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Would You Share Your Clothes With Strangers?

Illustrated by Anna Sudit
Earlier this month Ikea told us we’d reached ‘peak stuff’. Stop buying stuff, they said. And now the eco-warrior Swedes have another novel idea: share your stuff. Or more specifically, share your clothes. With total strangers.

Sharewear is a new ‘ready-to-share’ initiative from Visit Sweden and the Swedish Institute, featuring items from leading designers like Filippa K, Hope, House of Dagmar, NIKOLAJ d'ETOILES and Uniforms for the Dedicated. The idea behind it is simple: Items are posted on Instagram, and the first person to comment underneath it gets it for a week, before passing it on in the same way. You can’t keep the clothes, and no money exchanges hands. This is quite literally style you cannot buy. They’re even encouraging people to share their own clothes by using the #sharewear hashtag.

I would say ‘thank god for that, I’m bored of buying new clothes’, but that would obviously be a lie. New clothes are never boring. But that’s why Sharewear is clever; it’s not saying stop wearing new clothes, it’s introducing a new way to wear new clothes. And considering we throw away millions of tons of textiles every year, and the fast fashion industry is second only to oil in its negative impact on the environment, it’s probably about time we started thinking of new ways to do things.

“Sharing clothes instead of throwing them away is good for your wallet and the environment. Share them forward if you want to be fashion-forward,” eulogises Henrik Selin, Head of Department for Intercultural Dialogue at Swedish Institute, who together with Visit Sweden are behind the idea.
Sharewear gives people access to clothes they maybe couldn’t otherwise afford, and the best bit is, it’s guilt-free. None of that ‘but do I really neeed them, I’ve got fifty-five pairs of shoes already’ malarkey.

Still, isn’t sharing clothes with people you don’t know a little bit... weird? Lizzie Harrison, a researcher at the Centre for Sustainable fashion and founder of the Leeds Community Exchange thinks the emotional connection you have with the previous sharer is actually part of the appeal. “Instagram makes people transparent. If you have a dress and I want to have that dress, I can look at pictures of you in it and with your cat and know where you went on holiday last month,” Lizzie observes. “There is something interesting about this connection with the previous owner, because it is such a personal thing.”

Of course Sharewear isn’t the only platform out there to help you be a more environmentally-friendly fashionista. Rentez-vous loan you designer clothes from upcoming brands; Vestiaire Collective makes high fashion less of a major investment and more of a hobby by offering users somewhere to buy and sell luxury items; and then there’s Depop – the app that’s enabled millions of thrifty teenagers and twenty and thirty somethings to buy clothes, wear them for a few weeks, then flog them to the highest bidder.
But Lizzie warns it’s still too early to tell if these initiatives help. “Does being involved in this sharing system affect other consumption habits? It’s quite a leap to say that because people are sharing more, we are cutting down on the amount of products that are being made,” she says. “It’s hard to see what impact it’s going to have at this point.”

One thing’s for sure: Technology is enabling us to purchase, rent, borrow and buy in a million new ways. Why shell out £300 on a dress you’re only going to wear once when you could rent it? Or donate an inexpensive top to landfill when you can sell it on? “I upgrade my clothes more because of eBay and Depop,” says thirty-four year old Sarah Isaacs, who regularly buys and sells high street and vintage items. “For example, I saw a new leather jacket I wanted but I felt really guilty about the price, so I sold my old one and put the cash I made towards the new one.” This new supply chain is changing our consumption habits and creating new models of ownership.

Sarah Ditty, Chief Editor at the Ethical Fashion Forum, says Sharewear is the kind of initiative we need to stop the buy-on-a-Friday-night-and-only-wear-once kind of impulse purchases that cause so many of fast fashion’s problems (guilty). “It’s not the solution, it’s a band aid,” she says. “If we’re going to make the fashion industry more sustainable then it’s going to require lots of these interventions working together.”

Personally, I'm not ready to share my carefully curated wardrobe with anyone, not even my sisters. But borrowing high-end designer pieces for a week, for free? Now that I can get on board with.