Swopped things
Anastasia Noskova
The head of the Russian swop market network

Swopped things

The first swop market “Let’s Swop” has opened in Sochi, where used things people do not need can be exchanged for the right ones. Not only clothes and shoes, but also accessories, jewellery pieces, cosmetics, books, toys, tableware and other interior and household items. The swop market is located in a former grocery store and covers an area of one hundred square metres. It is visited by about fifty persons every day. Such popularity is not by chance because we are talking about a social and environmental project. More precisely, about the ecology of lean consumption and reducing the consumption. Many have heard of the ‘garbage island’ as the ‘seventh continent’, but the oceans are the ‘lungs’ of our planet. It is within the power of each of us to make the planet cleaner. And these words are not just bombastic rhetoric. Anastasia Noskova, the project ideologist and head of the Russian swop market network, spoke about how to bring a greener future closer.

- At the Made in Udmurtia forum held in December 2021, you received the Business Success award for your swop market as the Best Women’s Project. Congratulations!

- Thanks. I succeeded in creating a business model that works well and, at the same time, is beneficial for our visitors.

- What is a swop market?

- The swop market is a social and environmental project, and it is unique in its kind. People can bring us the things they do not need that are in excellent condition and choose the ones they need in return. Our main mission is to reduce the overconsumption of new goods, because huge natural resources are used for their manufacture.

Now, we consume linearly - we take resources from nature, make goods, use them for a short time littering the environment, and then throw them away. A swop market allows us to make this process a “loop”.

What is important, we spend money on various things. What is money? This can be a measure of our time. We spend our time to make money. As a result, the money was spent on things that we throw as garbage. It turns out that we throw away our lives. But we can spend our lives doing something more interesting.

We have looped the process allowing us not to throw things away but “invest” in goods. People can use their things to “pay” for another one - instead of paying money for it - and save the family budget.

- Please tell us in more detail about saving the family budget.

- I calculated how much an average family of two working adults with children can save using the swop market. An average salary is 32 thousand roubles a month. It makes 64 thousand for a family. As a rule, 80 percent are used to pay the utility bills and food, and 20 percent is left for non-food items. It turns out that 12.8 thousand roubles a month are allocated for clothes, shoes, sporting goods, household chemicals, equipment, etc. So, it makes 153.6 thousand roubles a year. Thanks to the swop market, you can save this amount and spend it, for example, on a long-awaited journey. Meanwhile, only 30 percent of residents have international passports in Russia. And some of them have never been abroad. For example, the Europeans can wear second-hand clothes, but they prefer to make trips. And the Russians do not have enough money for travelling.

Many Russians live beyond their means, they take on a loan. They don’t have financial literacy. So, maybe it is necessary to reconsider the attitude to consumption?

- What is the essence of the swop market operation?

- We provide the premise and an exchange service, which costs 450 roubles. This amount includes up to five items. We have our own measure of value - a ‘swop’ (from the English ‘swop’ (also spelled as ‘swap’). In general, this is the concept used for the securities in the stock market. Things have a price both in ‘swops’ and in roubles. One ‘swop’ is equal to approximately 0.25 roubles. ‘Swops’ are sent to an electronic wallet that looks like a regular keychain. For example, 100-200 ‘swops’ are given for a book, and 1.5 thousand for a fur coat. The criteria for calculating ‘swops’ are quite subjective, but everything is taken into account - from fabric and style to popularity and fashion.

- What can be brought to the swop market and what can be taken away at the swop market?

- In addition to things, home appliances are brought to us en masse, for example, juicers. Once, they used to be in real demand. They were used several times, and no one needed them any longer. So, you can take a juicer from the swop market during the fruit season and then return it. A separate topic is unnecessary gifts. People often give something without thinking wheather a person needs ‘another picture made of diamond chips’ or a ‘dust-collecting teddy bear’. People also sell cosmetics to us. For example, some girl was given a dry skin cream as her birthday gift, but her skin is normal or oily. We also accept such things, but they should be in their original packaging and the expiration dates should be ok. Sometimes, when getting some things online, people buy the clothes of the wrong size, and returning them to the shop takes long time or is difficult.

- But more often, one can exchange clothes and shoes at your market?

- It is interesting that at the swop market you can chose your clothes remotely. A set of clothes that you wear for a week, and on Sunday, you hand the things over and take a new set of clothes. And you don’t need to have closets the size of a room at home. Well, people buy a dress for five thousand roubles, wear it three times and then give it away or just throw it away? Keep the things at the swop market. People should fight against materialism. Also, fighting against the ‘stuffocation’ is now in trend, just ask any stylist or psychologist. In addition, the clothes for photo shoots are popular. Just the next day after the opening of the swop market, a mother and daughter purchased a ‘family look’. Surely, after the family evening they will bring the dresses back, and other customers can enjoy wearing these things.

The swop markets also have new clothes from stores, for example, from the unsold collections of the previous season.

- What is the difference between a swop market and a second-hand store?

- The things to the second-hand stores were brought from Europe and America, and a long transportation time is required. In addition, it turns out that the Russians give the money they earned to the Western countries. In return, they get used things. A lot of things end up as recyclables, but collecting scrap is not well developed in our country. The things from second-hand stores remain in Russia, and all the unsold clothes are taken to the landfills in our country. There is an acute problem with waste and landfills.

- As far as I know, swop markets are not a new topic in the country and the world. How did they originate and what is a special thing about your swop market?

- The concept of “swop” originated in England in the post-war years. There was a problem with clothes, and women exchanged what they had in an attempt to update their outfit. In the 2000s, the swops became social events. So, swop parties were held in Moscow and St. Petersburg. But these are one-time events that are held irregularly and in different places. We started doing this on a regular basis and occupied this niche.

- The swop market in Sochi, although the first one in the south of Russia, is not the first in Russia. Where else are they?

- The first swop market in Russia opened in 2020 in Izhevsk. There are already five swop markets operating there. The sixth one opened in the neighbouring Igra small town. Now in Sochi, the seventh swop market is opened in the country. Soon, the swop market will be opened in Votkinsk, and an agreement has already been signed with Cherepovets. I think there will be more swop markets set up in other cities. This is a partner network.

- How do you select your employees?

- It is interesting that swop markets were opened by my employees and clients. For example, the Sochi swop market was opened by Svetlana Ardasheva who was one of the first visitors to the first Izhevsk swop market. In 2019, she moved from Udmurtia to Sochi. The topic of moving to another city is also interesting. It was difficult for her to transport all the things, and this was useless. And she had huge bags of unnecessary things accumulated over the years. Her size and taste have already changed, so, her clothes have gone out of fashion. But she didn’t feel like throwing them away, because she brought some things even from America. Many things were with tags - she just didn’t wear them. She told she felt a real relief after giving her clothes to the swop market. She wanted to bring them to the exact place where they would be definitely used by someone. As a result, among other things, she bought a brand dress for ‘swops’ at the price of 26 thousand roubles. This dress became her most expensive and favourite one.

- It turns out that you can travel light to Sochi?

- Recently, a married couple from Krasnoyarsk arrived in Sochi for their vacation. They hoped to enjoy a warm weather, but it was snowing in the resort city and was very cold due to the humid climate. As for outerwear, they had leather jackets only. They bought down-padded jackets at the swop market, and later on, they handed them over to the swop market, because they have a lot of warm clothes at home. Thanks to the swop market, now you can fly to the main resort city of the country with your hand luggage, taking only underwear and a swimsuit with you, and you can buy everything else at the Sochi’s swop market and return the things at the end of your vacation journey and fly away light full of impressions and experiences, not things.

- The cost of renting the premises is 95 thousand roubles per month (except the utility bills). What is the benefit of the project?

- The benefit is obvious. Firstly, the swop service is paid, and secondly, things are not only exchanged, but also sold. As practice shows, this is in the 50:50 ratio.

- What are the prospects for the development of the Sochi’s swop market?

- We already have a swop-taxi that can be called to hand over things, including for processing. We even accept shorts and socks. The main requirement is that all things should be clean. The plans are to open a collection point in the centre of the resort сity and install swop containers for collecting clothes and textiles near residential buildings. Moreover, the ‘swops’ can be given for things remotely. It will be enough to take a picture with a thing near the swop container. We also plan to recycle cotton fabrics to make cloths and rags used for cleaning purposes, and we send mixed fabrics to Krasnodar, where they are crushed into fine fibers to obtain technical cotton wool used for stuffing mattresses, toys, and also for making rags for washing floors. Every last Sunday of the month, people can take things for free at the swop market. Also, those in difficult straits can come to us to take some things. We cooperate with charity foundations and are engaged in the environmental education. We also arrange ‘visits to the place’. For example, we can go to a working place of a group of 20 people. They can bring unnecessary things to their office, hand the things over to us and receive ‘swops’.

- Your background is economy and marketing. How did you decide to get involved in the environmental education?

- Our thoughtless behaviour associated with the mass consumption of things can affect the world around us. Do you remember that designer Stella McCartney made a video of her collection of clothes’ promotion on the background of a mountain of rubbish? Soon, such scenery may become our reality. I came to understanding this after working in senior positions in marketing and sales at large international companies. But now, over time, I have changed my worldview and I position myself rather as an anti-marketer. The transition to responsible consumption is neither a fantasy, nor a whim, it is not a fashion or a hype. This is the reality, to which we must come. In 2015, the UN Assembly signed a declaration that by 2030, we should achieve goals related to social life and the environment. Much needs to be done. Such tight deadlines are due to the fast world development. Otherwise, the footprint we make on the planet due to our comfortable life will cause damage to the next generations. First of all, we are talking about clean air and clean water. It is in our power to do something, because the oceans are the ‘lungs’ of our planet. Many have heard of the ‘garbage island’ as the ‘seventh continent’.

- What we can do?

- At first, it is enough, at least, to pay attention to the quality of things. The impact of the textile industry on the environment ranks second in the world after the oil industry’s impact. We talk a lot about separate garbage collection, but do not pay attention to the main thing. Meanwhile, huge natural resources are used to produce and dispose textiles. Leather and fur are the most environmentally unfriendly materials, and synthetic materials are made from petroleum products and are practically microplastic materials, which - when we wear these things - get into our body, and when we wash them, they get into the sewage systems and then into the rivers and oceans. Microplastic materials consist of small particles and they absorb toxins like a sponge. Microplastic materials were found in 73 percent of living things, including fish. Scientists have found microplastic particles in the placenta of pregnant women. They may contain chemicals that can damage the fetus’s immune system when it is developing.