see people making friends while swapping clothes, or even exchanging clothes with people they have just met in our communal changing rooms. I find people love to be part of a Kaupapa that they feel is creating action right now, and so the fact that all the money raised goes directly to a local charity who support local families is pretty special too.

Q: Getting people to join in can be a bit of a challenge. Do you have any tips to make it easier? Yeah this is an interesting one. There is definitely still that stigma for some people that they don’t like second hand clothes, or that they won’t find anything they like. Over the years we have even had friends who just won’t come, no matter how many times you remind them it’s on, as it just isn’t there thing. So it is important to focus your time and resources on promoting the event to people who you know are in your target market. It’s helpful that opshopping is on trend right now, and of course most people are interested in sustainability (especially if it is made easy for them). We promote our event on social media and through local news papers that will often run editorials free of charge due to it being a community charity event. We find that once people have been once, they always come back year after year!

Q:  When's the best time to throw one of these get-togethers?

There are so many variables to this, and only you will know when is right for your community. Things to consider are:

  • When local venues are available
  • Are there other local/national events on at the same time
  • Do the organising team have good availability in the month leading up to the event
  • Seasons - considering the venue, will it be too hot/cold at certain times of the year
  • School holidays/long weekends - can be tempting as the team have more time for set up/pack down, but often lots of people are away too

Q: What kind of venue or space works best?

It really depends on how big your event is going to be. If it is an invite only event, you could have an RSVP and then book a smaller venue such as a room in a function or community centre. A medium to large event you could go with a local hall. We started the first year in our lounge, then went to a small community centre for two years, then to a community hall for 2 years, and now we are at the Kumeu Show Grounds big sheds. The first year we used 2 sheds, and now we use 4! We don’t pre sell tickets, but I know other events which do, so they have more of a gauge of how many people are coming and the size of the space they will need.

Q: Is there an ideal number of people to make it workable?

I don’t think so. Any size swap is great, as at the end of the day, you are keeping textile waste out of landfill, and saving money by swapping clothes. So even if a handful of friends get together to swap, then that is fantastic! The more attendees you have, the more work it is. We usually have 300-400 people, and it is a few months of work in the background to pull it together (including organising sponsors/advertising/silent auction/raffle/H&S etc). So just as long as the more people you have, the bigger your planning team is, then you will be fine.

Q: What's the main goal of organising these events?

I think every event is different and will have slightly different goals. Environment and reducing waste is a big one, and often people aim to raise money as well. Our mission for the Kumeu Clothes Swap is ‘Community and Sustainability’. We want to bring people together for a common purpose, as we know that so much good comes from doing things together and supporting each other. We have been through a lot throughout Covid and Cyclone Gabrielle, and without the community banding together, who knows where we would be. Part of our community mission is raising money for Parent Aid, who continue that goal by offering home support visits to young families who need a helping hand. The second piece for us is sustainability - keeping textile waste out of landfill, working towards zero waste, and doing what we can to educate those who come to us about the benefits of slow fashion, and how we can all do our bit to look after our planet and the positive impact that will have in both the short and long term.

Q: Any bumps in the road you've faced while setting up these events?

In 2021 we had to postpone our event twice due to covid, which was challenging and did create a fair amount of extra work. We managed to go ahead on the third planned date, and then went into another lockdown 10 days later! We have also had minor bumps with vendors being late for set up etc (we have food/coffee trucks and live music), but those are so minor and nothing much you can do on the day except be positive and keep going. There are always challenges that pop up along the way when organising big events, so it is key to have someone in charge who knows the event well and knows the run of everything. Their job is to be the go to person and they need to be confident at solving problems on the go and coming up with quick solutions. Most issues are relatively minor, but you always need to be prepared for everything and anything when running events!

Q:  If you could offer one piece of advice to someone thinking about organising a community event like this, what would it be?

Can I be cheeky and give three pieces of advice 😀

  1. Organisation is key, so don’t leave things until the last minute. No matter the size of your swap, the more organised you are, the smoother your event will run.
  2. Great communication always wins. Attendees like to know all the details in advance. Keep it simple and keep it clear. People love to confuse themselves I’ve found, so don’t complicate things too much otherwise you will be bombarded with questions. 
  3. Have a solid team. If you are running the event, make sure you have people around you and in your team that are reliable, and delegate tasks to them. It is so much fun all doing it together.

Q: Anything else you want to share…

Have fun and enjoy the clothes! All my clothes now come from the swap now, I very rarely buy anything new, and it is definitely the way of the future! Thank you!

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