When I was growing up, new clothes only came around twice a year: before the start of a new school year and on my birthday in September. More often than not, clothes were exchanged between relatives. Whenever I’d outgrow my garbs, my younger sister would get the first pick of the pieces she wanted, and the rest would be passed on to my primas. Meanwhile, I’d run my fingers through my mom’s closet admiring the different fabrics, eager for the day I could one day fit into them. Once I was old enough, she would let me borrow her beautiful strappy gold heels for special occasions like school dances.
As a child, donning gently worn clothes was the norm. Whether we thrifted clothes or they came as hand-me-downs, second-hand items brought novelty into my closet without breaking the bank. But back then, there was a lot of stigma associated with these consumer behaviors. Many of us who found treasures in someone else’s trash were teased. Now, as thrifting has been on the rise, it’s a popular practice, with thrift haul videos even trending on TikTok.
While avoiding fast fashion is beneficial for the environment, thrifting’s popularity among those with disposable income has taken away the affordability and accessibility of it for those who benefit from it most. At the same, the gentrification of thrifting has also resulted in a competition of who cares about sustainability the most, shaming those who shop from fast-fashion brands. Some experts argue that slow consumption, or less shopping, is a more sustainable way to go. And as I think about solutions, I’m unsurprisingly reminded of all the ways sustainability has already existed within our Latine communities.
"For many of us, swapping clothes with our sisters, primas, and friends has always been the norm. And while our motives may not have been exclusively environmentally driven, we were out here serving looks and avoiding excess consumption."
For many of us, swapping clothes with our sisters, primas, and friends has always been the norm. Sharing, borrowing, and exchanging clothes were part of our upbringing. And while our motives may not have been exclusively environmentally driven, we were out here serving looks and avoiding excess consumption.
But trading clothes can happen outside of our family homes as well. Today’s clothing swaps are not only a sustainable alternative to fast fashion but also community events and spaces for people to connect with one another. Ahead, the founders of four Latine-run clothing swaps share how they’re encouraging more sustainable consumption in their communities.
Radical Clothes Swap in Los Angeles
“Radical Clothes Swap is a pop-up space where you can donate and swap your unwanted gently used clothing in Los Angeles. My co-founder, Nicole, and I had never met in person, but we had been hosting clothing swaps separately before deciding to join forces back in January 2022. Our team has grown since then and now includes Nikki Hernandez and Enriquetta Navarro.
What we’ve created is beautiful because when it comes to Black and Brown folks, we’re not used to being given anything for free. People will often give us confused looks when we tell them the clothes are free. They expect there to be a catch, but there is no catch at all. We want our community to be aware of how harmful processing clothes can be to our environment as well as the labor rights issues involved, and provide an alternative solution.”
— Jannine Mancilla (she/her), Co-Founder
“Our world runs on capitalism, so giving away free clothes is a really radical idea. We’re not trying to make a profit, although it would be nice because we all need to eat and pay bills, but we’re really in it for the joy.
"Our world runs on capitalism, so giving away free clothes is a really radical idea."
One of our biggest goals is to change people’s relationship with clothes. We don’t want unwanted clothes to just get thrown away. It reminds me of The Sisterhood of Traveling Pants. You may fall in love with an item you thought wouldn’t fit you or you wouldn’t like, and if you don’t, that’s OK. You can always bring it back for someone else to try. I know there are other people who have had clothing swaps before us, but I’m really proud of what we’re creating. We’re creating a family, and it feels great to be a part of it.”
— Nicole Macias (she/her), Co-Founder
“Veggie Mijas is a women of color, folks of color, plant-based collective, where we share vegan recipes, have community events, create more accessible foods, and tackle challenges like food justice and environmental justice. In 2019, Veggie Mijas had its first clothing swap at our Miami chapter and has hosted clothing swaps across the rest of its chapters ever since, including Orlando, Chicago, Phoenix, Dallas, Austin, Seattle, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Los Angeles, New York, Denver, Washington D.C., and the Bay Area.
Our clothing swaps are a safe environment where people can feel comfortable and find clothes they’re excited about. We want to encourage people to think of new ways to reinvent their clothes, ask each other for styling advice, and think outside the box. We love to see the connections and friendships that go beyond the clothing swaps. Friends come back to attend Veggie Mijas events together and that’s most exciting.”
— Amy Quichiz (she/they), Founder & CEO
“At Veggie Mijas, we’re always looking for ways to positively contribute to the environment. With the clothing swaps, we wanted to create a space for folks to recycle clothes and receive clothes for free. We want to normalize second-hand clothing so you don’t always have to buy new things all the time. Choosing second-hand clothing contributes to the sustainability movement, no matter how small it may feel.
"Choosing second-hand clothing contributes to the sustainability movement, no matter how small it may feel."
Our events consist of mainly Latine folks. Something that comes up a lot at our clothing swaps is people sharing how growing up low-income, they did a lot of thrifting or had a lot of hand-me-downs. Second-hand clothing isn’t new for a lot of us since our parents migrated from their countries to the United States. In Chicago, a lot of thrift shops are very gentrified now, and used clothes are often more expensive than new clothes. It can be difficult to find that balance between wanting to save money and also wanting to take an environmentally friendly approach. We hope that through our clothing swaps, we can remind people that choosing second-hand is OK and doesn’t have to be expensive.”
— Luisa Ibarra (she/hers), Chicago Chapter Organizer
Mil Mundos Books in Brooklyn, New York
“Mil Mundos Books is a bilingual bookstore and community center in Bushwick, Brooklyn, New York. We opened in 2019, and our nonprofit branch opened in 2021. The nonprofit branch focuses on essential goods, literature, and digital literacy. In 2022, we worked with Bushwick Ayuda Mutua, which is Bushwick’s mutual aid group, to host clothing swaps. In New York, we had buses of migrants coming up from Texas, a lot of them with absolutely nothing, so the need for clothes was there. Even though we have clothing swaps, we have people stopping by every day asking for clothes and we love to be that resource for our community.
"It’s solidarity, not charity. Everyone feels empowered and respected."
At our clothing swaps, we tell people to take what they need and leave what they can. We get people that come out of necessity, but we also understand it’s a fun way to revitalize your wardrobe. There’s an understanding among everyone who gets priority. People also understand that this is a place where they can donate their clothes once they’ve outgrown them or no longer want them, which creates a sustainable cycle. A lot of our community members also become interested in becoming part of the process. We get so many volunteers to help us sort clothes. When it comes to mutual aid, we center on the idea that it’s solidarity, not charity. Everyone feels empowered and respected.”
— Bethania Viana (she/her), Co-Director
Consumption Collab in Southern California
“Consumption Collab is a clothing swap agency. We’re based in the San Gabriel Valley and parts of the Inland Empire in Southern California. Our pop-up-shop format makes us accessible to people from all walks of life in different areas, making it easy to trade and share clothing instead of thrifting. My co-founder, Veronica, and I went to the same high school, but we didn’t become friends until years later when we reconnected at a barbeque I hosted. Now, she’s like family. She used to throw clothing swap parties, and I’ve always loved getting people together. So one day, she proposed an idea and the rest is history.
The way our swaps work is that folks bring a bag of any size filled with clothes they’d like to donate and pay a $10 flat fee, although we offer a sliding scale as well, and they’re able to fill up their bag with as many clothes as they want. While we have a fee, we never turn away anyone who is in need of clothes. We have received direct messages asking about a specific piece of clothing they are in need of, and we understand it can take a lot of courage to ask for help and we honor that. No questions asked.”
— Emanda Ceccia (she/her), Co-Founder
“We started as a fashion swap service in 2018 and are now officially a 501(c)(3). We had our first swap pop-up event in Pomona, where we booked bands, vendors, and artists for an art gallery. At the time, our main priority was the clothing swap, but it evolved into so much more than that. We became a platform for creators, where people can connect and network in a very organic and relaxed way. It’s so exciting to create a safe space for creatives to meet each other.
"Building trust with our community has been the most rewarding."
I went to school for fashion at Cal Poly Pomona and graduated from the admin program, but I didn’t stay in the fashion industry because it was lacking the community aspect. It didn’t align with my values. Swapping clothes is something I did with my cousins growing up. With Consumption Collab, I saw an opportunity to create a positive impact. Building trust with our community has been the most rewarding. People bring us their clothes and we accept it all, no matter the condition they’re in because we trust their judgment. In return, they trust us and continue to support us.”
— Veronica Gutierrez (she/her), Co-Founder