My friend Sarah and I had been talking about a plus-size clothing swap for at LEAST a year before she decided to take the plunge and book a free space that would allow us the opportunity to gather, meet, exchange, and sashay away in some brilliant free and gently used clothes.
We had both been lamenting how badly we needed to clean out our closets for just as long, despite the fact I'd just hauled at least 10 heavy trash bags filled with too-small jeans and sweaters to the charity bin around the corner last fall. (I'd been collecting them since high school.)
Sometimes we keep the clothes because we think: Hey, maybe we can fit into them again! Maybe this sweater will one day not make me break out into hives, because it's SO CUTE but why must it be woven from what appears to be the devil's body hair?
NOPE. Move the hell on, babes. Reclaim that space in your closet for clothes that feel good on your body and make you feel good IN your body!
Anyway, I was about to get married when we made the arrangements, but Sarah was like, "Don't worry, we'll have a little over a month after the wedding to pull this off!"
And I said, "Yeah no prob, I've totally run events and things before!" (If you count the loft party/art and music networking event that was the culmination of my college senior thesis.)
Plus, we were working with the Trumbullplex; Detroit's self-proclaimed "sexiest anarchist collective." It's a massive house where people congregate for everything from perusing the extensive zine library to attending late night gigs in the makeshift theater to crafting tea times in the sprawling gardens with cool vine overgrowth and lazy chickens for company.
The fat-positive community in Detroit is scattered, but vaguely connected via online media, so we focused on bringing people in through that. Most of us happened to know one another through acquaintances, small degrees of separation, etc. so it really came together quite nicely.
We also reached out to the sorts of friends who know how to spread news about events like wildfire and before we knew it, a following was happening, and the day was almost upon us.
We called it The Detroit Fatshion Exchange and I painted signs at my parents' house, in the barn, with scrap wood I found there. I didn't think we'd need much decoration other than clear signage and the bounty of clothes we were planning to display; this wasn't about to be a fancy sort of shindig.
The weekend before the event, I went to the Trumbullplex to participate at the Small Craft Garden Party and failed at making rope bracelets, but also put the word out via social media for DFE participants to drop off their clothes early if they had the opportunity! Many did, and it was a big help.
Arriving at the Trumbullplex theater in the early afternoon, we got to work hanging clothes on tied-off paracord and folding up other items to display on a ton of tables. The one standing rack we had only lasted for about an hour into the event before it literally collapsed, but the paracord hook-ups were legit! The key was to add knots along the chain to help disperse the weight of the hanging clothes.
We had an amazing help through Ethan, the man responsible for booking the space, who also doubled as our very amazing DJ shuffling from surf rock to post punk while our guests nommed down some treats, chatted, laughed, browsed, and tried on everything in sight.
The designated "zine room" was converted into a temporary dressing room with the windows blocked off and a full-length mirror set up. My favorite part was when people went in and came out to model a piece of clothing, saying "I can't believe I found something that fits!" or "I think I need to have this!!!"
New people arrived a bit later with more clothes and everyone happily descended upon the fresh meat. The smiles and positive attitudes that bounced around were genuine and addictive.
When all was done, a ton of clothes were left to go to charity. I came away with a few new-to-me items and the promise to keep this going on a seasonal basis. Sarah and I even recruited a new member to the team to help us for the next round, which will go 100% smoother now that we've gone through it once!
Some general tips to keep in mind, should you want to DIY:
• I thought it would be wise to set a rule to "only take as much as you give" -- but people end up giving SO MUCH that it really became a silly stipulation. Unless someone's trying to walk away with a mountain of clothes after having contributed next to nothing, don't worry about it.
• Do not pay for a venue. If you have to, ask for a donation at the door to cover the cost -- but really, it's just not in the spirit of the event! Check out your local community centers, churches, and "anarchist collectives." There's bound to be something or someone you can reach out to!
• I made the time for the event pretty long because I thought HEY maybe people will wanna filter in and out all day! Wrong. They wanna come when it starts and leave when it finishes. Keep it at around 3 hours and do your prep work ahead of time by collecting as many clothes as you can before the day of the event so that everyone can get right to shopping when they arrive!
• Music, good lighting, full length mirrors. Must must must.
• Give to a rock solid charity. We gave to the Ruth Ellis Center in Detroit, though they could only take certain items. The rest I have waiting to go to Purple Heart, or I might save them for another swap!
Questions? Tips? Have you ever done anything like this before? I've been seeing fatshion swaps all over the place lately and it makes me really happy to see fatposi communities coming together in more than just online spaces. If you're in the Detroit area and you'd like to participate in our next clothing swap, keep in touch and we'll let you know when it's happening!
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