Fast fashion is wasteful, and thrifting is flawed. The solution: swap!

Last Updated: June 10, 2024By
From Hand-Me-Downs to Radical Clothes Swaps: Two Friends’ Journey

Jannine Mancilla, 32, and Nicole Macias, 34, found common ground in their love for DIY fashion and their frustration with the wastefulness of the clothing industry. They both hated how much waste the industry creates and how we live in a throwaway culture. So, they had this cool idea: what if people just gave away their old clothes for free? Their clothing swap events in Los Angeles started small but have now become super popular, collecting hundreds of pounds of clothing each month. These swaps not only help the planet but also save people money.

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Our Roots: Growing Up with Hand-Me-Downs

Jannine Mancilla: All of us at Radical Clothes Swap are first-gen Mexican Americans. We grew up with that immigrant mindset where you make do with what you have. I remember getting hand-me-downs from my siblings and cousins. We had this cookie tin that never had cookies in it; it was our sewing kit. I even used to mend my own pants. When skinny jeans became a thing, I would sew them by hand.

Nicole Macias: I still wear my brothers’ old clothes. There’s nothing like an old, worn-out shirt or sweater to relax in. Communities like ours have always been resourceful. It’s just how we grew up. A lot of times, we didn’t have the money to buy new clothes every school year.

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The Big Idea: Free Clothes for Everyone

In 2021, I got invited to a back-to-school event for kids. I wanted to bring something that wouldn’t cost them anything. I remembered a company called Suay Sew Shop that repurposes textiles and has a free rack in their store. The idea blew me away—you could just take a sweater for free. So, I decided to set up a free rack at the event. I donated five items from my closet and asked people on social media to give me clothes they didn’t need.

The response was incredible. I got all sorts of clothes: pajamas, winter coats, jeans, dresses, shorts, workout clothes, everything. I had so many bags of clothes, I couldn’t fit them all in my car and had to borrow a friend’s van to transport everything.

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After that, I held four more swaps, collecting even more clothes. Jannine saw what I was doing on social media and reached out. She said, “Hey, I like what you’re doing. I’ve done this before. Do you want to team up?” I had an event coming up in Inglewood and invited her to join me. She was all in.

I brought my clothes, a wagon, and some hangers. Jannine showed up with a canopy, a table, and more hangers. We hung clothes from the canopy. It didn’t look great, but people loved it.

The Radical Concept: Free Clothes with No Strings Attached

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Jannine: People were shocked that everything was free. In our society, if there’s no profit, people usually aren’t interested. Giving away something for free without expecting anything back is pretty radical.

We don’t ask for anything. We don’t even ask people to post about us. When we started an Instagram, we were brainstorming names, and Nicole suggested “radical.” It fit perfectly because what we’re doing is so radical—who gives away clothes for free with no strings attached?

That’s how Radical Clothes Swap was born. There’s no catch: you save money and help the environment by shopping for free.

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Building a Community

Nicole: At first, people were skeptical, but now we have a following. Since March, we’ve held about five swaps each month. Our main swap is at Angel City Brewery every second Saturday of the month. We’re also at the Rivian Pasadena Hub every last Sunday.

We usually get over 100 people at our events, and about 50 of them donate clothes to swap. Each person donates around 6-10 pounds of clothes, so we get up to 500 pounds of clothes per event. We often end up with extra donations, which we save for future swaps.

Many people don’t realize that thrift stores get so many donations that they sometimes just throw clothes away. Plus, the quality of clothes at thrift stores is declining because a lot of it is fast fashion priced like new clothes.

Making Connections

Jannine: What sets us apart from thrift stores is the connections people make. It’s amazing to see strangers come to our events and leave as friends. It’s not just about free clothes; it’s about building a community.

When we were kids, wearing second-hand clothes wasn’t cool. Now, it’s trendy. More people are thrifting, so prices are going up. This is our way of taking back something we’ve always done.

Nicole: Our ultimate goal is to open a physical space where we can hold workshops on mending and fabric dyeing. We want to expand beyond Los Angeles and California.

I feel like our communities are always trendsetters, and this concept of swapping is coming full circle. There’s no money involved. It’s all about community and giving back.

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