Gemma Nolan hugs an armful of clothes.
She is really pleased with the haul she has nabbed from the racks inside Scoil Ísogáin, she says. On top of her pile is a lilac purple puffer jacket and a cardigan in sunset colours.
Next to her, Chloe Wynne grips the hanger of a brown chequered cardigan. Ciarán Gibson contemplates a white and blue zipper jacket.
The trio had turned up to the Change Clothes Crumlin “swap shop” event this past Monday with a black bin bag bursting with Nolan’s old clothes.
Nolan had been planning a clearout for ages, she says, and had the bags ready to donate when she heard about the swap shop from Wynne. “I thought, might as well bring it in, get some free stuff!”
In exchange for each resellable item of clothing that she handed over, a volunteer at the door gave her a token to use in any of the eleven racks of clothes in the school’s hall.
The funding stream from the Department of Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, managed by Dublin City Council’s arts office, supports creative projects on the impact of climate change.
Fleming says she hopes people will have fun and learn about sustainability at the events, and that they could become a more regular, maybe permanent thing, in Crumlin, or beyond.
“Could there be one in every town in Ireland?” she says. “A business model based on swapping, that could fund itself.”
Swapping over Shopping
In the school’s sports room, Margaret Murray and her daughter Ellen Kehoe peruse the clothing racks. They feel the fabrics. Occasionally, they pull out pieces for a closer look.
Murray brought seven bits of her young son’s old clothes to swap out for things for herself and Kehoe, she says. “We were sort of finished with them.”
Visitors paid between €2.50 and €5 to come in with their old clothes, get tokens, and browse the racks for clothes to spend their tokens on, says Fleming.
On Monday, 58 people paid for tickets, she says. During the day, more than 500 clothes items were brought in, and 350 were swapped. The rest of the unswapped clothes will stay on the racks until Wednesday, says Fleming.
Nolan says the cost of a ticket was a steal given the quality. She flips around a cardigan to show the label – House of Sunny.
“There’s really good pieces,” she says. “Some things I got here, in a charity shop, it would be 50 quid, because they know the material is good.”
Word travelled through Instagram, WhatsApp groups and posters on bins around Crumlin, says Fleming, and some people brought in clothes early so the racks wouldn’t be empty on the day.
Murray holds a few things she likes: a red dress, a stripey top. She tilts her head at a cropped yellow cardigan. “Not sure about this exactly, but it could work.”
Kehoe holds up a black dress, with two stripes embellished with beads and threads. “I just really like how it looks, I can just wear it to a party or something. Just the colours.”
Kehoe says she often brings her clothes to charity shops when she feels she isn’t wearing them and wants something new.
An event like this is still a good incentive to get rid of clothes, she says, and then you get the feeling of having new clothes, for free.
Drawing People In
At the back of the hall, a white banner is emblazoned with the phrase “These Bits Were Banjaxed”. Hanging next to it, its counterpart says, “Now They’re Absolutely Gorgeous”.
The banners hang behind an exhibition by students of the National College of Art and Design (NCAD) textiles department, who Fleming invited to display some fashion pieces that they made, on mannequins.
Wynne, an NCAD student, has a piece in the exhibition, a round silver button ring sitting on the finger of a mannequin’s hand. “It’s made of a recycled Coke can,” she says.
Fleming wanted there to be a reason people would come beyond just the appeal of getting new clothes, she says.
“People were saying it’s more than just coming in to swap,” she says. “It was nice to see people just staying, to socialise.”
Heading off into the car park outside, Kristina McElroy shows off rainbow-felt stitching on an old purple coat. She’d given a talk that day on styling, alongside workshops on upcycling and darning.
Her coat is 14 years old, she says. “It’s been in the washing machine many many times. The buttons have not come off because it was a really good buy, which is kind of what you need to do.”
Mary Kennedy, next to her, says she learned a lot from McElroy’s talk. “How to mix and match your things, and what suits you, and what doesn’t suit you, which is great.”
Kennedy clutches a little paper bag of bits she got from the event’s mending library, where there were spools of thread, buttons and needles to mend and decorate clothes with. “A load of embroidery thread and buttons, to embellish something else.”
Fleming says she likes that new people might be meeting at the event. “People are talking to people they wouldn’t usually have the opportunity to. And there’s been people of all ages.”
Escaping Fast Fashion
Murray says she hears in the news about mountains of dumped fast-fashion clothes that were only worn once. “I suppose if you can buy less [new], and buy more second-hand, it’s better.”
Gibson says it can be hard to escape the marketing of fast fashion, high street and luxury brands on social media. “You kind of always want more, and more and more.”
He also hears a lot about the environmental cost of cheap clothes, and workers’ rights abuses in fast-fashion companies.
“That is kind of what gets to me personally. All the effort that went into making a garment, you wear it twice and throw it out,” he says.
Fleming says the event is to encourage sustainability, but she wasn’t sure about pushing the urgency of the climate crisis too much.
“I just didn’t feel comfortable with telling people that they’re doing something wrong right now, while there’s already so much else going on,” she says. She’s been hard on herself for unsustainable lifestyle habits in the past, and it wasn’t healthy, she says.
If people enjoy the event, they might pick up sustainable habits, she says. “Make people feel it’s a positive thing to do.”
“It’s more about being social and supporting each other,” she says. “That whole idea of capitalism and consuming more and more, we want to be the opposite of that, like as an antidote, I suppose.”