Bad weather can put a damper on your average event, but you can't keep a good clothing swap down. On the day of the Swapaholics' maiden voyage, heavy snows didn't stop droves of swappers from arriving two hours early with garbage bags full of clothes.
“Two hundred seventy-five swappers and a ton of donated clothing later, we thought maybe we were onto something,” says Melissa Massello. Together, she and fellow fashionista Amy Chase are local budget clothing superstars the Swapaholics.
Chase and Massello had been hosting separate swaps until they met via mutual friend Val Fox, founder of the Design Hive market. They joined forces as the Swapaholics in February of 2009 and were acquired by Swap.com in October of 2010.
Since then, they’ve hosted 12 swaps in the Boston and Worcester areas. They've also held a few in Denver and Los Angeles, and plan to expand to 40 more cities next year. Their clothing swaps include shoes, accessories, and jewelry, as well as some men’s clothing. The Swapaholics have also organized swaps for beauty products, kids’ clothes and maternity-wear.
The Swapaholics’ events generally attract around 300 people. Participants bring in clothes they want to ditch, and get a reusable bag to fill up in exchange. While volunteers are setting up, swappers can stop in at nearby stores and restaurants to cash in on exclusive offers. Once the swap begins, it’s a mad scramble.
“It’s a little bit like Filenes Basement’s running of the brides. She who gets there first wins,” says Massello.
But it isn’t all cutthroat textile hunting; Massello insists that really, it’s all about community. “People can meet a bunch of like-minded women in their area who they connect with. It’s just a really fun way to shop and supplement a wardrobe,” she says.
In every swap, there’s an inevitable buried treasure to be unearthed. Massello and Chase have come across Botkier bags, Cole Haan shoes, and Balenciaga tops. At the first swap they held, Massello snagged a brand new See by Chloe leather jacket with the tags still on.
“You name the designer and we’ve seen it,” says Massello. “I’m always surprised at the things people are ready to part ways with.”
“We pre-screen too,” adds Chase. “We only want the best stuff out. We donate leftover clothes to Goodwill.”
The Swapaholics as a business entity was recently acquired by Boston-based Swap.com, a swapping website for books, video games and the like. The site currently has over one million users nationwide. Chase and Massello have been brought on board to run all the offline events, but they also hope to create an online fashion channel by the end of next year.
Their endgame: to bring swapping into the mainstream, particularly in cities where people aren’t as well-versed in the clothing barter scene.
“Swapping has lifted the burden of having to feel attached to your clothing in general, and to a certain size in particular,” says Massello. “You can really purge your closet.”
The next swap is on Thursday Jan. 20, 8pm–10pm at the Armory in Somerville.