When Janna Hart wanted to help people in her community who couldn’t afford new clothes she started hosting a clothing swap out of her home. Through Facebook she invited friends — and strangers — to come over, trade items, hang out, and share food. Quickly becoming a roaring success, Hart’s swap not only aids those in need while strengthening community ties by combating modern isolation, it helps keep reusable items out of the landfill. After four years running the swaps at home, she moved them to a permanent location and started a Facebook page for the group, XChange South Calgary. We chatted to Hart about her awesome project and how she runs it while raising her four kids — seven, nine, 11, and 14 — and working as a full-time preschool teacher.
What was your motivation for starting this project?
I take ecological stewardship pretty seriously so the idea of keeping things out of the landfill and reusing clothes was pretty huge for me but I also wanted to help people that genuinely couldn’t afford to buy new clothes. Last week we were putting together a grad outfit for a girl that needed one, and because we got donations of jewellery, purses, and shoes from a consignment store we were able to completely pull her outfit together. Those things are expensive above and beyond everyday clothes, and not everyone has the money to buy a $300 outfit.
What made you take it from your house to a more organized project?
When I started I would just put on Facebook that I was hosting a swap at my house and women would come from all over the city — so the meetings got pretty large. The church I attend in Calgary has a house on their property from when the land was a homestead. I approached them about using that space for a weekly swap that was open to the community, and anybody in Calgary that needed clothes.
How many people do you get coming through your doors?
It varies. Some weeks are super quiet but that’s great too because then you get to just hang out with a few people. Other weeks there are 30 to 40 people.
What do you get out of this?
I guess the joy of doing things like dressing that girl for grad and getting to build relationships with all these people. It’s fun to have somebody come in and say something like, “I need a dress for a wedding, and then you’re keeping that lady in mind as donations come in. Then you can say, “ I think I’ve got it!” It’s just such a lovely feeling. I love the fact that these clothes are all getting a new life with somebody else and not going to landfill. That’s pretty huge for me.
I also love the sense of community that comes from running this. For example, we have people that come every week who can sew. So if somebody tries on a dress and it’s too long one of them will say, “I can take that up for you.” It’s a fun get together, people usually bring food and we all hang out while our kids play.
Back when we all knew our neighbours the hand-me-down system worked really well, but that’s just not the case anymore for a lot of people. I love that this project takes you back to a time when we were more connected. It feels like we’re starting to rebuild a little bit of that. You see people ask each other, “Where do you live, where do your kids go to school?” We’re “doing life together” is how we describe it. We’re finding clothes for our families and we’re having a meal and sharing stories.
How do you fit this into your busy life?
I involve my kids. They like to come and help set things up so that’s been pretty fun for us too. I like being able to model the concepts of reusing and ecological stewardship. Plus, with four kids we thrive on hand-me-downs. I have a friend who also helps me with the setup. And my kids are used to us having donation bags dropped in the driveway and me sorting them at the kitchen table. It all works out — I love it. And because I did it for four years out of my house I knew what I was getting into.
The project is amazing on so many levels. I’ve made so many friends and building those relationships is really neat.
If another mom wanted to start something similar how hard would it be?
Thanks to social media, it’s really easy. You just have to put the word out and people will respond. Lots of people have clothes they aren’t wearing that they’re happy to pass on and they’re usually happy to come look for new things for themselves and their families.
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