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Health, Beauty & Fashion

Change of clothes through exchange

Internet-savvy young Americans are swopping clothes online and at parties to save money and yet keep up with fashion
The Straits Times - May 8, 2012
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Change of clothes through exchange -- PHOTO: ST FILE

New York - Retailers from Gap to Urban Outfitters are already struggling to persuade consumers to pay full price for clothes.

Now, it turns out, many of their younger customers prefer trading T-shirts, jeans and designer dresses among themselves than actually buying new gear.

Clothing swops are a hot ticket for Americans aged 18 to 34.

Millennials attend swop house parties from New York to San Francisco. And they gather online, frequenting such sites as Swapstyle.com, which has swelled to more than 55,000 members since it was set up in 2002.

Frugality has become a way of life for a cohort weighed down by student-loan debt and high joblessness, according to WSL Strategic Retail.

In a WSL survey, 80 per cent of the respondents aged 18 to 34 said it was key to get the lowest price on most things they buy, up from 69 per cent two years earlier and the only change among the three age groups surveyed.

'They can stay engaged in fashion without getting themselves in more debt,' said Ms Wendy Liebmann, chief executive officer of New York-based WSL. 'This generation has also grown up in an online world of Craigslist and eBay where selling something or swopping something has become somewhat second nature.'

Event-listing website Meetup.com features apparel-exchange groups with hundreds of members, including the Washington D.C. Clothing Swap Society, the Five Boroughs Clothing Swap and the Frugal Fashionista's Clothing Swap Group. The websites Evite Inc and Etsy Inc provide invitation templates for hosting swop parties.

Ms Alison Paul, who leads the retail group at Deloitte in Chicago, said: 'People are saying, 'I can at least figure out another way to look like I'm wearing something new and fresh without spending top dollar on it or waiting for it to go on sale and not being able to find my size.''

Ms Sarah Smith, a 24-year-old literary assistant in Manhattan, went to a colleague's apartment in February for her first clothing swop, armed with three dresses and two skirts she had not worn in at least a year.

She walked out with a pair of American Eagle skinny army pants, a Simply Vera silk blouse and grey American Apparel T-shirt, pleased with the exchange.

Ms Emily Weidner, a 29-year-old who works for the US Forest Service in Washington, has hosted multiple clothing swop parties.

She 'consciously' tries to limit the amount of money she spends on apparel.

'I've been trying to aggressively pay off student loans from undergrad and grad school,' she said. 'I've heard a lot more about people being interested in participating in clothing swops and I've been invited to a number of them.'

Frugal shoppers are also downloading Poshmark, an iPhone app introduced in December that hosts real-time shopping events for members to buy and sell clothes from their closets. The app lets users follow others with similar taste, such as 'animal prints' or 'Marc Jacobs'.

The social aspect of shopping made possible by apparel-swopping parties is exactly what retailers need to do more of if they are to attract techno- logically driven millennials, according to WSL's Ms Liebmann.

'The opportunity to create a party around sharing and seeing new and trading old is a real opportunity to get younger shoppers back into the stores,' she said.

Gap and Urban Outfitters, both seeking to cut back on discounts for merchandise, have increased social-media marketing efforts to target young consumers.

Gap, which has said it is not comfortable with its market share among 25- to 30-year-olds, worked with fashion bloggers to promote its spring collection this year.

Urban Outfitters has promoted 'social free shipping', which gives customers free shipping if they tell friends the option exists.

Ms Hannah Cole-Chu, a 25-year-old in Washington who is in between jobs, has been attending clothing swops and once came away with an oft-used Coach purse that she 'loves'. She does not frequent shopping malls, where it is frustratingly common to see 'a little tank top for US$40 (S$49)'.

Clothing swops offer 'a more personal experience than going into a store', she said. 'It's a nice relaxed social atmosphere. It's not as high-pressure as shopping is sometimes.'

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