Sustainable Swaps: Saving the environment one trade at a time


Courtesy of Mireya Zellner

“Feelin Fallish,” a Sustainable Swaps event, was held on Oct. 2.

By Max Handelman, Correspondent

The crisp wind of nearing autumn rustled through rows upon rows of hanging clothing, creating a chorus of rattling hangers and a symphony of flutters from anything folded on the ground. 

In one direction, a neon green skirt was exchanged for a pair of distressed jeans. In another, live music added to the hearty atmosphere for the droves of students and curious onlookers passing by. It was the perfect setting for Sustainable Swaps’ first event of the year, “Feelin Fallish,” held on Oct. 2, at Frog Pond.  

Mireya Zellner, a junior marketing communications major, blended her creative ingenuity and passion for thrifting by founding the organization in October 2021. 

The event was initially meant to be a casual gathering for Zellner and her friends to trade clothes and possibly profit from eco-friendly fashion. 

“When I first started this it was 15 kids swapping clothes,” Zellner said in an interview with The Beacon. “We had a little Google Doc flier and it was just a fun idea.” 

What started off as a simple passion project exploded in popularity within the past year and a half, with an estimated 200 to 300 people participating in each event.

The events themselves are like a modern day Byzantine bazaar: Anyone and everyone is allowed to set up shop to buy or barter clothes. Since Sustainable Swaps is non- Emerson affiliated, the events are open to other schools as well as the general public. Large bustling crowds course through lines of vendors down the road, all of whom contribute to each event’s festive environment. 

“It’s like a decentralized gathering of homies on their picnic blankets, trading clothes, and saving the environment,” Zellner said.

Zellner’s inspiration for Sustainable Swaps stemmed from her love of environmental sustainability and human rights activism. Specifically, the organization’s primary goal is combating the growing effects of “fast fashion.” 

Fast fashion, as Zellner described, is when a brand prioritizes speed and quantity over quality clothing and ethical working conditions. In recent years, these brands’ methods of production have caused rising concern regarding issues of environmentally destructive and inhumane practices. 

“Companies will outsource to different lower-income countries to avoid certain working regulations,” Zellner said. “The working conditions are horrible and workers are underpaid and overworked. It’s just not safe.” 

Companies like GAP and Adidas have recently been under scrutiny for their continued use of sweatshops. The two were exposed for the use of child labor in countries like the Philippines and Bangladesh, back in the years of 2004 and 2000 respectively. 

By recycling old clothes and giving them new homes to other students, Zellner and all who attend her swaps help prevent further ecological damage. Each repurposed item helps cut down on the 92 million tons of wasted synthetic material that ends up in landfills and erodes to form greenhouse gasses. 

To ensure no piece of clothing ends up trashed, Zellner donates anything left over from each event to the St. Francis homeless shelter to be distributed. 

“It’s really nice to interact with a lot of the people who live [at the shelter] and it’s the best feeling to see the impact the clothes would have on someone else,” Zellner said. 

In addition to prioritizing sustainability, Sustainable Swaps is economically friendly. Brand-name sustainable clothing is often very expensive, costing upwards of around two and a half or four times as much as regular clothes. Sustainable Swaps offers a more affordable alternative for anyone wishing to be more mindful about their carbon footprint. 

The organization has been met with an overwhelming amount of positive feedback from attendees. 

“Overall I think it’s a really good thing,” said junior Josie Arthur, a frequent music performer at the event. “A lot of people at Emerson are stylish and people want to get rid of their clothes and buy clothes too, and it’s all for a good goal.”

Given its current and increasing popularity, Zellner hopes Sustainable Swaps can be integrated into the actual school as some kind of biannual event. But for now, the organization serves as a way for all students to play a part in making the world a better, cleaner place through the power of swapping and shopping.