Ever notice how the things you just can't get enough of are the same things you have too many of? Like all the skirts, shoes and accessories spilling from your closet that you never wear but can't part with? Fear not. You can buy less stuff, dispose of less stuff, and still be fashionable. And you don't have to dress like a Wal-Mart model to cut your clothing budget to almost zero. Even dressing for success — or for excess — doesn't have to break the bank. Just turn that overflowing wardrobe into currency by swapping it for some fresh duds.
Suzanne Agasi, a self-titled "philanthrapreneur" who values creativity over commerce, started holding small clothing-swap events about fifteen years ago to help people recycle and socialize at the same time. Thrifty fashion wasn't as hip then as it is now, but there was always a dedicated core of resourceful clotheshorses who wanted to economize but didn't want to look like they shopped at the church basement rummage sale. After a while, Agasi saw opportunities to harness fellow swappers' collective goodwill for charity. Now that shopping on a budget is as stylish as driving a hybrid and growing your own arugula, she's tuned her hobby into a nonprofit organization called Diva Eve, which holds swanky, friendly events for women — and occasionally men — at bars, cafes, and nail salons around the Bay Area and Sacramento.
"I'm a woman; what do I want?" Agasi asked, explaining some of the needs her organization strives to meet. "I want chocolate. I want spa treatment."
Swappers pay a cover charge (usually $10-$20), drop off their stylish but unneeded clothing (there's a five-item minimum), indulge in a martini, a massage, a manicure, and maybe some dessert, then sift through tables of new-to-them clothing. Dive Eve sometimes tailors events to a certain niche clientele, so plus-sized women, teens, and recently, men, can swap with their fashion peers.
"My events are set up so you basically get pampered and rewarded for cleaning out your closet," Agasi said. She doesn't stop at providing small luxuries though. She operates like a human Facebook; when she talks about helping people network, her voice lights up. If she sees a woman in need and a woman with more than she needs, she'll find a way to get them connected, whether it's a Sex in the City fan who needs a gently used Prada purse or a woman in a homeless shelter trying to dress for a job interview. "No matter where you're in your life, whether you're on a budget on you're a clotheshorse, clothing swaps are for you," she said.
Agasi added that women whose bodies are transitioning, whether because they're pregnant or halfway through Weight Watchers, tend to find the idea of swapping more approachable than purchasing a whole new wardrobe.
She also uses swapping events as a way to showcase her acquaintances who own or run small businesses. "I strive to put businesswomen on a pedestal," Agasi said. Photography studios and tanning salons are among sponsors who've set up booths at events.
"Every single one of my events benefits a nonprofit," she said. She donates clothes that go unswapped to women's shelters or charity organizations. She added, "They got a ton of PR. A lot of women want to volunteer to work at one. In December, I encourage women to bring for the toy drive, too."
While spreading around resources, Agasi never forgets the rule that originally motivated her to swap: Dressing fabulously on a budget is even better than shopping retail. She said, "I believe women that thrift are very stylish" and added that she's even seen swapping inspire people to try a whole new look, experimenting with items of clothing they might overlook if they were paying full price. "If you don't like it, there's no shopping remorse; you just bring it to the next swap."
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