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Cast-off clothing a hot commodity

MIDDLEBURY — It can be tough for teens to fill out their wardrobes given the current price of clothing and the cost and hassle of getting to some of the regional fashion hubs.
Jutta Miska, co-director of the Addison Central Teens organization, knows the problem well and two years ago came up with a novel way of bringing affordable clothing directly to local youths at Middlebury Union High School. It’s called the “Two-Day Clothing Swap & Shop,” and it will be held on Tuesday, Dec. 9, and Wednesday, Dec. 10, at MUHS.
There, between classes and during their lunch period, students will be able to browse through a variety of gently used T-shirts, blouses, slacks, jeans, dresses, coats, jewelry and even the random prom dress or tuxedo — all available at rock-bottom prices — and in many cases, for the value of whatever garments the purchaser wants to put up for trade.
Miska debuted the Swap & Shop in 2012 after hearing a common lament among students, particularly the girls.
“They said there were few places to shop in Middlebury, that it was hard to get to Burlington,” she recalled, noting the particular popularity of shops like “Plato’s Closet” where youths often trade in their pre-worn clothes for cash and purchase used clothing at a discount.
“They said it would be nice to have a clothing shop for teens.”
So Miska spoke with some additional students, adults and MUHS grad Laura Davidson, whose interests include fashion and recycling. They put together the first Swap & Shop in April of 2012, held in the Addison Repertory Theater area of the Patricia Hannaford Career Center. Around 40 student shoppers patronized the two-day opportunity, while a half-dozen teens helped operate the store in exchange for some free items.
Of course the merchandise inventory was sparser during those early days. Miska and her helpers put out flyers and sent out e-mails to bring in some customers and clothing donations. She did a little shopping at Neat Repeats, Round Robin and Plato’s Closet to fill out the hangers and shelves.
Two years later, the Swap & Shop has increased greatly in popularity. It is held on two days, twice during the school year — in May and December. And a big reason it has caught on has been Middlebury College’s agreement to place Swap & Shop collection bins at various locations on campus. College students who grow weary of certain garments can drop them in the bins rather than throw them away. Miska and her helpers harvested 10 trunk loads of clothing, jewelry and other knickknacks donated by college students cleaning out their dorm rooms last May.
“It’s amazing what the (college) students leave,” Miska said with a smile.
And MUHS students are eager to acquire the college’s couture castoffs after Miska and her crew have diligently put them through the wash and displayed them in an enticing fashion on tables, hangers and mannequins. A whopping 856 items were moved through the Swap & Shop this past May, according to Miska.
Organizers have established a point system to reflect prices of Swap & Shop merchandise. It’s a system that minimizes cash flow and provides for a smoother process for those who wish to barter using their own used clothing as currency.
Each point translates into $1. Tank tops and T-shirts are usually priced at 1-3 points; women’s shorts and pajama bottoms go for around 2 points; jeans, men’s shorts and casual shorts are in the 3-point range; skirts, blouses, men’s dress shorts and wind pants usually go for 4 points; and hoodies, jackets and sweaters routinely fetch 5 points. Then there are special items like prom dresses and men’s suits that are individually priced.
Student helpers at the shop receive two pieces of clothing for every 30 minutes they volunteer, according to Miska.
Swap & Shop is a break-even operation. Any cash received is used to buy additional clothing from places like Neat Repeats, and helps defray Miska’s expenses for washing the clothing and purchasing clothing racks and mannequins.
Beyond giving students access to affordable clothing at a convenient spot, the Swap & Shop is teaching the young helpers lessons in entrepreneurship and retail sales. It is also proving an outlet for students to sell their handmade crafts and receive compensation. And it is imparting a lesson that repurposing clothing is a lot better for the environment than throwing it away when you’re tired of it.
“I want to break down stereotypes and hopefully make second-hand shopping cool,” said Miska, who hates to discard items and enjoyed her own experience as a teen helping out at her family’s shop in her native Germany.
Jen Cyr is an MUHS senior who has helped at the Swap & Shop since its inception. She likes the assortment of items and the affordability factor. The shop is particularly popular among female students, she noted.
“My friends love it,” Cyr said. “They really like the variety and the styles to choose from.”
The Dec. 9 and 10 Swap & Shop hours will be 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. (students only) and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. (general public) at MUHS in the hallway outside the administrative offices. Donated items can be dropped off at the ACT teen center in the lower level of the Middlebury municipal building, Monday through Friday, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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