left: Carly Ridloff at The Exchange Project event during New York Fashion Week, wearing newly donated treasures. right: Carly Ridloff merchandising the donated fashion at The Exchange Project event in Southampton, NY. – Photographs: courtesy of Stores/Brands
First and foremost, it is important to understand what sustainability means. In the simplest of terms, it is the practice of meeting present needs without compromising the needs of future generations and, at its core, sustainability aims to create a symbiotic relationship between humans and nature. The concept feels daunting to most people, creating a “I don’t know what to do” feeling, but increasingly, it is so easy to make a difference.
The Exchange Project, founded by Westporter Carly Ridloff, was created not only to educate, but also to infuse a sense of fun into the practice of being more sustainable. Lover of all things fashion, dedicated wife and mother, Ridloff became interested in environmentalism after watching two lifechanging documentaries. A Plastic Ocean exposes the crisis around single use plastic and the The True Cost, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2015, explores the connections between fast fashion, consumerism, and the impact these have on our environment.
Determined to make a difference, Ridloff came up with an idea inspired by how she used to play with her cousins and friends. Kids love to trade! This “I’ll-give-you-this-if-you-give-me-that” concept was the impetus for creating The Exchange Project. Carly’s ‘‘fashion swaps’’ are in-person events where people are asked to donate gently worn clothing or accessories, buy a ticket to attend and come together at a party hosted at someone’s home. Ridloff styles the merchandise so it feels like you are shopping in a store and creates a lively atmosphere that promotes community. Attendees often say, “Wow, I get to take all of this home”. It is this joy that Ridloff believes creates an on going desire to do more. Any leftover product is donated directly to local women’s shelters.
Ridloff’s goal is to divert as much clothing from entering landfills as possible, extending the life cycle of fashion items by inspiring people to trade the pieces they don’t wear anymore. “Another person’s trash is another person’s treasure,” says Ridloff. She adds, “Sure, you can extend the lifestyle of each piece by selling online or by donating to charity; however, most of these companies have to get rid of their excess somehow and ultimately contribute to the 92 million tons of textiles that end up in landfills.”
Ridloff loves to shop, and she isn’t suggesting that people shouldn’t. She just wants everyone to be more mindful of the choices they make. “If each person just made a few small adjustments, the environmental impact would be exponential,” said Ridloff, and to demonstrate just how easy this is, I went shopping with her in downtown Westport, where we found many sustainable treasures.
The Exchange Project currently produces events in Westport, New York City, and the Hamptons, however, is always open to expanding to new communities. If you are interested in hosting or attending an event, you can contact Ridloff via her website theexchangeproject.com or DM her @the.exchangeproject.