Fast fashion is wasteful, and a beacon is flawed. The solution: swap!

Jannine Mancilla32, and Nicole Macias34, bonded over a shared love of DIY and hands-on fashion, and frustration with an environmentally destructive industry and a wasteful culture that creates a huge amount of waste. So they came up with a radical idea: ask people offer their old clothes – for free. Their clothing swaps in Los Angeles have grown from humble beginnings to “over the top” events that receive hundreds of pounds of clothing donations each month, helping attendees save the planet and keep money in their pockets.

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Jannine Mancilla: All of us at Radical Clothes Swap are first generation Mexican American and grew up with an immigrant, underprivileged mindset. I grew up with my brothers and cousins. We had that cookie container that never contained cookies, which we would reuse to hold a sewing kit. I grew up mending my own pants. When skinny jeans were a thing, I would sew them by hand.

Nicole Macias: I still get my brothers hands. There’s nothing like an old beat up shirt or sweater to sleep in or just hang around. Bipoc communities have always done this because we are resourceful. It was embedded in our upbringing and lifestyle. Many times we had to, because we could not afford to buy a new wardrobe every new school year.

In 2021, I was invited to participate in a community back-to-school event for young people, and I thought about what I could bring that the kids wouldn’t have to spend money on. I was inspired by a company called Suay Sew Shop who do textile repurposing and have a free rack in their store.

I was really excited by that concept – you couldn’t just take a sweater off a rack and it’s cheap. So I decided to have a free rack at the back to school event. I donated five items from my own closet and put out a shout out on social media asking people for clothes they wanted to get rid of.

It’s not just a place for people to shop for free, but to build communities and make connections

Jannine Mancilla

The response was overwhelming. I found all kinds and sizes of clothes: pajamas, winter coats, jeans, dresses, shorts, workout clothes, you name it. I couldn’t even fit all the bags in my car and had to borrow a friend’s catering van to haul everything with me.

After that I did four more swaps and ended up with more and more clothes. Jannine, who I’ve never met, hit me up on social media and was like: “Hey, I like what you’re doing. I have done this before. Would you like to team up?” I had already agreed on a community event i [the Los Angeles neighborhood of] Inglewood and told her to come. She was like: “Yeah, let’s do it.”

I showed up with my clothes, my wagon and some hangers. Jannine showed up with a canopy and a table and some hangers. We were hanging clothes from the canopy. It was so ugly, but people loved it.

Janine: People were so taken by the concept that it was all free.

We are under the control of capitalism, and if people are not benefiting from it, they are not interested. Giving something away for free without expecting anything in return is radical.

We don’t ask people for anything. We don’t even ask them to post and tag us. When we created Instagram, we were throwing out names. Nicole threw out the word “radical” and we were like: “Wait, that fits, because what we’re doing is very radical and unheard of. Who gives out clothes or anything for free without expecting anything in return?”

That’s how we came up with Radical Clothes Swap. There’s literally no catch: you’re keeping money in your pockets and saving the environment a little by shopping for free.

Nicole: At first people weren’t sure, but now we have a following. Since March, we’ve probably had about five a month. Angel City Brewery is our main draw, every second Saturday of the month. We are also at the Rivian Pasadena Hub every last Sunday.

Usually up to 100 more people visit us and, on average, around 50 of those people donate clothes to swap. We’ve estimated that each of those people donates around 6-10lbs of clothing, so we get up to 500lbs of clothing per event. We usually go home with extra donations, which we store for future events.

Many people don’t realize that many thrift stores are so big on donations that they sometimes throw away clothes. For people who thrift, they are also starting to realize that the quality is not good. A lot of it is fast fashion priced at regular store prices.

Janine: What makes thrift stores different is the connections people make. It’s so beautiful to see people come to our events who don’t know each other, and then we turn around and see them laughing and talking. It’s not just a place for people to shop for free, but to build a community and make connections with other like-minded people.

When we were growing up it wasn’t cool to wear second hand clothes, but now it is. Whites are more prosperous, so prices are rising because there is more demand. In a way, this is us taking back that power that we had, which we always did.

Nicole: Our ultimate goal is to open a physical space where we can host more educational workshops, such as fabric repair and dyeing. We would love to expand outside of Los Angeles and California.

I think that Bipocs are always on the trending trends, and this concept of exchange is coming full circle. There is no money involved. There is no exchange. The community is at his heart, but giving back.

  • DIY Climate Changers is a series about everyday people across the US using their own ingenuity to tackle climate change in their neighborhoods, homes and backyards. If you want to share your story, email us at

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