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Sustainably Yours: The Phuket Swapshop

You loved that new shirt when you tried it on in the store, but when you got it home, it was too long or too short, too bright or too drab, too snug or too loose. You wore it once or twice and then tossed it into the back of your closet of regrets. 

By Palmer Owyoung

Sunday 12 June 2022, 11:00AM

According to California Closet chief design officer, most people only wear about 20% of their clothes regularly. The rest gets thrown out in the next spring cleaning. 

The Environmental Cost of Clothes

The problem is that every article of clothing you buy has a huge environmental cost. The fashion industry produces 10% of the world’s greenhouse gases, which is more than shipping and air travel combined.

It takes 3,781 litres of water to make one pair of jeans, which creates about 33.4 kilogrammes of carbon. Then there are synthetic clothes, which when washed, dump half a million tonnes of microplastics into the ocean per year, the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles, which end up in our food chain. Despite the environmental costs, globally an average garment is worn 120 times. However, this number drops precipitously in wealthier countries like the UK and the US, where an average piece of clothing is worn just seven times.

About 87% of these clothes end up being disposed of in a landfill or incinerated, with the average American throwing away about 32kg of clothes per year. The most common reason sighted was because of weight change, another was that it was an impulse buy.

In this age of fast fashion, we are constantly being manipulated by social media influencers, advertising, and our peers into buying the latest trends and styles to “keep up”. But is any of this even making us happy? 

Materialism Doesn’t Make Us Happy

Studies show that in general, materialistic people are less happy and more insecure. According to psychologist Tim Kasser, “We found that the more highly people endorsed materialistic values, the more they experienced unpleasant emotions, depression and anxiety, the more they reported physical health problems, such as stomachaches and headaches, and the less they experienced pleasant emotions and felt satisfied with their lives.” According to Kasser, materialistic people use stuff to fulfil their unmet psychological needs. 

A study from the University of Arizona says that buying less stuff can make you happier. According to Sabrina Helm, who authored the study, “People who buy less and consume less show less depressive symptoms, so there’s a positive mental health effect.”

Creating a Circular Economy on Phuket

Some say that the solution to our wasteful ways is a circular economy, which is based on three principles:

  • Eliminate waste and pollution
  • Circulate products and materials (at their highest value)
  • Regenerate nature

The Phuket Swapshop

Lambert Brothers Insurance Broker

The Phuket Swapshop is a step toward a circular economy and embodies the second principle “circulate products and materials”. This means getting away from the “buy and throw away” mentality that we have become accustomed to. It means reusing and repairing things when they can be, and taking the raw materials and recycling them into something new when they can’t. This way, nothing is wasted. 

As the saying goes, “One person’s trash is another person’s treasure”.

Yoana Vastree Estevez and Sarha Robinson currently run the Phuket Swapshop and are two best friends who are both primary school teachers. The idea began in 2019, originally organised by their mutual friend who invited people to vegan cafes and restaurants around the island to exchange their used clothes, books, and household items.

After the founder left the island, she passed it on to the two friends who were inspired by the videos from the beginning of the pandemic, of clear canals in Venice, and news that the ozone hole was restoring itself after decades of deterioration. 

Wanting to do their part to help our planet heal, the Swapshop was relaunched on July 4, 2020, but the two were not satisfied with just exchanging stuff. They wanted to support local charities, so they invited their friends, local artists, and musicians to perform and started charging a B200 entrance fee. The first charity was the Life & Home Foundation Orphanage, but they have since raised funds for elephant sanctuaries, an elderly care home, schools and other orphanages. 

The premise is simple. You bring your “pre-loved treasures” and leave them in a drop-off zone. They then distribute the items over several tables, which usually include a wide assortment of clothes, books, kitchenware, sports equipment, furniture, toys, shoes and home décor.

You are then welcome to choose from among the goods, picking up as many things as you like. What isn’t taken is given to charities around the island. 

Besides the “pre-loved treasures”,” artisanal vendors sell handmade and organic products, like natural soaps, jewellery, artwork and kombucha.

Yoanna and Sarha see the Swapshop as an opportunity to get people away from the big shopping malls and the destructive, fast fashion they sell and a way to give back to the community that they’ve called home for the past four years. 

If you’d like to attend, the next Phuket Swapshop will be held at Boat Lagoon on Saturday, June 18. You can also follow them on their Facebook Page: phuketswapshop.

Palmer Owyoung is an environmental activist working with the Kamala Green Club and the Global Sustainability Hub.

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