What if every neighbourhood had a communal place where one can bring in clothes they no longer wear, and swap them for other preloved garments. It sounds like a circular utopia, but its happening right in front of our eyes.
In fact, I have this kind of place right around the corner. Astrid Meijs, an independent artist educator and cultural creator, recently started her Clothing Asylum (@kledingasiel) in the creative work hub De Vrijhaven Utrecht. “It’s a simple one-for-one swap concept. For every garment you bring in, you can take one home. People can make an appointment via Instagram to drop by”, Astrid explains.
Astrid is quite known in the “swap scene” in Utrecht. Until recently she organized swap parties for hundreds of people, including beer, dancing, dj’s and who-can-wear-the-most-layers-of-t-shirts-contests. But it all started off small during her college years when she, in her own words, was a compulsive buyer. “I had so many clothes. This contradicted very much with the way I was raised. My dad was and still is actively involved in protecting our environment and nature. So I started to make some changes, by handing out the pieces I no longer liked to my friends. And then it occurred to me: why not swap clothes instead of buying them? It’s so much better for my wallet and the environment and way more fun.”
Well, this turned out to be very true. Astrid ended up organizing swap parties during her entire time in college with a group of friends. And after that it just got bigger.
One of her last swap parties was hosted in an underground basement in a historic canal house. “We had tables placed around the dance floor with nameplates for each clothing category. We asked people to orden their handed in clothes themselves. They were allowed to bring in one bag of clothes, and leave the party with one bag of “new” clothes. That was the only rule. You can imagine the chaos! People were trying on clothes everywhere, meanwhile dancing and drinking beers. Spontaneous catwalks arose here and there”, Astrid chuckles.
And then Covid happened. “It’s the main reason I came up with the Clothing Asylum. Swapping parties were no longer allowed, but there’s still a demand for an accessible and sustainable way of renewing our closet. Selling your clothes on second-hand platforms like Vinted is not for everyone. It’s a lot of work taking good pictures, waiting for your clothes to be sold, sending packages. One night I woke up with the word ‘Clothing Asylum’ stuck in my head. The next day I started an Instagram account and asked people to donate and adopt clothes.”
In just three months Astrid has filled a complete clothing rack with a diverse collection of clothes, shoes, bags and hats. “About four to five people a week come by now to donate and adopt clothes. Some stay for hours trying on literally everything! I’ve seen some really nice gems come and go.” The clothes she grants asylum have to meet a few requirements: “They must be clean, unstained and unripped. But I must say, almost every person who has donated clothes, is really trying to bring in some good stuff.”
The Clothing Asylum is work in progress, Astrid states. “I’m still waiting for an enormous mirror to arrive. I might want to develop some sort of pasport or label for the clothes, so you can trace back their roots. And to make some money out of this, I want to look into communal grants. I think this is a great and accessible way to lower the footprint of the fashion industry and at the same time improving a communal feeling among citizens.”
And last but not least: “I would love to thrift flip items that are waiting for a new home for too long. They might just need a make over in order to get adopted.”