The Champagne Life on a DIY Budget Since 2007

Clothing Swaps by Mail: thredUP & thredUP Kids

clothing swap online thredup

Want to exchange last season’s Proenza Schouler top for last year’s 3.1 Philip Lim? How about exchanging a dozen pieces of your son’s too-tight Gap Kids gear for a dozen like-new items in the next size up? And, what if each option only cost you the price of postage?

We thought so.

Enter clothing-swap-by-mail service and its newly added children’s clothing service, thredUP Kids. Launched last fall by co-founders James Reinhart, Oliver Lubin, and Chris Homer, thredUP quickly grew to over 10,000 customers nationwide who’ve been swapping shirts by mail, Netflix-style, simply by purchasing a pack of envelopes (three at a time) for about $25 and then shopping their closet. Which is entirely useful, given the fact that thredUP estimates that 25% of each of our wardrobes go unworn at any given time.

**Editor’s note: As of July 7th, thredUP has decided to focus solely on kids clothing swaps, and (at least for now) has closed their swap service for men’s and women’s shirts.


So, how does it work? thredUP customers list in their account the shirts they no longer wear, categorizing them in one of four value tiers — Silver, Gold, Platinum, or Diamond — ensuring that customers receive shirts of equivalent value to the ones they’ve listed to swap. Soon, they’ll get a notification by email from thredUP that someone wants one of their shirts, and after accepting, they pop it in the envelope, slap on the pre-paid postage sticker, and drop it in the mailbox. Within two weeks, a new-to-them shirt of equivalent value arrives at their door. (Fans of bargain-hunting daily email service Shop It To Me will find the experience very familiar: select your favorite brands, your sizing information, and your preference criteria.)

If you’re the type of fashionista looking swap your entire wardrobe each season in an economical way, or the type of dude who buys designer brands but can’t stand shopping, then thredUP is a great value for you. But, that may not be the case if you’re a frequent shopper of “fast fashion” shops like Zara or Charlotte Russe, though according to thredUP’s free 5-step estimator, in fact, even my modest closet (a mix of “fast fashion,” vintage, swap finds and “investment” pieces) could potentially contain over $1,200 worth of unworn items, all of which I could conceivably refresh through thredUP for just $144. When I swapped my H&M blouse for a Forever 21 tee and my husband’s J.Crew linen dress shirt for an as-yet-determined long-sleeve shirt, however; it was hard to justify the $25 expense for the three envelopes — at least on my women’s tops — though I could easily see how it would be hugely economical if I were swapping, say, my Escada corset top for something Alexander McQueen.

According to co-founder James Reinhart (whom I had the chance to interview back in February at thredUP’s Cambridge, Mass. offices), thredUP originally didn’t have a “fast fashion” (Silver) tier at all for that reason. “Our users wanted it,” he said. “We just had too many emails asking for Old Navy and Forever 21. You’d think that with those types of clothing, by the time you’re wearing it, it’s done, but our heaviest users on thredUP shirts are the ones in that Silver tier. We have two dozen users that have bought over two dozen envelopes each and that’s how they’re cycling out their closet, by wearing these affordable tops for a few weeks [and then using thredUP] like it’s Rent the Runway.”

ThredUP Kids, which launched on Monday, offers an even higher value proposition for busy parents, who can fill a box with 10 or so items of similar value and size that no longer fit their child, and, for a flat rate, swap them for 10 or so like-new items in the next size up. Because, as the thredUP Kids tag line perfectly captures, “Clothes don’t grow. Kids do.” According to an interview with Fast Company last week, Reinhart, who’s expecting his first child in June, thinks that thredUP Kids has an opportunity to positively impact the mindset of the next generation of consumers. “You’re getting boxes delivered to 4-year-old kids who know the power of presents,” he told reporter Alissa Walker.

A recent estimate by the Environmental Protection Agency shows that the average American throws away 54 pounds of clothing and shoes each year — an increase of 27% since 2002 — which adds up to over 9 million tons of wearable waste per year nationwide. It’s no secret that Shoestring is addicted to swaps for their resourceful, eco-friendly, and economical ways of keeping perfectly usable and valuable items in circulation and out of the landfills, and now, thanks to services like thredUP, the renewed popularity of offline clothing swaps, and the consignment, vintage, and thrift store business boom of the Great Recession era, there is no excuse not to recycle your clothing in a rewarding way.

Of course, there’s always going to be some used clothing at any type of swap — online or off — that’s no longer wearable due to stains or rips, but how to best dispose of it is a dilemma. At thredUP, items that come through quality control that aren’t swap-worthy are called “Dead Threds,” and Reinhart and his team are hard at work to find a charity or third party textile recycler who will put them to good use.

If you’ve ever had an older sibling or cousins, dorm-mates or roommates, or lived in a close community of families and neighbors, you probably feel nostalgic at times for those coveted hand-me-downs and that proximal delight of shopping in someone else’s closet. And if you haven’t, maybe now is the time to give it a try.

Reinhart and his co-founders are working on ways to enhance the community aspects of swapping online, by integrating with Facebook and other social networks to start, so that customers can create an “Inner Circle” with whom they want to swap.

“Most people want to swap with their friends,” Reinhart said. “Swapping with strangers is cool, but you really want to swap with friends — college roommates, etc. — and they rarely live in your neighborhood. Wouldn’t it be cool to have a continuous loop, where you send a box and you get a box, and you know the people you’re swapping with really well?”

For more information on how thredUP works, check out the video below or sign up for free at


Copyright 2010 Shoestring, LLC. Photo courtesy of thredUP

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