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Clothing Cooperatives
by Tammy Harrison

As a home-based working mom, I have chosen to sacrifice any career plans I envisioned in power suits, before having children, for a sweats and pink fuzzy slipper existence. I work full time for both my family and my businesses and often find myself wondering how my kids can be so irresponsible as to rip a hole in their new jeans the day after we bought them. Or run through a mud puddle with the $30 tennis shoes that Grandma sent. Or even wear three sets of clothes in one day and send them down the laundry chute after only wearing them for an hour? I decided I didn't necessarily want to take all of the fun out of being a kid so I began looking in other directions for an answer to the insanity.

With a little ingenuity, I formed a clothing cooperative in my neighborhood and with my church community. I didn't quit buying our children clothes but I did quit spending so much money on cheaply constructed attire that got worn for a month and then was ready for the rag pile.

The first thing I did was to make a list of my needs, as follows:

  • Play clothes

  • Church clothes

  • Quality

  • Price

  • Safety

My next step was to approach people who had children older or larger than my own to see if they were interested in forming a clothing exchange. We all agreed that we would not purchase inferior products and we would each allocate a clothing allowance every six months to replenish our closets. Once the ground rules were established, the cooperative was off and running.

We get together for a clothing swap and play group session once a month. All of my baby clothes go to the next in line and I receive an array of replacements from the baby down the street. We have a large used clothing store in town and once every six months it is my turn to walk the aisles and pick up clothes that any child in our cooperative can wear. That way, each of us adds inventory to our coffers. Usually, the members of the cooperative try to purchase good used clothing for the oldest or largest members of the group-whereby ensuring a hand-me-down in the near future!

In addition to just swapping clothes during our monthly get-together, we also take the time to process our worn out tatters and by cutting them up for use in braided rag rugs, cleaning bags and quilts. When we have enough scraps to make a rug or a quilt, we make it and give it to a member of our cooperative.

The only problem I've encountered is that my daughter is next in line to a little boy who likes to climb trees! Sometimes we find that none of the clothes he has outgrown are suitable for another child to wear. When that happens repeatedly over a period of time, we have to remind the boy's mother that in order to belong to the cooperative she has to pass on quality clothes. If her son ruins the clothes then she is responsible for extra replacements beyond the once every six month shopping spree.

Clothing cooperatives have salvaged me from near kids-clothes-induced-poverty and have given my children variety and good clothes to wear. It has also strengthened my relationship in my community and given me a nice warm quilt and also rug to wipe my shoes on when I come in the door!


Tammy Harrison is a wife, mother two four children and a passionate quilter. You can visit her website at BOMquilts.com or read her blog at QuiltTherapy.com.

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