The clothes swappers combatting fashion waste, one skirt and shirt at a time

Game Changers: Change Clothes Crumlin is holding its largest Dublin clothes swap this weekend

If we think about plastic waste, we envisage water bottles or food packaging, not skirts and shirts. “When we throw away clothing, this is what ‘away’ actually means,” the woman narrating Trashion tells us. The shocking short film shows mountains of toxic waste burning in the Dandora dumpsite in Kenya. Splashes of colour dot the mounds. These are cast-off clothes from wealthy European countries like Ireland. Our dopamine fast-fashion fixes are a serious pollution problem in the developing world.

The work of Clean Up Kenya and Wildlight for the Changing Markets Foundation, the film-makers found all the favourite labels in the dump, even those telling us how sustainable they are. Hello Gap, M&S, Primark and H&M. Europe dumps 37 million items of “junk plastic clothing” in Kenya every year, the investigators concluded, calling it a “stealth waste stream”. Traders who buy baled clothes can’t sell damaged or dirty items. So up to half the bales are dumped and burned for fuel, which pollutes the air, poisons rivers and ends up as microplastics in the sea.

Fossil fibres or synthetic materials derived from plastic now make up 69 per cent of fabric produced for the fashion industry. The average wearer gets as few as seven wears out of the clothing before it’s discarded. Europeans throw away an average of 11kg of clothing each every year.

Campaigners are demanding the companies making billions from selling fast fashion be held responsible for the waste stream they create.


Affordable clothes are a necessity. So what can we do? We can wear our clothes longer. Use websites such as Thriftify to hone in on beautiful bargains. Try to buy natural fibres like bamboo, cotton or wool that can biodegrade.

Or get along to Mary Fleming and Oileán Carter-Stritch’s brilliant event this weekend at Scoil Iosagáin in Crumlin. They are the two women behind Change Clothes Crumlin, an enterprise making clothes swaps and repair and upcycling workshops into great community events. Their largest Dublin clothes swap is happening this Saturday and Sunday.

For a €5 entry fee, you book a one-hour slot, bring along clothes to be swapped and receive a token for each item, which allows you to take clothes you would like. Only about 2 per cent of the clothes that are brought to the event are unusable, Mary explains. And they recycle those as material for repair and upcycling workshops, so nothing ends up as a problem in someone else’s neighbourhood.

Mary and Oileán also offer workshops on how to set up a clothes swap in your area, and run corporate and community events. From April, they hope to run a weekly clothes swap co-op. Change Clothes Crumlin is making fashion fun again, all the way from start to finish.

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a founder of Pocket Forests