Words by Leah Quinn
Not so long ago on a Saturday in May, I stood in a pub in the Liberties with palpitations anticipating what injuries I might incur. This was not the beginnings of some kind of bar brawl, but rather my first experience of a swap shop event.
The swap shop was organised by Sustainable Fashion Dublin and was due to kick off any minute once everyone had finished browsing and hanging up the clothes they brought along.
I am delighted to tell you that I came away with no injuries but instead a collection of lovely garments for my wardrobe which I estimate originally totalled about €200. For the price of the ticket (€15), and the fact that I also got to get rid of five of my unwanted items, this was a serious gain and I feel I may now have caught swap shop fever.
Sustainable Fashion Dublin is the creation of Geraldine Carton, a Freelance Journalist, and Taz Kelleher, a Podcast Producer, who have been running similar events since the collective was formed last year.
Sustainable living is a lifestyle that attempts to reduce an individual's or society's use of the Earth's natural resources, a way of life which is very much promoted by the co-founders of this eco-friendly initiative.
Co-founder Taz said, “We want Sustainable Fashion Dublin to show people how easy and cheap it can be to engage in sustainable fashion but even more than that, part of it was to bring people together, because myself and Geraldine had been saying how hard it was to meet people after leaving education, to meet like-minded people.
"We wanted Sustainable Fashion Dublin to be a collective of those people and to make it a community. It’s a two-man collective with the aim to promote sustainable fashion through fun events."
Having experienced a swop shop now I can vouch for the girls as I was truly taken aback by how social it was. At this one event alone, I got talking to five new people, as we were all very excited to show each other what items we had nabbed from the rails.
I was lucky enough to bag a faux fur coat, which I was sure I wouldn’t get. The girl who had brought it in shared her delight that it had found a new happy home and delighted me with stories of the many adventures that coat had seen her through.
It would be easy to assume that Taz and Geraldine are childhood friends, given their shared infectious enthusiasm for the cause and the events that they organise, but the girls only met seven months ago in November when Geraldine was looking for a new events-based project that she was passionate about.
Geraldine said, “I spotted Taz on Instagram talking about a swap shop she was organising, and she was wondering did anyone want to get involved. It was plutonic love at first sight, and we set up Sustainable Fashion Dublin a week later.”
“She the ying to my sustainable yang,” says Taz.
Their first event was a charity shop crawl, which involved bringing a group of twenty to various charity shops around Dublin to promote second-hand shopping.
Since then, they have run six swop shop events in various locations around Dublin, along with charity shop crawls, DIY denim workshops in businesses and schools, knitting events in aid of Age Action and various industry talks.
“We are blessed with charity shops in Ireland, particularly in Dublin because they tend to be in clusters”, Taz explained.
“Sustainable fashion can sometimes feel elitist, trying to switch over to sustainable goods can be expensive sometimes and only available to a certain demographic with a lot of money. So we wanted to show people that you don’t always have to buy new and you can engage in fashion by buying second hand and rotating what is out there”.
“People are willing to make changes when you show them what is available by providing positive alternatives like second-hand shopping. You can be certain that your clothes are making zero negative impact on the world by extending the life of existing clothes. Second-hand shopping is such a great and accessible way for everyone to reduce the negative impact of their wardrobe”, added Geraldine.
When asked if they believe Irish people might be coming around to the idea of sustainable fashion and second-hand buying, Taz said, “It kind of used to be almost like a granny thing – you would be mortified to say you got your clothes in a charity shop, but I think people now more than ever want to be more individual.
"If you shop in charity shops, the likelihood is that you will find items of clothing that no one else will have, and I think people are looking for a more creative flair with their clothes”
“The fast fashion industry started off as being something brilliant because it was cheap and accessible and clothing came in every size and colour. It seemed like a win/win situation. But now, we are seeing that it’s a copy and paste job in every single shop and everywhere looks the same.
"A lot of the clothing is of poor quality. You walk down Grafton Street and all the clothes in all the shops look the same. If you want to step outside that, charity shops are a great way to do that.”
Given the success of the Green Party in the recent election, the girls can see there’s a visible change in Irish society in terms of assessing how we live and what we use.
Geraldine explained, “You can see now with things like climate change rallies, veganism, vegetarianism, people want their lifestyle to reflect their values so second-hand shopping is another way that people can reflect the values that they have”.
“The population is bigger now and it's ever increasing so all these new clothes are unsustainable, and you have to ask yourself where are all these clothes going? And that’s what we promote: putting into circulation the clothes that are already on the planet.”
The girls have their sights on more than just the Dublin fashion scene and hope to expand their events to other locations in Ireland soon.
“Going forward we want to bring it outside of Dublin and we want to engage in different communities. Now, most of our demographic is young females, which is fantastic, but we’d love to engage with the older demographic, males and people who aren’t living in Dublin.”
Their next event is a swap shop at Dublin’s Tara Building on Sunday, June 30.