Shwap Club

At Shwap Club, it’s all in the exchange

An eco-conscious antidote to the antisocial nature of online shopping and fast fashion.

Maintaining an ever-changing wardrobe is a fantasy for most. But aside from being expensive, it’s wasteful. Enter Shwap Club, the Montreal store where it can be neither.

Shwap Club is a permanent clothing-swap spot that offers the experience of shopping a curated secondhand boutique, minus the price tags. According to founder Annette Nguyen, the concept is among the first of its kind globally. 

The Montreal-born, female-led concept builds upon the existing trend of pop-up clothing swaps that have seized our eco-conscious city in recent years, and has since inspired similar initiatives, like the Montreal Barter Club. 

It was at her first pop-up swap, hosted in a friend’s restaurant that Nguyen was moved by the social nature of exchanging clothing.

Equipped with a background in retail, but disillusioned with the antisocial nature of online shopping and fast fashion, she worked her way towards creating what would become the first Shwap Club location in St-Henri.

“I have a daytime job, and I work in front of my computer. I don’t really get to connect with people,” Nguyen says. “It’s great, nowadays, to give people the option of being part of a community and social shopping.”

How Shwap Club works

The membership model, which involves a $90 annual fee to swap-till-you-drop, helps keep the concept afloat. Nguyen priced it akin to what a pair of jeans or two would cost at H&M or Zara. It has also created a sense of community amongst members, who gather in the shop to leisurely socialize and browse without having to bring their wallets.

Some of the swappers from that very first pop-up are members to this day. Other members have become so ingrained in the shop that they’ll pop by to tell Nguyen about landing their dream job, or that they finally got pregnant.

“I go to work in the day and I come here at night. People ask me how I find the energy to do that,” Nguyen says. “It’s the community that gives me that energy, because they’re such loving people.”

Nguyen hasn’t bought new clothing in a decade. She describes herself as loving classic closet staples and basics, and even declares, “I don’t like fashion.”

Curating things

Annette Nguyen

The inventory at the stores reflects everything from Nguyen’s preferred tried and true basics to unique vintage or even designer pieces. At my first swap, I found a pair of snakeskin loafers that ended up being worth over $200. In general, the stock is selected to be something the average 30-year-old woman could wear “to work, or out for a drink,” says Nguyen. 

Pieces are carefully selected, and aren’t accepted if they’re unwashed, stained, ripped or missing buttons or zippers. Items are generally expected to have been bought in the last three years. By doing this, the store stays stocked with gems that won’t sit around past their five-week expiry date. At that point, they’re donated to local shelters and charities. 

“I’m all about being very transparent with how we do things, and why we do what we do. I’ve shopped at a lot of thrift stores, and what I didn’t like is that they could be pretentious [in their selection process],” Nguyen says. “We want to make sure that people have a good experience; that we’re not being snobs, we’re not ignoring them. That’s really, really important.”

Emphasizing the experience

Nguyen puts an emphasis on experiential shopping in training staff at Shwap Club. This often reveals the stories behind the stock, like the vintage striped Nike pants that she was wearing the day we met, which belonged to a member’s mother in the ’80s in Brazil. 

“If I went to a Zara, and there was someone at the door that would say, ‘Hi Annette. How are you today?’ or ‘Oh, we have something that came in that I think you would like,’ things would be different,” Nguyen says. “But right now, it’s not personalized, it’s not fun, so I don’t go.”

With over 800 members at the St-Henri shop, Nguyen began planning for a second location. It opened in Mile Ex in mid-January. She hopes to open a kids Shwap in the future. 

“A lot of people come here, and they have as much pleasure finding items as they do letting go of items that they don’t need.” ■

Shwap Club is located at 642 de Courcelle and 6682 Jeanne-Mance. You can also see more about Shwap Club on their website.

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