From the first launch of its trendy purple-yellow logo in August of last year, Change Clothes Crumlin has quickly become the archetype for what an effective sustainable fashion initiative looks like. As the alliterative name suggests, the project originated in the south Dublin suburb of Crumlin, set up by locals Mary Fleming and Oileán Carter-Stritch with the aim of making sustainable fashion more accessible and community-focused through regular swap shops, upcycling workshops and educational and social events.
But the Change Clothes mission has extended far beyond a few humble swap shops to being a thriving and well-recognised circular fashion community. UTOPIA The Edit’s Caoimhe Weakliam spoke with Carter-Stritch on the operations of their social enterprise and the values which underpin it.
She explained how the roots of the initiative were originally founded from Fleming’s desire to make swapping and upcycling events a structured service for her home community of Crumlin. “Mary used to run swap shops out in Bray with Tidy Towns, but she’s originally from Crumlin so she moved back, wanting to found something more structured and regular. She got funding from Crumlin Taking Action Together, I came on and started helping her in August last year and the two of us have been working away on it ever since.”
Thus marked the beginning of a cornerstone for not only Crumlin but its wider vicinity, as their regular swap shops graced the area’s local venues with rails upon rails of wearable garments that would otherwise be destined for the linear economy’s endpoint – landfill.
“We are a social initiative that focuses on the circular economy and sustainability”, Carter-Stritch told me. “Very often, the whole climate change thing is seen as a very global thing, and you’re left a little bit confused as to how you can do anything about it. We want to provide an affordable, accessible way for people to play their part, take action, feel empowered to learn about things and be connected on a local level.”
This ethos is wholly felt when partaking in a Change Clothes event, the atmosphere being one of fun and fashionable collaboration toward a shared goal – more treasure trove wardrobe finds and less textile waste. How it works is simple: turn up with any amount of clothing items in good condition, exchange them for tokens, then browse through the delightful sea of garments brought in by other swappers. You can then exchange your tokens for your newfound wears – extending their lifecycle and providing an alternative to purchasing brand new or from fast fashion outlets.
There is also no fear to be had of the excesses that are bound to arise within such a project. “A very small amount of stuff, about 2% of the stuff that comes into us, would be unsuitable to have out on the rails. But we use any of that stuff for workshops and upcycling, so it doesn’t go to waste”, Carter-Stritch informed me.
Coupled with the ‘reuse’ section of the project implemented by the swap shops, Change Clothes run various workshops that promote ‘recycling’ of garments through skills such as sewing, embroidery and textile repair. These events are beginner-friendly, and often involve heaps of colourful buttons and good laughs to remove the often intimidating nature of taking on a new skill. Along with the project’s educational talks and social media graphics which break down the jargon of environmental consumerism – Change Clothes embody a sustainable holy trinity of sorts.
But the project extends beyond mere practicality. Taking place in communal venues such as pubs, cafes and school halls, swappers are greeted upon entry by enthusiastic volunteers and encouraged to stick around afterwards to chat, meet new faces and show off their newly acquired pieces. I can vouch that the most wholesome kind of clothes haul happens post swap shop – coffee in hand, comparing stumbled-upon grandad jumpers and Zara jeans. The option of buying a timeless Change Clothes Crumlin tote bag or picking up some knitting tips from the in-house upcycling experts adds greatly to the vibes.
Carter-Stritch emphasised the importance of maintaining this community spirit for keeping the public empowered to engage with sustainable fashion and enjoy the social benefits that come with it. “Every single event we’ve had has been busier than the last, which has been really fun. It’s also created this community.”
She recalled a moment on our way to conduct the interview, being stopped by a Change Clothes veteran on the street to say hello. “Like even today when someone was like “Oh my god I recognise your bag!”, that’s really nice. We also have community spaces at the events, and it’s quite nice to see that after a couple of hours people are still standing around, chatting to others who they’ve just met.”
Similarly, Carter-Stritch mentioned how it’s “uplifting seeing it being brought into mainstream fashion magazines”. The fun and accessibility of the Change Clothes model is helping sustainable fashion move into a more mainstream space. She highlighted how they’ve received media attention not merely as a sustainability initiative, but as a fashion one – an important step towards bringing second-hand clothing into the conventional fashion discourse.
Going forward, the trailblazing duo hope to set up a more permanent home for Change Clothes. “We would love to have a permanent space that people could just buy membership for, like a tenner a month or whatever, and then you get unlimited access to drop in and swap from the rails, use our apparatus like sewing machines to mend your stuff, do classes”, Carter-Stritch explained.
Aware of the financial barriers that often hinder people from partaking in sustainable fashion practices, the pair hope that a more fixed, affordable resource will benefit ordinary members of the community. “Instead of a thing that you’re waiting to roll around once a month, it’s just like “ah, there’s a hole in my trousers, I’m gonna drop down to Change Clothes and sew them up”, and that’s just one of your errands for the day.”
Similarly, Carter-Stritch expressed her encouragement for their model to be replicated, noting that its success should not be confined to their specific project, but act as a blueprint for circular fashion initiatives elsewhere. It is evident that the mission behind Change Clothes Crumlin is as much about changing communities as it is about clothes. We look forward to seeing their enterprise redesign the way we engage with fashion and with each other.
You can keep up with their work on Instagram @clothescrumlin.