CIMF 2018 Masthead

Sustainable Life: Looking good doesn’t cost the earth

Mia Swainson

I am always looking enviously at clothes on my friends and colleagues.

Why didn’t I see that dress when I was shopping? Where did they buy those gorgeous boots? I often look into my wardrobe full of clothes and think there’s nothing to wear today.

I like to look nice, however, what I don’t like is the environmental or social impact of our global fashion industry. There are countless rivers around the world so full of pollution from textile dyes that people living nearby can’t use the waterways anymore. Indonesia’s upper Citarum River is an example of this. Remember the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh two years ago? 1000 garment workers were killed, twice as many were injured and 800 children were orphaned.

Recently I discovered a way to look and feel good about the clothes that I’m wearing, by ‘swapping’ clothes instead of ‘shopping’ for new.

I love an afternoon out with cake, champagne and friends. So, when I was first invited to an afternoon with all those things, as well as clothes to swap – I thought I had found my perfection! My wardrobe is gradually being taken over with clothing from swaps with friends. I now only buy something new occasionally.

If you’re planning a clothes swap with friends, here are my tips for making it a success:

  1. Invite friends with all different shapes and sizes. That way there’ll be something for everyone.
  2. Schedule the swap when there’s a change in season. October is the perfect month for a Spring swap in Canberra. The warm weather lets us peel off layers and step into Summer. Your friends will already be looking for new clothes to wear and you can provide the perfect excuse for them to refresh their wardrobe.
  3. Ask everyone to bring clothes that are in good condition. Clothes with holes or bad smells should be left at home.
  4. Add accessories to the mix. Including handbags and jewellery means that everyone can take home something, regardless of their size.
  5. Eliminate clutter from the swapping area and designate places for different types of swapping items. Use a portable clothes rack for suits and work clothes, fold up T-shirts and put them on a table, drape the dresses over your lounge, shoes and accessories on the coffee table.
  6. Designate at least one room for changing and have at least two full-length mirrors available for people to see how their new clothes look.
  7. Use the clothes swap as an opportunity to take fashion risks. Take home things that you’ve always wanted to wear, but haven’t had the courage to buy.
  8. At the end of the afternoon, you’ll have left over fashion that’s dated and hasn’t come back again… yet. Put all the leftovers into large garbage bags and take it off to a charity of your choice – Vinnies, the Smith Family or the Salvation Army all accept clothing donations in Canberra.

Like the idea of swapping, but not keen to organise your own event? You can swap high quality clothes online through The Clothing Exchange, set up by Kate Luckins in 2004.

With Canberra’s warmer weather just around the corner, I’m looking forward to another clothes swap with friends. I’ll clear out those things in my cupboard that don’t fit quite right and swap them for the gorgeous clothes I’ve envied as my friends and colleagues wore them.

New clothes for the summer that don’t cost the earth, now I like that!


Further reading

Greer, Beth. The truth about the clothes we wear, how fashion impacts health and the environment. Huffington Post, 31 August 2013.   Accessed 1 September 2015:

Jackson, Jacqueline. Assessing the Environmental Impact of the Fashion World, Environmental Leader, 6 October 2014.   Accessed 1 September 2015:

Kallor, Amber. 13 Rules for a successful clothes swap. Oprah online, 13 September 2011. Website accessed 8 September 2015:


Mia Swainson

Mia Swainson is passionate about creating a more sustainable world and believes that everyone can make a difference. Trained as an environmental engineer, Mia has worked in sustainable development with the Australian Government and community sector for more than 15 years. Mia’s work has taken her around the world to Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and back to Canberra. She currently tends her kitchen garden, cares for three young boys and is growing her executive coaching consultancy ( More about the Author

  • Sarah

    I love clothes swaps, for the gems I find and for the company