From wardrobe to wardrobe: DC clothing swap makes a fashion statement

Shoppers at the Happy Daze clothing swap hosted by Disco Loft in D.C., on Saturday, June 22, 2024. (WTOP/Ciara Wells)

Summer is here, and you may have gone through your closet while finishing up your spring cleaning.

So now what? Do you want to leave that bag of clothes catching dust in your trunk, promising you’ll get around to donating it “one of these days,” or would you rather take it to an event where you can get new clothes in return?

That’s exactly what you can do at the “Happy Daze” clothing swaps hosted by Disco Loft in D.C.

An adventure in sustainable shopping

Sidney Hui, founder of the Instagram-based thrift shop Disco Loft, has been selling curated goods and hosting community events since 2020.

“During the pandemic, when I was working from home with my full-time job, I was kind of faced with the reality that I’ve collected a pretty large collection of different home décor items, just throughout my lifetime. And so I started selling just through Instagram, and it worked out,” Hui said.

CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE: Sidney Hui, founder of Disco Loft, at Saturday’s event. (WTOP/Ciara Wells)

“Then, I started to organize events, whether they were markets or the swaps, in 2021. But that’s kind of how it culminated,” she added.

Hui, who got inspiration for the name “Disco Loft” from the popular sparkling globes that brighten her D.C. apartment, then started to host anything from garage sales to independent group reading sessions to pop-up markets that allow fashion fanatics from around the area to get together and share their personal style with others.

“When I’m out at the thrift store, I kind of try to stay within things that I like and that I think that other people would enjoy. But I’m really looking for things that I could see someone like myself owning, just because I feel like that’s the easiest way to have an authentic brand. I think it’s much easier to curate when you’re curating for your own self,” Hui said of her curation process for Disco Loft.

This past Saturday, Disco Loft, alongside other partners, hosted the “Happy Daze” clothing swap at Union Market’s Dock 5. The event was free and welcomed whoever wanted to come and trade their pre-loved clothes in exchange for some new styles.

The heat didn’t stop hundreds from coming out and bringing their clothes to trade on Saturday.

Inside the Dock 5 warehouse, there were rows and rows of clothes laid out on plastic tarps. There weren’t labels indicating the size or source of the items; you had to do the digging and exploring for yourself.

The experience allows shoppers to explore sustainable shopping.

“I think that the vibes are high, just like the temperatures, but I think it’s going well,” Hui said of Saturday’s event.

‘There’s power in numbers’

Hui hopes to make sure people from all different walks of life can see themselves represented at her events. For Saturday’s swap, Hui partnered with Plush DMV — another Instagram-based and community-driven movement championing body positivity and diversity of sizes at events like these.

CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE: Mayra Mejia, founder of Plush DMV, at Saturday’s clothing swap event. (WTOP/Ciara Wells)

Mayra Mejia, founder of Plush DMV, was inspired by other national campaigns centered around community events that allow plus-size people to get together without judgment.

She organized her first meetup in Petworth in 2019 and has continued the fun ever since.

“The excitement was there, so we kept it going,” Mejia told WTOP.

The pleasure she felt in helping people find a space where they could enjoy themselves in similar company motivated her to branch out, she said. Since then, she’s hosted events such as clothing swaps, happy hours and book clubs where people can get together and share.

“In talking to people, a lot of people feel scared to go out or scared to be perceived or be seen. So, I think … specifically for plus-size people, there’s power in numbers and power in (finding) a space for you,” she said.

“Community, for me, means a familiar place, a safe place, a place where you can go and feel free to be yourself.”

Mejia said people who come to her events are often overjoyed at finding a community that accepts them and allows them to make friends. She said the feeling of community really resonates with people who may not be able to share parts of their lives with their “straight size” friends.

Across from Dock 5, Mejia hosted her own clothing swap at the Playhaus vacant retail space. There, clothes were more organized on tables with sizes from XL to 6XL.

This reporter participated as well, donating some old jeans in exchange for new items.

“We run our swaps a little differently. The ‘Happy Daze’ swaps are usually just like: put your stuff on the floor, there’s no organization, sizes can be mixed in. For mine, because I’m such an organized person, I want tables with sizes. I just think it’s easier on the back,” Mejia said of the event.

Citing high demand from plus-sized people who want sustainable options, Mejia said she has been doing the clothing swaps seasonally.

“I think for plus-sized people, sustainability is such a hot topic because there’s not a lot of options to shop sustainably, and you can’t just go to any thrift store and expect to find something in your size,” she said. “So I think the swaps really help people.”

Helping others while helping yourself

For Lydia Franklin, of Evolve Vintage thrift store and veteran partner of the Happy Daze event, the clothing swaps give her the opportunity to bring some of her unique finds to those looking to diversify their style.

“Sometimes, I’ll bring clothes from my vintage shop that maybe I don’t want to sell anymore. Anything that I’m looking to get rid of that I think someone else would enjoy,” she said. “We love doing these events.”

In a post on Instagram after the event, Hui wrote that she was “filled with immense gratitude for everyone who came to the swap.”

“Not to get sappy, but we put this swap on because we love you guys and our lil’ thrifty community. It means so much to us to have a place to meet people who care about sustainability and fashion!” she wrote.

Shoppers left the event with goodies from area vendors and full tote bags in tow, ready to add their new finds to their closets.

Hui has not said when the next clothing swap will be, but added that any new components — like vendors and partners — will be location-specific at the next event.

All the leftover clothing was donated to the So What Else nonprofit that provides emergency resources to underserved communities throughout the metropolitan D.C. area.

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Ciara Wells

Ciara Wells is the Evening Digital Editor at WTOP. She is a graduate of American University where she studied journalism and Spanish. Before joining WTOP, she was the opinion team editor at a student publication and a content specialist at an HBCU in Detroit.

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