Who Are We? 

Manchester Clothes Swaps are organised by Sarah Keeler Dawson, arts facilitator and owner of vintage clothing brand Fikle, based at Autumn’s Vintage Boutique Chorlton, and writer and former mystery shopper, Sarah Graham. Read on to find out how we got here or check out Our Top Five Finds.

Sarah Graham

“I have my aunt to thank for my love of clothes. Every so often my cousins would have a wardrobe clear out and a huge bag of clothes would magically appear and I would get to try on all sorts of exciting things. My cousins were a few years older so they had trendy, fashionable, cool stuff that hadn’t been picked out for them by their mother! I still remember the pair of jeans that one of my cousins had embroidered. If they hadn’t worn out I’m sure I’d still be wearing them today!

My shopping skills were honed through my teens and twenties because my budget didn’t stretch as far as my ‘passion for fashion’ so in time I became a serious bargainista. Eventually, I found a way to indulge my passion without upsetting my bank balance (too much) by turning professional and becoming a mystery shopper.

But clothes swaps were not on my radar until Sarah invited me to one many years ago. I went along to be sociable but had zero expectation of finding anything that I liked. I was used to trawling huge shopping malls to hone in on that one special item so I didn’t think that the results of a wardrobe clear out by a random group of women would result in anything that would excite me or even in anything that would fit. I wasn’t really sure that I wanted to put any of my stuff in because I was worried about ending up with nothing at all. Happily, I was totally wrong about the value of swapping!

The first swap that I went to was tiny but I still found a lovely heather coloured cardigan which just happened to match a dress that I had. So I went to a second swap – at this one I found a fabulous beaded silk dress that I loved on sight and another dress which I thought was okish. The okish dress turned out to be one that looked amazing when I tried it on and it became a great favourite. At this point the penny dropped and I realised that I could try out clothes that I wouldn’t normally have bought. Once I realised that I could move out of my comfort zone – with no risk! – my wardrobe took on a whole new lease of life. I started going to more swaps (often with Sarah) and often ended up helping to clear up or set up or to stand in if the organiser couldn’t make it. It was a short leap from there to setting up our own swaps. There can’t be too many because each one brings new people to meet and new clothes to love”.

Sarah Keeler Dawson.

“I have loved clothes ever since I was a little girl. Unfortunately, everything had to be pink until about age 9, when I then decided I hated pink and haven’t really worn it since! Like Sarah, I too was given hand-me-downs from family and friends and was always so excited to see what goodies lay within those binbags! I was (still am) short for my age so other kids always grew out of their clothes more quickly than me and most of them would be fairly new.

As I grew older, I experimented with a range of styles from hippy to indie, then grunge and even borderline goth. I also got into customising my clothes and it somehow became very important not to ‘look like everyone else’, yet the ironic thing was I was mainly trying to look just like all the other ‘alternative’ kids!

When I got to Uni, I became over-excited with the sudden influx of money from my student loan and began shopping in pricier and pricier shops and more often, as I continued to find my own style and also something new to wear out several nights a week. I pretty much lived in Topshop and would think nothing of spending £50 on a top that I might wear once.

By my third year of my Fine Art degree, I was in quite a bit of debt, having made the classic mistake of spending my loan on clothes and vodka. I had a part-time job but this cash was spent on paying off my store and credit cards. My love of vintage was now taking me more and more to charity shops and I slowly weaned myself off Topshop and enjoyed the buzz of finding something 20 or more years old, that no one else was wearing, for a fiver.

Some years later, with a bulging wardrobe and spare room looking like something from ‘Hoarder Next Door’ I heard about Clothes Swaps and instinctively knew this was going to be a fantastic thing to get involved with. I could have a clear out, get some new threads and help the environment, all for just a few quid! I took Sara along and we soon found more and tried to go to as many as we could.

These days I am a vintage clothes trader in Autumn’s Vintage Boutique in Chorlton and due to this and my love of buying I have access to a lot of clothes! In recent years I’ve helped organise and run swapping events and as it’s something I thoroughly enjoy, it seemed like a natural step to start running events myself, along with someone who is as enthusiastic about swishing as me – Sarah!