New York City, swap, shopping, retail

Swapping is being taken to new heights this April, with what’s billed as the first “swappable department store” coming to New York City.

In a partnership announced today, Global Fashion Exchange is teaming with Walker Hotel — in its newly opened TriBeCa location — for its “SwapAteria” experience running April 22 to 30 from noon to 7 p.m. daily.

The experience is open to guests as well as the public to encourage swapping as a sustainable consumption behavior — a practice commonly relegated to more informal methods.

In each room or “swap closet,” there will be curated vintage collections and secondhand items from brands such as Gypsy Sport, Maison Murasaki, The Canvas, Now for Tomorrow, Carmen Gama and Carolina Bedoya: Make Aneew, among others.

GFX is being supported by the Council of Fashion Designers of America, Brooklyn Style Foundation, New York Fair Trade Association and Fashion Revolution in the project, which includes a takeover of the second floor of the Walker Hotel TriBeCa (nearly 20 rooms in all).

“Our partnership with Walker Hotels is our first hotel partnership and furthers our mission to bring swapping to the masses, offering a unique opportunity to change how we engage with fashion,” said Patrick Duffy, founder of GFX.

The activation is powered by a real-time tracking system called the SwapChain, a blockchain-enabled data source in collaboration between tech platform Lablaco and GFX that shows the history of each garment featured in the closets. Guests are encouraged to sign up with a free account ahead of time. For goods swapped, guests will receive a token taking into account item condition, retail price and craftsmanship. The token serves as currency for the swap and can be used for another item of equal value and swapped within the duration of the SwapAteria’s session. Items originally valued up to $149 earns one token, $150 to $499 earns two tokens, while $500 to $1,000 earns three tokens.

Brand is not king, as the SwapChain goods are still graded by human eye in real-time, aiming to level artisan goods with heavily marketed brands in an effort to “dismantle value.”

But Duffy offered reassurance — “You’re not going to go into Bruce [Weldyn]’s closet and swap a T-shirt for a Balenciaga bag. There’s levels there.”

“As a retailer I thrive to drive full-price sales. Margin is priority, and to protect margin you have to present the dream and sell the dream,” said Bruce Weldyn, a seasoned store director for the likes of David Yurman and Gucci. He is setting up a swap shop with an all-black theme since the color dominates his wardrobe. “I would like to walk away from this event at the Walker with a full understanding and recommendations to retailers of how to successfully pair full-price sales with fashion sustainability.”

How does a boutique Art Deco hotel chain get into swapping in such a big way — handing over the keys to several rooms that can be reconfigured at each artist’s discretion? The choice is a push for sustainability and “experience-driven hospitality,” in the words of Atit Jariwala, founder and chief executive officer of Bridgeton Holdings (Walker Hotel TriBeCa, Walker Hotel Greenwich Village, Marram Montauk).

SwapAteria is one of many new Earth Month initiatives to get Walker Hotel guests excited again after the lull of the pandemic (in which the chain’s Greenwich Village location was closed for months from March to summer). The hotel chain is also doing activations like a locals-led city tour highlighting community members and essential workers, a creatives meet-and-greet and custom in-room CBD.

“We definitely are really excited about this [SwapAteria partnership] right now, and we’d like to continue it, maybe even change up the hotels in different locations,” said Jariwala, who reached out to Duffy with the suggestion after they were introduced, inviting him to stay in the Walker during SwapAteria’s build-out, which is still underway.

Already, designers and consulting firms are questioning what comes after simply selling stuff. Ultimately, the experience aims to support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in an effort to educate consumers about sustainable fashion and fair trade — anything else, as Duffy said, is extra fodder for experimentation.

Having pulled off swaps at London Fashion Week and the first “swap shop” in New York at The Canvas — Duffy feels he’s meeting the moment for swapping.

“Forever, I’ve been banging on the door for swapping and sustainability.…As soon as we added the data component, the [SwapChain] — that’s when things started to take off,” said Duffy who believes SwapAteria, although experimental in nature, could become a “blueprint for retailers in the future.”

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