Swap 'til you drop


Picture this. You are standing behind a closed door with 200 other stylish women, peering through a small window into a room full of racks and tables, all covered with gently worn fashions. You spot the perfect floral print and start plotting the quickest route to that rack near the back of the room. The anticipation is palpable: the games are about to begin. It's easy to see why Amy Chase and Melissa Massello, better known as The Swapaholics (theswapaholics.com), have garnered a cult following nationwide.  

But they got their start right here, staging their very first clothing swap at a Design Hive event in Cambridge in March of 2009. Chase, a blogger and boutique owner, and Massello, a journalist who'd served as editorial director at a number of style-centric online publications and start-ups, were hoping for 75 attendees. When nearly 300 swappers showed up, toting more than two tons of clothing, they realized they were on to something. The following month, the Swapaholics brand was born.

As the name implies, the clothing swaps put on by the Swapaholics can be addicting, marrying women's love of shopping with a healthy dose of adrenaline. Attendees pay a small entry fee (usually $10 to $20) and can bring as much or as little clothing to swap as they'd like. Chase and Massello organize all the donations before the doors open, when women rush into the room, grabbing designer denim, printed blouses, pre-loved accessories, and more. "It really gives you that treasure-hunt feeling," Massello says. Her most drool-worthy find at a swap? "A See by Chloé leather jacket with the tags still on."

She and Chase agree on swapping strategy: don't worry about sizes or labels at first, they advise. Grab pieces that attract you and try them on later. If the items don't fit, you can toss them back into the swap ("for good swapping karma," they say), or think of a way to alter them. Remember, you didn't pay for the item, so there's no loss.

That's the beauty of a clothing swap - it allows women to take risks with their clothing without the "Was this worth the money?" question looming in the back of their minds. Chase admits her style has completely changed since she began swapping, as it has allowed her to go for what she loves, as opposed to what she thinks will get the most use.

It seems women across the country understand that appeal. In June of 2010, the Swapaholics went on the road for the first time, co-hosting a swap in LA. Then came events in other cities, which helped the gals garner attention from national media outlets and, eventually, Swap.com, which acquired the Swapaholics biz last October. Chase and Massello now organize swaps in cities nationwide, like San Francisco, Atlanta, and DC, to name a few of their recent destinations.

The events usually bring together around 200 women, many of whom find out about the swaps from the blogosphere. Chase and Massello often reach out to popular local bloggers and businesses to promote the swaps. While social media definitely plays an important role in their success, they admit to using a good old-fashioned street-team approach, too, spending a few days before a swap handing out flyers to girls on the sidewalk. ("Especially if they are my size," Chase adds with a smile.)

That personal touch is another reason why the swaps seem here to stay. They're social events that foster a sense of community: each swap is a snapshot of a city's sense of style, and each item has a story (and an owner who's probably just a rack away - a swap is a good way to meet women with similar interests and styles). "Technology has separated us from each other and has allowed us to be content with never getting together in person," Massello points out. "The swaps are a really great excuse to get together with girlfriends." That's not the only feel-good angle: the clothes that are left over at the end of a swap are donated to Goodwill. And of course, swapping is as easy on the earth as it is on the wallet.

Sold on the concept? Then grab those jeans that don't quite fit and head to the Fourth Wall Project (132 Brookline Avenue, Boston) on Saturday, July 30, for the Swapaholics' next event. The drop-off starts at noon, and the swapping begins at 2 p.m. sharp. Find out more at swapuncapped.eventbrite.com.