Swap Omaha promotes fashion sustainability by swapping ‘shop’ for ‘swap’

Three domestic fashion creatives have joined hands in the fight against the excessive consumption of fashion. Their organization, Swap Omaha, uses an environmentally friendly, circular model designed to give back to the community.

Last year, Sami Hartong sought out other women in fashion who aligned with her sustainability mission. Through the arts advocacy group, BFF Omaha, she met the owner of Scout Dry-Goods, Kelly Valentine-Newell, who brought up the idea of ​​an Earth Day clothing exchange.

Scout had worked with Earth Day Omaha on a swap the year before. However, due to the COVID-19 disease, those plans were canceled, Valentine-Newell said. Soon after, sustainability advocate Lauren Bates joined the team, wanting to include the Green Omaha Coalition.

“One by one, we all found our way to each other for Earth Day. We wanted to use the swap format because it has worked in other major cities,” said Hartong.

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Their first swap event at Elmwood Park was part of Omaha’s annual Earth Day celebration.

“We were hoping maybe 20 people would show up, and then it ended up being over 100,” Valentine-Newell said. “The lines were across the lawn across the sidewalk and into other vendor spaces.”


Alternates rummage through piles for Earth Day clothes at Elmwood Park.


The turnout and curious viewers asking when the next changeover was, turned the one-time event into a repeatable model.

“The backbone of Swap Omaha is keeping clothing out of landfills and creating a circular economy through clothing and prioritizing affordability,” Bates said.

In 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency reported just under 2 million tons of discarded textiles. In 2018, that number grew to 11 million tons.

“Reducing textile waste starts with reducing the consumption of fast fashion. To do this, we need to educate and normalize alternative ways of buying, selling and bartering,” said Valentine-Newell.

Each event starts with a clothing donation, those who donate get first prizes and are entitled to one item of clothing for each item of clothing they donate.

After those who donated are exchanged for new pieces, the unclaimed piles are open to the public for $1 each. Part of the proceeds go to local non-profit organizations.

In addition, all clothing not exchanged goes to charitable groups such as Open Door Mission, Heart Ministry Center, and other groups with “no-kill” policies, meaning all donations are returned home and do not end up in landfills.

“We don’t believe in forcing people to act. Instead, we believe in supporting, educating and giving people the tools to shop more ethically and sustainably,” said Bates. “That starts with accessing sustainable alternatives.”

With organizations like Swap Omaha, a person can revamp their wardrobe for free and give new life to unwanted pieces of clothing.

“We want people to think ‘just because an item doesn’t work for me, it can still work for someone else,'” Hartong said.

Last year’s success increased their desire and confidence to improve and develop their organization.

“2023 will be our official relaunch,” Hartong said. “We want to become a non-profit organization and impact the community even more.”

Their next swap event will be unlike any before. Swap Omaha is partnering with local non-profit Film Streams and the Omaha Fashion Guild at 6pm on March 14th for a screening of “Made in Bangladesh”. The event will include a clothing swap and a panel to discuss the film’s message.

“The film is based on the true story of a garment worker and her daily struggles in Dhaka, Bangladesh,” said Bates. “Dhaka is where Rana Plaza collapsed. The tragedy and the number of deaths of workers in the clothing industry opened eyes.”

On April 24, 2013, a factory building collapsed, killing more than 1,000 garment workers in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The tragedy, known as the “Rana Plaza disaster”, was the result of inadequate safety standards and non-compliance with building codes in the fast fashion industry.

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