Cork woman sets up monthly clothes swap event 

A pledge to shop more sustainably will be on many people’s New Year’s resolution lists. PAM RYAN talks to a Cork woman tapping into that
Cork woman sets up monthly clothes swap event 

Joy O'Leary Cork Clothes Swap

IT is safe to say that the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic was also the beginning of Ireland’s greatest at-home decluttering.

Households took to their junk rooms, garages, attics, cluttered drawers and wardrobes with large bin liners and filled them to the brim, before passing them along to charity shops and clothing banks. Good deed done. But could we do it better?

Joy O’Leary is the young woman changing the way we recycle clothing in Cork for the betterment of our environment.

“We have a real issue building up – clothes! Textile production contributes more towards climate change than international aviation and shipping combined. Our habitual consumption of the latest trends is something we need to address as a society.

“Clothes are great; they offer us protection and provide us with an outlet for our self-expression. But we are consuming too much and don’t have a proper way of dealing with what becomes waste.

“Garments are worn on average 10 times before they are thrown away. And, they usually end up in landfills or incineration.

“We need another solution. A local solution. That’s why I decided to set up a clothes swap. It is not a new idea. In fact, there have been a few swaps organised in Cork but we were missing something consistent. This gives the people of Cork the option to prevent their clothes from ending up in landfills, while benefitting from being able to change their wardrobe to facilitate their evolving self-expression.”

According to Joy, only about half of what we donate to charity shops and clothes banks ever enters the global textile trade.

“The pollution due to transportation and processing seems to outweigh the benefit. On top of that, less than one per cent of material used to produce clothes is recycled [fabric].”

Enter Cork Clothes Swap! The event began outdoors but as winter began to creep up on us it was time to find a new home to maintain its consistency.

“I discovered Rebel Read Bookshop and they were the perfect fit. While they are a [used] bookshop, they also focus on being a space for creativity, education and community building,” said Joy.

This was the beginning of a sustainable friendship.

“They felt a clothes swap fitted in with their ethos and they have been very supportive.”

If the idea of a clothes swap is new to you, the premise really is quite simple. You are invited to attend this open event and bring clothes you no longer wear.

“You add your clothes to the collection from previous swapping events, browse, and take home as many other items of clothing as you wish.

“The interesting thing about a clothes swap is that there seems to be no shortage of clothes.”

The clothes swap is currently accepting women’s and men’s clothing.

The event is free to attend but Joy does accept monetary donations in order to grow the event – and the tea, coffee and biscuit offerings!

There are few rules, but they are important to ensure a great experience for all. All clothes must be washed before the event and must be suitable to wear, i.e., have no holes or stains. The swap is held indoors, so masks are required and hand sanitisation is encouraged.

“If you are planning on de-cluttering, I suggest taking that time to reflect on your consumer habits,” Joy says.

“Are there any clothes that you could repair or upgrade with a bit of creativity? The most suitable garment is the one that you already own. Then I would sort out what is suitable for a clothes swap or charity swap. Then I would sort out what you need to recycle.

“I did a big purge this summer and I put a lot of energy into thinking about what use my unwanted clothes could provide. Are they really rubbish, or do I just want something new?

“I think it’s very easy to feel disconnected from the issue of discarded fast fashion,” Joy adds.

“We can’t really see the build-up in landfills. We don’t see carbon dioxide poisoning our atmosphere. We can’t taste the plastic microfibers in our seafood.

“We have not met the exploited workers on the other side of the world. The issues are invisible from where we are standing.

“I want to talk about this, not to make people feel guilty, but just to encourage awareness. I want people to stop and think ‘do I really need to buy another pair of jeans?’ ”

The future of Cork Clothes Swap seems bright, as popularity grows each and every month.

“I think a clothes swap for kids would be a hit and I would like to host upcycling workshops. I am really open to people joining in and becoming part of the team.”

If you would like to get involved you can get in touch with Joy by emailing cork.clothes.swap

The next Cork Clothes Swap  event is on February 2, 2022, at Rebel Read Bookshop, Marina Commercial Park, Cork, T12 AY92, at 7pm. Stay up to date with future events by following Cork Clothes Swap on Instagram and Facebook.

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