I didn't need a recession to inspire me to barter—I've been doing it for years in the form of a bi-annual clothing swap. Friends and friends of friends come over with bags overflowing with clothes, purses, barely-worn shoes, and jewelry. We begin in an orderly fashion, taking out one garment at a time and telling a little story about it. ("This is an old boyfriend's sweater. I know it's really cute, but I never wear it anymore—it has bad energy." or "I bought these pants at a design outlet in Milan but they've never fit right." or a common one: "My mother-in-law gave me these...and they're just not my style.") But within minutes, the swap devolves into a half-naked free-for-all.
What surprises me every time is how much fun it is—not just to get "new to you" clothes and bags and shoes but to see friends wear one of your skirts with more pizzazz than you ever did. (Also, it's amazing how willing you are to take a fashion risk when there's no financial investment involved. That pink leather jacket? Why not? If you don't wear it much you can always recycle it at the next swap.)
My friend Tara and I just threw a swap last weekend. My goal was to ruthlessly prune my spring/summer wardrobe, and not take much in return. But how could I say no to a pair of almost-new orange Coach loafers that my friend Caroline brought? (Too tight for her, she lamented.) Or the funky vintage Anna Sui pants that Melissa doesn't, for whatever reason, wear anymore? I gratefully took these two items and more. (Thanks, Tara, for the super-soft cotton nightie and the black Old Navy pants.)
My "new" orange loafers
My guide on "How to Barter Anything" in the June issue of Real Simple doesn't touch on clothing swaps, but is full of tips on how to barter your skills (or stuff) directly with someone else. (See pg. 145 of the actual magazine for a more complete version; the fun sidebars of swapping "couples" did not make it online.) One thing I learned: it pays to be creative—you don't need to trade what you do for a living. Kevin Simon, a clothing designer based in Venice, California, typically swaps her hand-dyed clothes for massages and other services. Her personal trainer, however, didn’t need high fashion—“she wears gym clothes all the time!” says Simon. “I would hear how busy she was and saw that I could make a difference,” says Simon, who initiated a barter with her trainer by offering to do her laundry as well as pick up her meals at Whole Foods twice a week. A deal was struck. In exchange, Simon gets twice-weekly training sessions.
But I also discovered that much of the bartering trend is happening online. The Internet neatly solves the main drawback of bartering: finding someone who needs what you have and at the same time is offering what you need. (Economists refer to this rare star-alignment as the “coincidence of wants.”) Sites like BizX.bz, Paperbackswap.com, Swaptree.com, and Zwaggle.com bypass this limitation by operating on a points system. Members receive a point (or points) when they give a skill or item to another member. They can then trade those points for another service, book, DVD, or toy with anyone else who belongs to the network. On Zwaggle.com, members earn points (called “Zoints”) which they can then redeem with any of the 15,000 other members spread across the country. The genius of this system is that you can actually find the service, book or toy you need—there’s no settling for whatever it is that your neighbor or friend happens to have.
Time Banks, a social change organization where time is a form of currency, is another big part of the bartering trend. I hope to write about Time Banks in more detail soon.