This is Bernadette. She is a force of nature: the mother of four, an author, a maker, a thrifter, an idea generator, a community creator, a speaker, a teacher, an extreme extrovert and a connector of people. She loves creating opportunities for people to pause and ponder and make and connect with their own ideas and with the people all around them.
One of her latest projects is The Prom Swap and Free Shop, April 6 at McCallum High School in Austin. This is the third clothes swap Bernadette has organized at the school through the Friends of McCallum Students, a group of parents who provide support to the school’s Social Service Specialist, Brooke Anderson, and the students and families she serves. This support might include bus passes, referrals to nonprofits for clothing, grocery store gift cards, emergency financial assistance, etc.
Initially Bernadette approached Brooke about helping out with the in-school clothes closet, which is there for kids who need garments of any kind. “The problem with the closet is that there was some stigma attached to going in there,” says Bern. “I proposed the swap as a way to destigmatize secondhand clothing and as a way to build community within the school.” The swaps are a way for kids and parents to get “new” outfits without spending a dime and to feel satisfaction in seeing their own things used by others. “It’s a great feeling when someone chooses something that you had and maybe even loved. It brings people together starting with a very simple exchange.”
These are more than just clothes swaps; they’re community-building events. Bernadette calls on her army of friends and fellow makers/crafters, who set up screen printing and sewing stations for restyling, altering and embellishing clothes, making the process fun and letting the kids create their own styles. “Restyle the dress. Cut off the pants. Embellish the jacket. Shorten the sleeves. Make it exactly as YOU like.”
Bernadette organized her first school swaps with another parent at Zilker Elementary School in response to Texas’ tax-free shopping day. “We felt, and still feel, that tax-free day and back-to-school marketing really try to convince people that their kids NEED new stuff and that they have to buy it new, sometimes even beyond their means. It also feels like if you don’t comply, your kids will be the only ones without new stuff. But there’s already so much stuff. Let’s use some of what’s out there. Let’s share it.” She helped run the Zilker swap for seven years, and at its peak it had over 500 attendees from the greater Austin community. In May Bernadette will be bringing the clothes swap concept to Maker Faire Austin with the Switch and Stitch, which might be the biggest clothing swap in the history of Austin.
Bernadette hopes the high school swap will help students see the abundance of what already exists and experience the joy of sharing. “I want them to get in the habit of sharing what they have – not just things but ideas too, because sharing ideas is where collaboration comes from. I want them to feel part of a community and to see that we are stronger and more abundant together. Without community and connection we can have all the riches in the world but feel empty inside.” She wants parents to learn the same thing.
Does that sound like a lot from a simple clothes swap? Maybe it is, but Bernadette thinks it holds all of this and more.