VUB Swap Center: a Plea

As graduating students part, they should have the opportunity to pass on all of the items they have accumulated over the past years to the new students just settling in. This will save the new students the time, space and money that it takes to begin adulthood with all of the necessary ‘knicknacks’. Not only will your wardrobe always be fresh with new (pre-loved) items, you will receive many thanks from your wallet and from mother nature. Fashion goes beyond what you wear to class, and has social, political, and environmental implications as well. 

Text & image: Sophia Widrig

Fashion is often used as an outward expression of who we are on the inside; a physical representation of a mental conception of oneself. However, this representation  is inherently political. Fashion has been used for centuries to describe, argue, and persuade. Fashion has been used to break norms and to create them, whether that is the excessive extravagance of Marie Antoinette or the Sans-culottes rejection of aristocratic greed and style. We often associate distinct imagery with movements, eras, cultures, groups and so on; the expression of these symbols often takes the form of the clothing that people wear. Fashion is a manifesto, a symbol and tool for both liberation and oppression. It continues to unite and connect whilst simultaneously dividing and differentiating. How can we reconcile the inherent contradictions in the duality of fashion? How do we deconstruct and understand the attached meaning within this outward expression of our identity? This is an open-ended endeavor that begins with an individual reflection on the collective conception of fashion. 

Fashion as a political tool 

More recently, fashion has been playing a different role in political headlines, due to the industry’s detrimental impact on the climate. It is responsible for immense amounts of pollution, excessive energy and water usage. The damage does not cease at the item’s consumption, but persists after use and continues to contaminate the environment long after it leaves the drawers of a wardrobe. Each step in the long chain of production contributes to a trail of waste and destruction. An increase in consumption accompanied by an acceleration in production has created a new industry based on fast, cheap, and expendable garments. In the past two decades, the fast fashion sector has doubled its production. Garment manufacturing takes place around the world, but is significantly concentrated in the Global South, where the finished goods are then exported to be purchased – only returning to their place of conception in the form of waste.

During the span of a single item, it is able to travel more than the average influencer. The cycle begins with raw resource extraction, then being transformed into a base material and textile. Then the fabric is handed off to garment manufacturers who have been given instructions by a remote designer, eventually making its way to the retailer where it can be purchased, used, and discarded, finally being transported to another location, completing its travels either in flames or in the ground. This of course if it is not swept off to sea beforehand. The expansion of global supply chains in garment production contributes to an increase in emissions as producers seek cheaper, often unethically sourced and unregulated manufacturers. Fast fashion may come cheap to your wallet, but  the real cost to the environment is insurmountable. 

“Out with the old, in with the…old”

The practice of thrifting, upcycling, and swapping clothes has been present for a very long time, but has recently gained popularity. With the true cost of fast fashion and the creation of new products becoming more apparent, these age-old practices are being seen in a new green light. The exchange of clothes, pre-owned and pre-loved is also the exchange of memories, of culture and of identity. The significance of an item is enhanced knowing that someone else has also found joy in wearing that piece, in expressing themselves through that item and in knowing that, now, you too get to be a part of its history. The act of thrifting itself is an adventure, a treasure hunt. As you are unsure of what you will find, the discovery of a perfectly fitting and truly unique item is the ultimate reward. One is able to sport a piece without worrying about seeing another like it. Not only is thrifting better for the environment, it is often better for your wallet.

What does this mean for us?

As students, we are more mobile and are burdened with the tedious task of packing and moving more stuff around every year or so. The strenuousness of this event has made many of us minimalist by default. We collect many items that are only to be used temporarily (single bed sheets, kitchen items, plants and so on) or that won’t make the cut when packing it all up to move once again. It is also time-consuming and expensive for those who have just arrived and need to purchase all the necessary items of adulthood. 

That is why having an exchange space for clothes and other items could be the perfect solution for both sides. Being able to swap items would be a great option for incoming and outgoing students as well as those who are just looking for a change. We put a lot of money into the things we own and then, once we are done with them, that money goes along with it. Instead of constantly consuming new items, being able to swap could help save students money and free up space as they would be more prone to donate instead of just accumulating items that they have invested in. 

While there is a Facebook group ‘VUB Geeft’ that operates in a similar way as the one which I have proposed, allowing students to post items they no longer need and allowing others to respond with interest, it is not well known, and there is no physical space for this to take place on a regular basis. A pre-owned and pre-loved clothing swap space would be beneficial for both the students and the environment. 

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