I Swished at the V&A, and survived!

November 10, 2008 by Lena Weber 

The rules said ‘no scratching, spitting or biting’, but not even that could put Lena Weber, or hordes of others, off the biggest ever clothes Swishing event at the V&A yesterday. Find out if Lena got the goodies.

Lena writes:

There is a section in my wardrobe, the corner in the very back, where – out of sight, out of mind – I keep all my fashion sins, misguided buys and unloved fashion gifts. Today I am stuffing this rather heavy pile into a bag, ready to pass it on to someone else, hoping that the grey 80s jumper with the question mark pattern (what was I thinking?) will find a loving owner who will wear it with pride. And in return I will get a as many clothes, shoes and accessories as I can carry.

It really sounds too good to be true, but this brilliant and simple idea is behind the new fashion trend taking London by storm and rapidly spreading over the UK. Swishing, or clothes swapping, is a fun and eco-fabulous way of getting a whole new wardrobe by exchanging your unloved fashion items for someone else’s. Easy.

I am feeling a little bit nervous as I arrive at the swishing venue at the V&A and spot the queue of girls eagerly waiting to swish. They are armed with bags and suitcases ready to grab as many items as possible. Some even brought their boyfriends, who willingly trot behind them, ready to become their personal shopping bag carriers. I look at my tiny little handbag and feel ridiculously ill prepared.

After dropping off my unwanted clothes, I join the queue nervously clutching the swishing rules. They are very straightforward: everybody must bring at least one item, there will be a sneak preview where you can look around but not yet take any clothes, and once the swishing gets going, you can take as much as you like. I am however slightly worried by the last rule that says ‘no scratching, spitting or biting’. What have I let myself in for?

During the preview, where everybody gets to have a look at what’s on offer, I spot a fabulous 70s halterneck dress, a beautifully made brown leather clutch and some great white heels in my size, which I casually shove behind some jackets in the hope no one will find them. There are rails and rails of clothes, rows of shoes neatly lined up and belts and scarfs hanging off the walls. Futerra, who have set up the swishing party as part of the V&A’s Ethical Fashion Day, have also prepared style booths where expert advice on picking and wearing the perfect item is on hand.

Once the doors finally open, everything seems to be over in a few seconds. I can’t remember where I’ve hidden the white heels, and the 70s dress is long gone. I grab a black and red patterned scarf, which turns out to be Armani. Wow! Soon the V&A’s corridors are lined with swishers showing each other their finds. There’s a really friendly atmosphere, no shovelling or pushing past, and I am pleased to see my 80s jumper wasn’t one of the few left items.

To me, a total shopaholic, the swishing was a great event that gave me the thrill of bargain-hunting and retail therapy but also allowed me not to compromise my ethical and environmental standards. With almost 2 million tonnes of clothes and shoes ending up in UK bins each year, swishing is quite simply an alternative way of consumerism, one that allows us to get a whole new wardrobe without overspending, be it our budgets or our planet’s resources. As Lucy Shea from Futerra says: “Swishing is for women who want to look good while saving the planet.” Well, if saving the planet means shopping for free, I might just have to swish more often. Life can be so hard…

Must read: Real women do vintage at Swish


3 Responses to “I Swished at the V&A, and survived!”

  1. BR on December 10th, 2008 8:14 AM

    Do they swish in the US? Where? Do you know a site for US Swishers?

  2. Nassy on February 5th, 2009 7:57 PM

    I was at the VA Swish event and it was dreadful – as the editor says – it was over in minutes.
    Part of the charm of swishing is that it gives people a chance to socialise ie creates a very different experience to shopping, The event at VA was very impersonal and everyone was pushing and shoving to get what they wanted. It was not fun at all and I think most people who went there and had not been swishing before would have asked themselves what the fuss was about.

  3. Goofy on November 15th, 2009 10:25 AM

    I was there yesterday to and completely agree with Nassy – it was a total bun fight, no organisation whatsoever, women trampling and shoving each other and the rails cleared in a matter of seconds. I had assumed that one item donated would equal one item to pick, but no, apparently you could choose up to 3 items even if you had only brought one. How is that fair? I took a lovely 60′s jacket bought at a vintage fair which was sadly to big for me. I left with absolutely nothing having been pushed aside in the scrum. Never again. And ladies, you should be ashamed of your greedy behaviour.

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