Tackling textile pollution with Jessica Teal, founder of Swap Til You Drop

by Aparna Sharma

What inspired you to start Swap Til You Drop?

I have been running , ‘Swap Til You Drop BKK’ from 2013. I started it in a small way by calling a few people I knew to my house, I was surprised by the response so I decided to do it more often and i was pleasantly surprised that more women were willing to participate. Textile pollution is a large contributor to climate change and I wanted to provide a sustainable and alternative way of shopping clothes. I went to a clothes swap and I loved the idea so I wanted to do the same. I found a few lovely items and I really thought that this is a great idea to extend the life of clothes which are in a good condition. Most women shop because they are bored of what they have, a swap gives them an opportunity to take new clothes into their wardrobe which have an almost zero carbon footprint compared to buying something new which is not produced sustainably. Unfortunately, most women shop fast fashion which has been in the news for many bad practices including destruction of the environment.

Are they any rules for people to follow if they want to attend the swap?

Swap ‘Til You Drop happens every month at various locations around Bangkok. Soon we will be expanding to two swaps a month and other locations across town so that Facebook.com/expatlifethailand.com DECEMBER/JANUARY 151 ladies don’t have to carry their heavy bags of donations too far from home. Basically, you bring as much as you want to the swap, and we ask that you help us by distributing your items in the designated areas with the assistance of a swap sorter team member, and then you can take as much as you want. I call this No Limit Swapping. The clothes swap concept has several different methods and I find this to be the most direct and fun. The most important rule of swapping is to bring clean and still wearable items – so please wash before you bring, and doublecheck all items before you distribute them. Our main goal is to not make more trash but to continue the cycle of all the swapped items for as long as possible. During the swap, you are welcomed to try things on with the mirrors and changing area, enjoy a beverage such as Sangria or a fresh smoothie, and as of recently we now have a fashion stylist, Gosia Kurowska a.k.a. Treasurista, available to give you tips on how to amplify your wardrobe with your swap finds. I understand that you are very passionate about sending all the remaining clothes to charities in Thailand.

Can you tell me how that experience has been?

Another important aspect of running a clothes swap is being able to manage the leftovers of 50-70 people. At the beginning, I used to keep 4-5 large bags of clothing in my house until I found the right place to donate them to, this took weeks sometimes. We have donated to various places around Thailand – some clothing was sent to the North for the families at the Thailand/Myanmar border, some have gone to refugees in Chiang Mai, and in 2015 with the support of a cargo company I sent 8 bags of donations to Nepal during the earthquakes. From 2017 to now, we have been donating locally to Scholars of Sustenance, Khlong Toei Community, Mercy Centre and Bangkok 1899 who all help us to distribute the leftovers to those communities who are in need. For many people, this is what attracts them to the swap in the first place you come to pay a small fee to find new-to-you items.

I went for the last swap conducted by Jessica and decided to do a photoshoot with all the remaining clothes. The clothes swap was attended by 30 people and after swapping, there were five big bags of clothes left which Jessica usually sends to the above charity organisations. The unfortunate reality most of us are not aware of is that sometimes the charity organisations also send clothes to landfills. The problem is too much of clothes are being produced by fast fashion brands, the fashion industry had three seasons earlier but now there are forty two seasons and new designs come in to showrooms every week. This in turn makes people buy more and the biggest issue is as clothes got cheaper, people are using it lesser because they know that
the next design is right around the corner. An astounding fact most people are unaware of is the direct link to climate change and textile pollution. Most fabrics used by fast fashion brands cause greenhouse emissions during production and they are not biodegradable, if they end up in a landfill, they are emitting greenhouse emissions so the process of producing to disposal is not sustainable.

Ecology

152 DECEMBER/JANUARY www.expatlifethailand.com
We’ve heard about deforestation caused by the mass production of products such as palm oil and timber, but the fashion industry leaves a destructive footprint in our precious forests too. Fashion’s impact on forests comes mainly from the production of various textiles. That is a topic by itself. As a writer on sustainability, I feel textile pollution is an issue which needs more awareness and attention. I really wanted to do an artistic photoshoot to tell people that we are in the middle of an existential crisis and each one of us can make a difference by buying less, using more and choosing sustainable options. I requested Jessica for all the leftover clothes and discussed my concept with Sudeshna Hati who is a professional photographer based in Bangkok. She loved the idea and we created these images. “I have nothing to wear” The unfortunate reality of owning excess but still wanting more, there has to be a fundamental shift in the way we think and consume fashion.
Drowning in a pool of clothes. Fast fashion is killing the planet, we as consumers must continue to demand transparency and push for brands to become more sustainable. Greenwashing is very common now so I request people to read up
and understand the true meaning of sustainability and circular consumption. Textile pollution has a solution! The solution lies in the mindset of consumers. I am smiling because I see a silver lining and people like Jessica and other eco entrepreneurs give me hope. Together, we can create a better fashion industry and a better planet. My immense gratitude to Jessica Teal and Sudeshna Hati for helping me with this project. Together, let us create a better tomorrow.

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