Would You Share Your Clothes With Total Strangers?

Late last month, Ikea told us we’d reached "peak stuff." Stop buying, the furniture giant said. And now, the eco-warrior Swedes have another novel solution for owning too much: Share your stuff. Or, more specifically, share your clothes. With total strangers.

Sharewear is a new "ready-to-share" initiative from Visit Sweden and the Swedish Institute, featuring items from the country's leading designers, like Filippa K, Hope, House of Dagmar, Nikolaj d'Étoiles, and Uniforms for the Dedicated. The idea behind it is simple: An item is posted on Instagram, and the first person to comment on it gets it for a week, before passing it on in the same way. You can’t keep the clothes, and there's no money exchanged. Sharewear is even encouraging people to share their own clothes by using the #sharewear hashtag.
I would say, "Thank god for that — I’m bored of buying new clothes," but that would obviously be a lie. New clothes are never boring. But that’s why Sharewear is clever; it’s not saying, "Stop wearing new clothes," it’s introducing a new way to wear new clothes. Considering we throw away millions of tons of textiles every year, and the fact that the fast-fashion industry is second only to oil in its negative impact on the environment, it’s probably about time we started thinking of new ways to do things.

“Sharing clothes, instead of throwing them away, is good for your wallet and the environment. Share them forward if you want to be fashion-forward,” says Henrik Selin, head of the department for intercultural dialogue at the Swedish Institute.

Sharewear gives people access to clothes they may not otherwise be able to afford, and the best part is, it’s guilt-free; there's none of that, "But do I really need those? I’ve got 55 pairs of shoes already," back-and-forth.

Still, isn’t sharing clothes with people you don’t know a little bit...weird? Lizzie Harrison, a researcher at the Centre for Sustainable Fashion and founder of the Leeds Community Clothes Exchange, thinks the emotional connection you could have with the previous sharer is actually part of the appeal. “Instagram makes people transparent," she says. "If you have a dress and I want to have that dress, I can look at pictures of you in it, and also see your cat and where you went on holiday last month. There is something interesting about this connection with the previous owner, because it is such a personal thing.”

Of course, Sharewear isn’t the only platform out there that helps you be a more environmentally friendly shopper: Rentez-Vous loans designer clothes from upcoming brands; Vestiaire Collective makes high fashion less of a major investment and more of a hobby by offering users somewhere to buy and sell luxury items; and then there’s Depop, the app that’s enabled millions of thrifty teenagers and twenty- and thirtysomethings to buy clothes, wear them for a few weeks, then fling them at the highest bidder.
But Harrison warns that it’s still too early to tell if these initiatives help: “Does being involved in this sharing system affect other consumption habits? It’s quite a leap to say that because people are sharing more, we are cutting down on the amount of products that are being made,” she says. “It’s hard to see what impact it’s going to have at this point.”

One thing is for sure, though: Technology is enabling us to purchase, rent, borrow, and buy in a million new ways. Why shell out $500 for a dress you’re only going to wear once when you could rent it? Or throw away an inexpensive top when you could sell it? “I upgrade my clothes more because of eBay and Depop,” says 34-year-old Sarah Isaacs, who regularly buys and sells fast-fashion and vintage items. “For example, I saw a new leather jacket I wanted but I felt really guilty about the price, so I sold my old one and put the cash I made towards the new one.” This new supply chain is changing our consumption habits and creating new models of ownership.

Sarah Ditty, chief editor at the Ethical Fashion Forum, says Sharewear is the kind of initiative we need to help stop the buy-on-a-Friday-night-and-only-wear-once kind of impulse purchases that cause so many of fast-fashion’s problems (guilty). “It’s not the solution; it’s a Band-Aid,” she says. “If we’re going to make the fashion industry more sustainable, then it’s going to require lots of these interventions working together.”

Personally, I'm not ready to share my wardrobe with anyone, not even with my sisters. But borrowing high-end designer pieces for a week, for free? Well, that's definitely something I can get on board with.

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