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Charity clothes swap proves big hit, perfect fit with Tokyo ladies

by Kazuaki Nagata

For many people, clothing has a way of accumulating. Heaps of clothes rise ever higher in rooms and closets and stay there for months on end. Much of the clothing is outgrown, unwanted or rarely worn at best. It’s a familiar scenario, especially for those people who love to shop.

For others, however, the high cost of clothing can make shopping prohibitive. Yet others are unable to find the styles or sizes they need in Japan.

The Pink Cow’s clothes swap may be just the answer to all such dilemmas.

The event, held three to four times a year at the art bar/restaurant in Tokyo’s Shibuya is a ladies-only event. A ¥2,500 door fee gives full access to the swap and allows you to take as many clothes as can be carried (within reason), regardless of what you bring to the event.

Not only is the swap a great way to get rid of unwanted clothing while helping others out, it can also help you find some fun new outfits.

What’s more, the proceeds go to the charity Habitat for Humanity, an organization that helps people in need find affordable housing. Leftover clothes are donated to The Salvation Army.

The most recent swap was held on the last Sunday of June and attracted some 40 women, mostly foreigners who helped make the event a success by bringing a massive amount of clothing articles to add to the pickings.

Amid intermittent rain, women began showing up with bags of clothes as the 2 p.m. start time approached.

Welcoming participants at the door was event organizer Laura Coulter, who said she originated the event because it was hard to find what she needed in Japan in terms of price, style and size.

“First, I thought, OK, I’ll swap with my friends. But the trouble with sharing with your friends is that everybody knows your clothes,” said Coulter, who does volunteer work for Habitat for Humanity.

“So, I thought we could just have an event and tell everyone we know, tell all the girls. That way it’s bigger and there’s more to choose from.”

Indeed, the offers on the day presented a wide variety of colorful women’s clothing, including jeans, jackets, T-shirts, dresses and skirts. There were shoes galore as well as belts, bags and other accessories. At present only women’s items are accepted.

Some people even came armed with suitcases to lug their finds home. Here and there piles of clothing appeared as people set aside items until they could check the fit. There are no dressing rooms so people assess the fit by holding clothes up to themselves or pulling them over the clothes they are wearing.

Great bargains are sure to be had, Coulter said, as many foreign women are reluctant to take their clothes back home after wearing them for two or so years. Cheap replacements are easily found outside Japan.

Yet, the unwanted clothes are still in good condition. “They just want another woman to have them, and in Japan, unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of charity donation sites,” said Coulter, adding that the event is also a boon from a recycling perspective.

While digging to find something that struck the fancy, the atmosphere was very casual. Many women sipped drinks and chatted with others.

Kelly Haavaldsrud, originally from Canada but now in Japan for 18 years, says she has come to the event several times and loves it.

“It’s great. We used to do clothing swaps ourselves, just a few girls at a time at someone’s apartment. But getting rid of the extra stuff was hard.”

“It’s really organized here. Everyone can come to one central place and find lots of great stuff and get rid of stuff. And, it goes to charity, which is really nice,” Haavaldsrud said. She explained that she had come only to give clothing away and was determined to take home only one thing.

But the offerings on hand are so tempting it is difficult for many women wanting to clean out their wardrobes to nonetheless restrain themselves and not go home with even more clothing than they brought in.

“Today, I didn’t take as much,” said Cindy Kveen of Minnesota. “It’s easy to get greedy and take a lot of things. I’m trying to control myself this time,” she said laughing.