MIAMI — Kelly Trella has found a way to get rid of her 2-year-old son's old clothes: She swaps them.
Trella was looking for a way to clear out her basement when she stumbled upon a magazine article about thredUP, a children's clothes swapping website. She signed up and has been swapping gently used clothes from her Meriden, Conn., home ever since.
"Its cost-effectiveness is terrific. It's really great to have an opportunity to share with folks around the country," she said.
ThredUP launched in mid-April and now has 15,000 members with another 1,000 being added each week. Founder and CEO James Reinhart says the Cambridge, Mass.-based company is trying to attract parents who are buying back-to-school clothes, which, he says, is one of the largest one-shot expenditures for families during the year.
That thredUP even exists is surely driven by the economy, but there are other ways to swap clothes.
The national retail chain Once Upon A Child sells new and gently used products. These days people who once only dropped off clothes are buying them, too, said Dawn Weston, owner of the franchise in Brandon, Fla.
"More people are being conservative. They are being conscious of what they spend," she said. "They didn't have to worry about it before. They still want their kids to have those really nice things, but they don't have the bucks to do it."
Online back-to-school swapping was a natural extension of clothing rental sites for grown-ups. At renttherunway.com, a $1,050 Herve Leger dress can be rented for $150, "to give every woman in American access to this Cinderella experience," said co-founder and CEO Jennifer Hyman. Expectant mothers can rent a pretty dress at RentMaternityWear.com.
ThredUP partnered with a Boston charity Cradles to Crayons to give $1 from every swap to the charity to help clothe children and buy them school supplies.
The site sends 10 empty post office boxes to each customer. The customer browses the website for boxes of clothing. Once a box is found, the customer pays $13 for shipping and the box is sent to them by whoever currently has it. The customer then agrees to list a box of clothing and they're notified when someone picks it so they can send it off.
Swappers can choose what boxes of items interest them based on variables such as gender, size and season. There are no photos of the clothing, so decisions are pretty much based on brands and descriptions.
"The first box I got, I paid $13 total and I got 13 shirts. No stains. No tears. Yeah, they have gone through the wash a couple times," Trella said.
Trella said her son goes to day care full time, so she wants clothes that can get dirty, and the price is right.
"You are only shelling out a small amount of money," she said. "You are giving and you are getting. It's a nice to share."
The basic membership to the site is free; premium is $29.99. The company relies on customer reviews to weed out the people who are giving clothing that is in bad condition.
Redbook Deputy Executive Editor Melanie Mannarino said there is an element of trust involved for the people who use the site. The magazine featured the site in its August issue.
"It's almost friendly and neighborly," she said.
The risk is whether other people will have the same taste in clothing as you do, she said. But, it's not as limited as shopping at garage sales and thrift stores.
Mannarino said the site shows a shift in the American mentality toward saving and conserving.
"Now these clothes are going to go to somebody else who can use them," she said.