When Camille Johnson launched Clobber Swap, she had no idea she would touch a nerve. Here she tells us how she did it
What were you doing pre-Clobber Swap?
Before Clobber Swap, I was doing what most people do month in month out. I would buy fashion items online or in store and spend hundreds of pounds every month on clothes I did not really need or wear. I am often invited to events as I work in media, so I would need a cocktail dress or something a bit more glamorous at the last minute and panic buy. Being the busy person I am, I would leave the task until the last minute, which always leads to an impulse buy meaning I would spend a fortune for something I would only wear once or not at all.
Prior to Clobber Swap lots of items gathering dust would be in the style of evening wear. I loved Next for jeans, tops, shoes, jackets, or House of Fraser, and I’d receive an email with a discount which I’d find myself using straight away without much thought. I would click through to the websites and order more clothes just because I would see 20% off. I did not really need them looking back and what made it worse was they usually turned up and did not fit me, I would then forget to send them back, which is why so many items in my wardrobe were brand new with tags.
Whereabouts do you live and what do you love about it?
I live in Skelmanthorpe, Huddersfield, and I love it, it is pretty rural and has a wonderful friendly village vibe. I have lived there for 12 years now, and it gets better and better, especially as there is a great pub and a few cocktail bars. We also have a florist, a minimal-waste food and lifestyle store, loads of hairdressers, an amazing optician, and a wonderfully friendly beauty shop. Everything I need is on hand and from my kitchen window I look straight on to fields and Emley Moor Mast.
Had you thought of doing something sustainably led before?
Not really, although I had always separated my waste and taken things to the charity shop. Clobber Swap was born purely out of me feeling like I had lost a bit of my sparkle as I was not experimenting with colours and style anymore, I was buying lots of the same clothes which felt boring, and I was getting older and not feeling my midlife vibe very positively. It was purely an organic idea that came from a Sunday afternoon wardrobe refresh; I had too many hardly worn clothes and decided to create two piles, one for my three older sisters and a pile for the charity shop.
I began to feel guilty that I had spent so much on clothes I did not wear and worked out I was wasting £500 or more on clothes. I had fallen out of love with myself and wanted to try and get my colourful personality back by feeling fabulously stylish again for less than £100 per month.
What eventually inspired you to start Clobber Swap?
The sheer quantity of clothes made me realise there were other women out there who felt the same as I did. This created my idea of Clobber Swapping and it felt quite a unique idea in 2020. I thought why do we not swap items which costs nothing apart from £3 postage whilst replenishing our wardrobes, giving it a new lease of life and reduces the amount going to landfill. I did not realise 300,000 tonnes went to landfill in the UK each year and this got me enthusiastic about it. Fast fashion is a term used to describe new styles of clothing that are manufactured quickly and sold at very low prices. While fast fashion makes clothing affordable for consumers, it comes at a big cost to the environment. Trendy and cheaply made clothing has a short lifespan in people’s wardrobes, often leading to more clothes ending up in landfills. The younger kids think nothing of buying an outfit for one night, putting the evidence on Instagram and throwing it in the bin. Fast fashion is responsible for 10 percent of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and 20 percent of global wastewater.
How did people react to the idea?
It was incredible, I added a community group on Facebook not knowing what people would think. I added 32 of my close friends and family initially, these were my contacts who had a passion for fashion and lots of beautiful clothes. I added 5-6 photos and a detailed and loving description of one item I had pulled out and I made it clear in the description, for what I would like to swap the item. The response was incredible, I had lots of comments and had 5-6 ladies almost fighting to swap with me, they were posting their item in the comments on the Facebook feed so I could sit back on my comfy chair at home and choose my first item in swap to help replenish the mojo I’d lost and all this was helping to do something sustainable. I was addicted to the buzz of it all and found myself clobber swapping with locals in my village in Huddersfield and everyone felt good about it.
How quickly did it evolve from being a group of your friends to 7,000 members?
Within 24 hours I had gone from 32 people I knew to 350, then it increased a few days later to 2,000 and within about 5 weeks it had grown to almost 4,200. Two years on and we are at 7,000 members, and it is growing. The idea was so popular, the administrative side was extremely demanding, and the platform needed some more management which meant in the first few weeks I was working almost around the clock keeping it looking fresh and like a full-on clothes boutique. I was deleting hundreds of posts where items were being posted creased or stained or too faulty to repair and I was living off three hours sleep each night to keep up the good work. I decided to register the name as a trademark as I had someone try and copy it, and I decided to register it as a business as I was putting far too much time into this as a side hobby and could quickly see the potential in the idea. I knew I was going to have to slow things down a bit and even lose a few members to keep the group content appealing and in tip top condition, and it was at this point I decided to invest in a website and add more resource into it so it could become a business.
The challenging aspect of it was that it was a Facebook page which linked to FB Market Place, I did not want anyone and everyone posting as we were not swapping any item, it was just quality clothes, but I had to police this manually in the early days. I struggled to keep the feed full of clothes and often I would see someone had posted a lampshade, a washer, a children’s cot, or something totally unrelated to clothes which was extremely frustrating. I did not know in the beginning that I could control this issue and I invested in people to manage this, which led to 3 or 4 people and myself working on it 24/7. The website launched and this is where members could sign up to be in the group and I attached a small fee of £2.99 per month to keep the quality of the members and its content high. I knew Depop, eBay and Vestiare charged up to 18% in commission and you did not get your money straight away – in some cases it can take three weeks to be paid for the item you have sold. With Clobber swap you pay members directly, so you get immediate payment and there is no commission to pay. One member told me it saved her £150 per month in commission, so Clobber Swap at £2.99 per month seemed a no brainer.
Why do you think it has worked?
It has worked because of the quality of the members in the group and how it is managed. It is a very professional group with its own branding. We feel like we are all one big group of sisters swapping and selling our wardrobes as often as we need to. We have 3,000 posts and over 13,000 comments every month and this is increasing. There is no other pre-loved group like it, the members comment all the time about how friendly and supportive it is. It is kind; the culture of the group is always supportive and really helpful. We have women who would never normally post a picture of themselves in their outfits, and they do it on Clobber Swap all the time because they get a stream of compliments from the ladies in the group. It is wonderful and through lockdown it was a life saver because no-one felt lonely. They are all so kind, caring and very dependable, which makes it really easy to be part of. The monthly fee ensures people are accountable and responsible for sending items on time and in a condition as described. There has been very little bad feedback and if we hear of it, we remove them from the group keeping it a quality space. It is like a women’s private club where you feel uplifted and happy, and all from the comfort of your own home.
How does it work?
So, you sign up at the website clobberswap.co.uk you then get preapproved by admin. You add three or more photos of the item and add a detailed and loving description including what you would like to swap the item for or sell for. You post it to the feed and wait for the Clobber love to flood in. People then post on the feed the item they would like to swap for yours and you can choose to swap or move to the next person in line if you prefer their item more. It is pretty simple, but it works like a dream. All payment details are done in a private message by PayPal or bank transfer.
What kind of brands are swapped?
All kinds of brands, it is not a designer swap and sell site only, it is for quality items that is in great condition, hardly worn in many cases and this works. It is not about being high value or a specific label although we see lots of designer items as we have lots of very stylish members. In my view, if you have bought something you have not worn and it is fabulous, add it to Clobber Swap. If you have not worn something for a while and do not reach for it, swap it for another fabulous item. Items are advertised usually at £20 or less, we get the odd item or accessory more than that, but it is more about the style and condition than the price. I did swap a pair of Louboutin’s for a Joseph coat in the early days, and this was a great swap that cost absolutely nothing.
Is there a particular thing that seems to be swapped more than others?
Great question, not really everything is popular on Clobber Swap, but unusual patterns and bright colours are everyone’s favourite. Anything unusual or vintage gets the thumbs up. We love jewellery and shoes, as these are so pricey in shops on the high street, so they sell well. Sunglasses get snapped up very quickly and designer bags swap or sell in nano seconds.
Why did you introduce live events?
During lockdown we were all down in the dumps at times, some members had lost their jobs or business and even their loved ones and felt quite lonely. We were aware of the Covid safety rules in terms of packages being posted out, so the amount of swapping and buying reduced for a period, so I kept the groups spirits up by organising fun live events instead. I know a lot of people with talent, so I organised a lot of creative speakers including singers to do live events every Wednesday throughout the first year of lockdown. I even organised a saxophone player who was amazing and we would all be at home with our cocktails and nibbles commenting and dancing in our kitchens. We felt like we were together in the same room which was wonderful. I paid these talented people to sing to us, which is why being a member is so valuable, these are the things other groups do not do. I also organised a health and wellbeing specialist to run our weekly exercise sessions, a hypnotherapist to give us relaxation tips, a florist to show us how to make an amazing arrangement and lots more…
What events do you have coming up?
We have just had a wonderful health and wellbeing coach who spoke about intuitive eating, and we have had a professional make-up artist doing tutorials, which went down so well with our ladies. I have been speaking to a lady who will be offering style tips and advice in June, and she is a stylist to the stars and much more. I have also started to get people messaging me, asking if they can talk to my group as they are so interactive and the perfect audience for anyone wanting to promote products or advice to 35+ audience.
How do you see the future of Clobber Swap evolving?
Well, I would love to set up an actual event where our women can meet up, chat and swap and sell clothes. It has been running for over two years, and I know friendships in the group are strong, so they would like nothing better than to meet their clobber friend in real life. The group connection is so strong, it is the reason for its success. Yes, people can advertise on Depot or Vinted, but it is a cold environment with zero community spirit. You buy or sell an item and that is it, there is no banter or relationship as it is a cold swap or sale. I had one lady who was fleeing domestic abuse and ran away with nothing to survive and protect herself from future harm. She sacrificed all her belongings to get away, but did not have a spare pair of clothes or underwear. I put an anonymous post on the feed to ask for help and 50 plus donations came flooding in, we had to buy a suitcase we had so much given to us which included everything she needed and more like a Michael Kors designer bag, Elemis toiletries and make up.
This is THE difference, so I hope we can appeal to more ladies of all shapes, sizes and ages and they jump on board the sustainable fashion wagon for less because it costs nothing to look good and feel fabulous every day without it costing the earth.
I have also created a podcast, which I will be producing every Sunday sharing style tips, fashion faux pas and the latest news on what Clobber Swap and its members are up to. This is available on Spotify and Anchor apps if you search Clobber Swap.