Former event planner Ruthie Shugarman shares what she knows about hosting clothing exchange parties.
EXPERT ADVICE | When Ruthie Shugarman switched careers a few years ago, she wanted a memorable way to mark her shift from event planning to real estate sales. “I was staring into my closet one night thinking about the fact that I really needed to de-clutter when the idea for throwing a clothing exchange party hit me.” Frock swapping could be a win-win situation, she reasoned. “I could use the evening to tell friends and business associates about my new move, and they could use it to trade in things they never wear for things they might wear a lot.”
What Ruthie didn’t know at the time was how popular that evening would prove to be. Now, six exchange parties later, her swaps are starred-and-circled items on certain social calendars. “If I’m not on top of it quickly in the spring and fall, friends start contacting me to ask when the next swap will be.”
What she knows for sure: 6 things Ruthie rocks to make certain her parties please.
1. Elegant Evites And Follow-ups: At least a month before the event, Ruthie sends 200 Paperless Post invitations to friends and colleagues, as well as former and potential clients. On average, 40 of these people RSVP to say they will attend. “I always have people who say they will come and don’t, and people who say they aren’t coming but do.” To widen the circle, Ruthie encourages attendees to bring along a friend. To cement the date in everyone’s mind, she sends two follow-up reminders.
2. Quality Merch: The first time she held a swap Ruthie used the words “designer fashion” in her email invitation. “I got lots of comments back saying “but I don’t own designer fashions,” so I followed up with a note saying that what I meant was for them to look in their closet for the nicer things they were never going to wear.” As a favour (and incentive), she offers to take in casual clothes too, which go into her straight-to-charity bin.
3. Loyal Setup Crew: Swap goers are asked to drop off their dresses, shoes, accessories, bags, etc. at Ruthie’s house two days before the event. Three of her dear friends then sort and set out everything in the various public areas inside her house. To avoid potential mess, clothing racks from Lonsdale Rentals ($12 each) hold the bulk of the items on hangers.
“I might be able to do all of this work on my own, but I would be exhausted and less likely to want to do it again,” she says of her friends’ participation. A fourth friend, someone who works in catering, organizes the drinks and snacks, and concocts fun cocktails for everyone on the night of the event.
4. Precise Instructions: On the night of the party, people are encouraged to try on the clothes and then put them back where they found them. To start the shopping, everyone draws a number from a bowl. The person with the lowest number goes first, selecting her two favourite things (everything left over at the end of the night is given to charity).
5. Takeaway Bags: People carry home their new clothes in brightly coloured plastic handle bags with Ruthie’s name on the front. “Of course it’s marketing,” she says of the bags, “but they’re also reusable and fun.”
6. Elevator Pitches: At her last swap, Ruthie offered everyone in attendance an opportunity to give the group a one-minute elevator pitch about whatever it is they do for a living. What started out as a swap has evolved into a swap-cum-networking evening. New clothes + new prospects = serious fun.—C. Rule
If you have questions about hosting your own clothing exchange party, Ruthie Shugarman would be happy to answer them. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Her website ruthieshugarman.com is currently under construction.)
Photo: C. Phaisalakani