Jeff Poulton of Swango on Fashion Swapping: An Interview

An InterviewAh, the world of fashion – what a pure pain in the butt it can be to try and keep up with trends. After over 10 years in the fashion world, I’ve found it is best to wear what makes you both comfortable and confident. As eco-concerned citizen, buying clothing and accessories made from new, sustainable fibers can be more than expensive, depending on the style you are looking for.

Buying vintage or used clothing is, possibly, more sustainable than buying new goods, whether made from green fibers or not. Finding the time to browse scores of second-hand stores can take up a whole weekend afternoon – something that most people simply cannot spare. Both Craigslist and eBay can be quite touch and go when it comes to fashionable finds, so what is a greenie to do!?

Never fear, Swango is here! Started just last year, this online shopping site has become a favorite among sustainable shoppers of all ages:

In an effort to decrease the environmental impact of consumer waste and fast fashion, 15% of Americans choose to purchase their clothes at consignment and resale stores. This saves around 2.5 billion pounds of postconsumer textile waste from entering US landfills. Swango is dedicated to furthering this trend of clothing and shoes recycling. Join us in battling the inalterable consequences of needless textile waste and helping to preserve our beautiful planet.

Always looking for the inside scoop, I recently chatted with one of Swango’s co-founders, Jeff Poulton, to get the real info on this new online fashion superstore. Keep reading for all the juicy details from our interview, including Swango’s non-profit partner, green fashion’s role in the eco-movement and more!

How did the idea for Swango come to be?

It’s almost impossible to quantify the thrill you get when you find the perfect piece of clothing at a swap meet or thrift store. Is it the price you [didn’t] pay, the fate that brought you to find an item so uniquely you, the guilty pleasure that you somehow got more-for-less? We can remember these feelings as far back as junior high when we’d exchange clothes with a friend; the whole rest of the day felt empowering, like you knew something that nobody else knew.

When kicking around the thought of quitting our day jobs, a couple of us fell in love with the idea of developing an online clothing swap that would let users tap into a huge, virtual swap meet. We were shocked when our research revealed that there wasn’t a single, easy-to-use, genuine clothing swap website.

The few sites that existed (and that continue to pop up) got it wrong by requiring their members to contact the seller and negotiate a deal or pay cash for the item. Swango is patterned after a real-life clothing swap – no negotiating, no bartering, no endless email chains. Simply put items into your shopping cart and you’re done. Swango handles the details of contacting the seller to ensure prompt shipment.

Since its creation, what kind of traffic has Swango seen? How many buyers and sellers do you have on the site?

Swango launched the week of Thanksgiving 2007 – an interesting time for a second-hand store to hit the web. It was a bit pokey before the holidays, but Swango has seen an excellent growth pattern since the first of the year. It’s fun to see Swango becoming a hobby for many of our most active users.

Our biggest hurdle is quickly building up a diverse enough inventory to excite the majority of the people who come to the site. So far, the trends we have seen are very promising as each day our inventory grows and the number of sales increases. We continue to be amazed by the quality of the items posted and have to confess what we order items from the site with as much enthusiasm as our other members.

The 99 cent transaction fee for each purchase is said to go to supporting the Dignity U Wear non-profit? What about this particular organization made you want to support them so extensively?

We are firm believers that what comes around, goes around (especially true for a swap site!) Swapping clothes is all about participating in a co-op environment where all parties involved benefit. But what about the people who don’t have extra clothes to swap? We thought it was an excellent fit to associate Swango with a charity that dealt with providing new apparel to families who have had serious losses. Dignity U Wear has clothed over 260,000 children and families in need and has spent over $44.8 million buying new clothing for those who have lost everything. Working with Dignity U Wear allows our members and us to continue the circle of giving and receiving.

Should people shop only at Swango instead of eBay/Craigslist/vintage stores, or should it simply be a key part of their sustainable shopping plans?

That’s a great point to clarify. We think Swango is an excellent complement to the venues you mentioned and provides some significant advantages with which they simply can’t compete. For example, Craigslist and local thrift/vintage stores are geographically limiting, whereas Swango lets members grab items from all around the country. Why not shop at your local thrift store and Swango?

More importantly, Swango members aren’t out to make a profit on their clothes. Rather, they are more interested in living within their means, exercising resourcefulness, and spreading the word that swapping is a desirable alternative to always buying new clothing from mega department stores and big-box retailers.

Green fashion has often been seen as a frivolous part of living a sustainable life. What is your take on that?

We’ve heard of more frivolous green acts, such as celebs proposing the use of only a square or two of toilet paper per restroom visit! That said, we know that the little things are the big things. Swango’s contribution is clearly focused on the continued usage of perfectly good clothing and slowing the rate at which clothes go to the landfill.

The objective behind swapping clothes on Swango does not lie entirely in green fashion, nor does it focus solely on the movement towards producing and distributing environmentally friendly clothes (although these are great objectives). Swango provides a platform for people of all levels of environmental awareness to play their part in evolving towards living a sustainable lifestyle.

What do you say to the folks that still believe global warming is just a myth?

We tend to be more interested in evangelizing our website than getting into global warming debates. The cool part is that regardless of what people believe about global warming, they love the idea of swapping clothes. We try hard to spread the philosophy that exchanging clothing is an effective way to help the environment by slowing the large amounts of post-consumer textile waste, but often it’s simply our enthusiasm for swapping that entices people to join Swango.

Do you have any other nifty, secret projects/expansion plans in the works that you could hint at?

Gosh, we thought it was nifty enough trying to become the web’s favorite clothes swapping website! Like most ambitious websites, we have an endless list of features and enhancements that we would love to implement. Right now, however, we’re spending most of our efforts on building brand awareness and increasing site participation.

In the future, you’ll likely see the ability to participate in private virtual swaps, advertise your posted items on Facebook, and interact directly with real-world clothing swap meets. Until then, we will continue to demonstrate that Swango is the most user-friendly and intuitive way to get stylish, fashionable clothing for ultra-super cheap!

  1. Sharon

    What an awesome resource – thanks for bringing it to our attention! I tend to prefer buying local, but I’m lucky enough to live somewhere with an abundance of great used clothing stores. For people with less access, or those looking for something in particular, this looks great.

  2. marci

    hey, any update on swango? wher’d it go? I’d love to get n touch with the creators of the site…any ideas here? thanks tons!

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