Daniela Walker for Collectively:
Six years ago the idea of a stranger staying your in apartment while you were away was an uncomfortable thought. Who would want a stranger snooping around their stuff? Invading their private space? And then people began to realize that they could make money from strangers inhabiting their place and thus, Airbnb was born. While that is not an accurate history of the company, it encapsulates what has become a major shift in how people interact with one another.
We are now undergoing a "quiet but powerful revolution of collaboration," according to Rachel Botsman, author of What's Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption. But what now may seem mainstream - sharing apartments, hailing Lyfts and TaskRabbiting your way to some extra cash - is only one element in this rise of people taking control of their methods of consumption. On the fringes of collaborative consumption lies one of the most ancient means of exchanging value: swapping. But can the swap economy become as much a part of our daily lives as the sharing economy now is?
Perhaps, says Kestrel Jenkins, founder of AWEAR, a platform that raises awareness about conscious fashion consumption. Jenkins sees fashion as an entry point to swapping - especially because of the rise in popularity of second-hand clothing stores. While yes, most people shop at these stores, and use money to buy their goods, many stores still use the consignment model where shoppers can walk in with a bag of old, unwanted clothes and walk out with store credit for a later date. "It gives you access to a lifestyle without necessarily having to pay for the higher prices of a sustainable designer," says Jenkins. She sees swapping as both an answer to and a by-product of fast fashion consumerism. "With fast fashion, people want something new because it is there. It has become a cycle that is hard to get out of - we are always thinking about wanting something new, but if that pushes people to get into the swap economy, it is a strange positive twist."
Indeed, in recent years we have witnessed a growth in fashion-related swaps that are tapping into peoples' desire for the new by offering them something old. In 2007, London-based sustainability communications agency Futerra decided that clothes swapping needed a rebrand - so they reimagined it through what they called "swishing" parties. "It came out of a philosophical argument," says Ed Gillespie, co-founder of Futerra. "We were arguing whether the desire to consume was the problem or whether it was just the mechanism of consumption. Acquisition has existed since ancient times, so we thought if we could dematerialise the desire for the new, you could help the sustainability problem." Thus swishing parties were born, popping up across homes in the UK, where no money and only clothing was exchanged. "It created a huge amount of social buzz and the environmental footprint was almost zero," says Gillespie. The environmental factor was actually an afterthought for most swishers - but we'll get to that later.
Since then, we have seen fashion swaps in the form of pop-ups such as Score! Swap where the only cost is an entrance fee, or the permanent store, Give + Take Swap Boutique in Santa Monica. Unlike a regular consignment store, shoppers pay a membership fee and come and go as they please swapping in and out clothing like library books. "It totally disrupts the concept of shopping," says Rachel Sarnoff, partner at the boutique. "It becomes more of a community experience."
This idea of community has long been lauded as the core of collaborative consumption and the sharing economy. We often hear about the return of the village or neighborhood ideal of living. "We are innately quite collaborative," says Gillespie. "There is a tendency and an instinct to share, and in some ways the modern world has diminished that." The story goes, that in the good old days, we could turn to our neighbors for a cup of a sugar, but now our neighbors are strangers and probably won't open the door to even hear the banal request. This is where technology enters the picture.
Lauren Capelin, co-founder and chief knowledge officer at Collaborative Lab - Rachel Botsman's advisory service on collaborative consumption - believes that technology may help nudge swapping into the direction of a more widely adopted practice, because counter-intuitively, it creates a situation of a trust. "In a small town, you may be able to swap and exchange [easily]," she says, "but with the growth of urban centres, we don't know who is next to us and we don't trust automatically anymore. But now we have technological platforms that are recreating tribes." These tribes do not have geographical boundaries of villages of yore, but rather "technological and ideological boundaries" - indicators that everyone on the platform share the same fundamental world view, at least when it comes to sharing.
Article continues at Collectively.
Illustration via Eight