But the real fashion faux pas in the modern age is hidden and much more insidious: how half of the clothes in our closets are unworn and destined for a life in landfill.
wardrobe malfunction; plural noun: wardrobe malfunctions
a form of temporary amnesia causing a person to repeatedly purchase inordinate amounts of clothing they will never wear.
No judgement here, though. My wardrobe has suffered the same fate. Online deliveries I swore to return now stuffed in a drawer. Gym clothes bought in a fit of optimism. Dresses that will look great at that party next week but only if I shift five pounds and bank on the host having the same soft lighting in their lounge that there was in the changing room.
The truth is that our irrational purchasing habits and penchant for fast fashion come at a huge cost to society and the environment. Low-wage garment workers toil under exploitative conditions, production depletes non-renewable resources, and soil and groundwater are permeated with toxic chemicals from clothes discarded in landfill.
In defiance of this, a movement of eco-conscious fashion lovers in Phuket are hosting clothing swaps across the island. The concept is simple: declutter your closet; take your unwanted items – clean and in good condition – to a clothing swap; relax, mingle and browse clothes from other swappers; and take home your favourites.
The almost instantaneous success of Phuket Swap Shop and New to You, two of the island’s clothing swaps, is testament to the power of community in tackling fast fashion and the environmental and social issues tagged to it.
Phuket Swap Shop
British expat Kylie Millar set up Phuket Swap Shop at the end of 2018. Like many of us, she found herself swept up in the world of Marie Kondo – a hit Japanese organising consultant and author – and used her patented ‘KonMari Method’ to blitz through her fit-to-burst wardrobes.
“I reached out to a local expat women’s group saying, ‘I have a pile of rubbish. Do you have a pile of rubbish? Let’s swap our piles of rubbish!’” says Kylie.
Just weeks later, she’d set up her first public clothing swap event at Beach Edition Cafe, then in Rawai. She had experience under her belt already having held low-key clothing swaps at her house for friends and colleagues for many years.
“I thought it would just be my friends turning up out of pity but it was really busy. We were overwhelmed with people,” says Kylie.
Aside from April, Phuket Swap Shop has run once a month every month since January and has been such a success that it’s outgrown Beach Edition Cafe and emigrated to the loft of Sino-Portuguese mansion and lifestyle house Endless Summer.
“We have more than clothes: shoes, bags, hats, scarves, jewellery, books, DVDs, games, homeware. We’ve had Gucci items, gym equipment, a three-piece suit new with tags. We also have a mystery item. Eight golden, spiky balls that were put in the fitness tub. Come along and work those out!” laughs Kylie.
Kylie keeps some unswapped clothes as rolling stock and donates the rest to The Good Shepherd’s Crafts & Thrift Shop as well as the drama department at Kajonkiet International School. The May event alone saw a staggering 45 kilos of clothing donated to charity.
The fifth Phuket Swap Shop will be held on June 15 at Endless Summer from 2-5pm. The event is free. Simply go along with any number of pre-loved items. Men’s clothes are also welcome. Bring an old T-shirt or two if you want to take part in the new upcycling workshop.
New to You by Small Steps Phuket
Behind Small Steps Phuket are Tori Allen, Ai Jay and Baffelly Woo, all mothers of children at UWC Thailand International School, all with fears about the future of the planet their children will inherit.
“It started with me feeling terrible about having a third child and ushering him into a world that will be a trash heap when he gets to be my age,” explains Tori. “I spoke to Ai and she said, ‘Let’s do something.’ So we started an event at a Christmas fair and it’s gone from there.”
From scouting out eco-conscious cafes on the island to exchanging recipes for homemade shampoos and soaps, the group share tips, resources and ideas for reducing waste pollution and combating climate change, believing that small steps yield big results.
Most recently, Small Steps Phuket hosted their first New to You clothing swap at Project Artisan, a community space with a focus on local art and crafts set in a lush Cherng Talay tropical garden, with great success. Rails were full and drawers were spilling over with women’s and children’s clothes, shoes and accessories that swappers had dropped off at designated collection points ahead of the event and on the door.
Supermarket produce bags made of repurposed fabric were on sale and a team of volunteer seamstresses were on hand to hem, mend and alter garments, encouraging mindful shoppers and swappers to repair instead of replace their clothes.
“I did clothing swaps in Toronto, where I’m from. It’s a fun event. You see women really coming together,” says Tori. “I want to continue it, continue minimising my wardrobe and start shopping more sustainably and mindfully.”
The date of the next clothing swap is yet to be announced. However, it’s never too early to ‘KonMari’ your wardrobe in preparation.