I wanted to love swishing…

I went to the Big Swish at Tiger Tiger on Haymarket last week, and have been agonising about whether to write about it or not. This is because I met and liked the organisers who are passionate about keeping used clothes out of landfill sites, and the event was in aid of a worthy charity so I was hoping to write a glowing review. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to give the whole thing a total thumbs-up, even though elements of the evening were great.

This review isn’t meant to trash the people who run these events, and nor is it an attempt to sabotage charity fundraising. It’s just one person’s experiences and opinions. But this person worked in charity shops, organised fundraisers, went to many jumble and sample sales, and ran a small business selling second hand clothes through dress agencies that helped her get through college without running up huge debts so she’s fairly clued up. Oh sod it, I do kind of know what I’m talking about when it comes to this sort of thing.

Different organisers have different rules at swishing events. At this one we were asked to bring in at least three garments, for which we were offered points – with more points being awarded to designer items or the more expensive end of the high street. This gave each of us a ‘passport’ with credits on it to be cashed against items we picked up in the sale. You could, if you so chose, bring in several cheaper garments and exchange them for one or two more expensive ones.

We queued up then were let loose into a room with a smallish designer area and a larger high street area which was arranged by size. I’m on the smaller side, and there wasn’t all that much on that rail, which perhaps just reflected the fact that there weren’t that many people my size at the sale. The general quality of the stock was really not good – some of the customers had brought in bobbled, heavily worn, smelly and dirty items, which I thought wasn’t in the spirit of the event.

I spotted many items that had been free gifts, such as Boots Christmas handbags and New Look belts that had been separated from their original garments and classed as a new item, and the stock was from the cheapest end of the high street, mostly supermarket brands and Primark.

The designer section didn’t have anything in my size, and I initially put that down to not being the first person to get to the rail. However, after speaking to various customers I had a little surprise.

Nobody I spoke to, however quickly they’d reached the designer rail, had spotted any of the top range clothes they’d brought along with them in the first place. This really concerns me, as you’d expect at least one of those 20-or-so garments to have been recognised by its original owner.

Being as fair as possible, I think there are two most likely explanations for the vanishing designer goodies. Perhaps the first person to get to the rail swept them all up in one go and paid the extra if she didn’t have enough credits on her passport. If so, the organisers might want to curb that in future to make it fairer (other swishing events have different rules that give customers a fairer chance). The other possibility that springs to mind is theft by shoppers, venue staff, or a sneaky volunteer who’s operating under the radar. I did notice several people coming in and out with large bags before the sale who didn’t seem to hang around for the sale itself. Perhaps there’s a perfectly sensible explanation that I’m not aware of…

Either way, it was hard to get hold of goods to come anywhere close to the value of what I’d brought in, and much of the stock was in very poor condition. The discrepancy between my points earned and my points spent was very large indeed, and the balance was automatically donated on my behalf.

If you’re mainly looking for value for money, you might be better off using a swapping website, or going to a dress agency, a sample sale or a jumble sale. You might get lucky at an organised swishing event and come home with something better than you took with you, but don’t count on it.

On the upside it was a very pleasant and sociable evening with enthusiastic organisers, and the customers were polite and friendly – no barging, biting or scratching whatsoever (that counts for a lot). Hopefully it did keep things out of landfill sites, and at least the extra points/goods went to charity rather than into another person’s pocket.

If you want to clear some unwanted cheap old clothes out of your cupboards, have a bit of fun with your friends without splashing too much cash and still be able to make a donation to charity then you might be the ideal customer. Maybe leave the designer stuff at home though.

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  1. I went to this event too: and in fact I’ve been using this event’s affliated clothes swapping website for about two years now. I love the concept of swishing, and if done fairly and properly, it’s a brilliant way to give unwanted clothing a new home, and to find new gems without paying for them. In many ways it’s like 2nd-hand clothes shopping without spending, and it has so many plus points (eco & purse friendly!) that I would like to encourage more people to try it.

    So naturally I was keen to go to the event: but I also deliberately didn’t take anything highly valuable or of designer labels, simply because I had a feeling I might feel disappointed with what I got back at the end. I’m glad I thought this way. I took 7 high-street items (dresses, tops, a blazer) all in great condition, but things I knew I wouldn’t cry about if I never saw again. It’s like gambling – go in with what you’re prepared to lose, and also be prepared to come out with nothing.
    It seemed people had different ideas on what the rules are. I, for one, didn’t realise that there was a points system – merely a number-of-items limit! I also was a little concerned when nobody checked my bag when I left, despite waiting at the door and looking around.
    I also saw at least two people leaving JUST BEFORE THE SWAP OPENED, one with a full suitcase and another with a heavily-laden IKEA bag. Full of clothes. I now think this is a bad sign as I too found people were unable to find their good items on any of the racks.
    I know a lot of work goes into an event like this. Trying to collect and sort all the clothing is a huge job, and they did a fairly reasonable job… but things were on the 10 rack which were not a 10, for one. Many of us were also struggling with the club-style low lighting, which meant we could barely see what we were grabbing!
    I do think the organisers would do better to have a clothing drop-off a date prior to the event, even the day before… or the morning of!… if it means they have time to organise things properly.
    For me, I will look at it the same way I look at the clothes swapping site – if I was never going to wear it again, it’s no loss, and maybe I will get a real gem… other times not. It’s more of a hobby, and from the website I have found SO many great items I wear all the time! At this event I went in with 7 and came out with 7, but half of those I will rewap on the website.
    It’s a gamble, it was fun, and at the end of the day, at least it’s for a good cause. That counts for something at least. 🙂

  2. Hi Claire – thanks so much for this excellent input. I was waiting outside for about 10 minutes just beforehand and saw at least 5 different women come out of the building with big IKEA-type bags and wheelie cases. That would be enough room to hide, say, 30 garments if they were all doing what we suspect they were doing.

    Don’t imagine for one second it was OK’d by the organisers, but I have seen first hand what disgruntled/greedy employees/volunteers can do behind the scenes in charity shops.

    My bag wasn’t checked when I left either.

    Have since interviewed people who regularly go to 1-for-1 swap nights, and designer swishing events run by different organisations etc. They have had completely different experiences from ours last week. Will have to write about it another time!

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