Sep 24, 2023 - News

Valhalla Resale, Tampa Bay clothing swaps are fresh takes on secondhand shopping trend

Illustration of a clothes hanger resembling a recycling icon

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Buying new clothes? That's so last season.

Driving the news: Buying and trading used clothing — whether at thrift stores, clothing swaps or online via sites such as Depop or Poshmark — is on the rise, and it's not slowing down anytime soon.

Why it matters: Between the fashion industry's massive carbon footprint and the billions of pounds of used textiles thrown away by consumers each year, our relationship with clothes comes at a steep cost to the environment.

State of play: Tampa Bay has long had donation-based thrift stores. Shops like Avalon Exchange and Revolve St. Pete offer cash or store credit for clothes, and the selection of items has a more curated, boutique feel.

Yes but: More recently, some enterprising locals have brought fresher takes to the secondhand fashion trend.

  • Valhalla Resale, which began in Seminole Heights and opened its second location last year in St. Petersburg, offers a clothing rental program.
  • Subscribers can rent up to three pieces of clothing, selected from the store's vast stock of secondhand pieces.

Plus: St. Pete Clothing Exchange coordinates monthly clothing swaps with donated items available for free. The network began a few years ago among friends and last year launched as a Facebook group that's now up to nearly 2,000 members.

  • A clothing swap is exactly what it sounds like: You take your unwanted clothes, meet up with a group of people and trade them around.

Zoom out: The exchanges are everywhere these days, whether in living rooms with a group of friends or as more formalized events. One swapper based in Los Angeles created an online platform called Swap Society.

Zoom in: Brooke St. Arnold organized the first St. Pete event for a friend who had left behind most of her wardrobe in leaving an abusive relationship. "I had so much left over that I was like, 'I should just save this and do another one,'" St. Arnold, 28, told Axios.

  • She advertised on social media, and "it really just blew up." Events are now held the second Sunday of each month at The Mad Monk art gallery.

What they're saying: "You realize how much we do not lack as a society," co-organizer Brittany Rowlett, 29, said. A fashion lover, she used to spend a couple hundred dollars a week buying new clothes. Now, "I don't remember the last time I bought any clothing."

The bottom line: "It's totally unnecessary to have fast fashion," St. Arnold said. "There is enough clothing out there that nobody should have to buy anything ever again."

A woman taking a mirror selfie next to racks of clothing.
Kathryn browsing the racks at Valhalla Resale's St. Petersburg location. Photo: Kathryn Varn/Axios

Test Drive: Valhalla Resale

I love fashion — probably too much. I'm a huge thrifter, both in store and on Instagram, where direct-to-consumer secondhand sellers hold court. (My favorite local Instagram accounts are The Kosmic Kham and Golden Trash.)

Driving the news: With that vice in mind, I decided to try out Valhalla Resale to see how renting felt. For $49 a month, members can take up to three pieces of clothing at a time and change out items as many times as they want.

State of shop: Owner Danielle Ferrari had been working in civil construction for a decade when she decided to start her own business. Her initial idea was an Airbnb for tools — users could offer up, say, their lawnmower for another user to borrow.

  • Without knowing how to program, she left that idea behind. She started researching what it would take to open a clothing shop and learned how much fashion goes to waste. "That was the 'Aha!' moment," Ferrari told Axios.
  • Valhalla has grown to 100 members in Tampa (it was 150 before COVID, Ferrari said) and about 50 members in St. Pete.

The vibe: Visiting the shop gave me the same thrill of the hunt I get from thrifting. It also offers personal styling, so Ferrari had a rack of picks (and a glass of sparkling wine) waiting for me when I got there, based on an online questionnaire that took about 10 minutes.

  • I ended up taking home two of her picks — a pair of navy wide-leg mesh pants and a light blue Everlane shift dress. My third item was a reversible printed wrap skirt I grabbed off the rack.

I liked the dress and skirt so much that I was ready to fall back on old habits and buy them. Valhalla offers 20% off the purchase price for members.

Yes, but: I didn't have time to make it back to the shop for another few weeks, and that turned out to be a good thing. The "new clothes!" shine wore off, and I was ready to relinquish the dress and pants to try some other items.

Meanwhile, I kept the skirt. Valhalla lets you hang onto a piece of clothing for as long as you want. The skirt is perfect for a music festival I'm going to next month, and that's where I think Valhalla really shines.

  • The option to rent clothes for a special occasion, like a wedding or concert, is super helpful.
  • Ferrari said the shops got especially busy before last month's Beyoncé show in Tampa, and business usually picks up around Halloween.
A woman in wide-leg navy pants and a gray top taking a mirror selfie in a dressing room next to a rack of clothes.
The navy pants. They were so comfy! Photo: Kathryn Varn/Axios

The best part? Valhalla handles the laundry, which is also done with sustainability in mind. Ferrari uses Sans Market to refill detergent and installed a filter to collect microplastics so they don't end up in Tampa Bay.

Of note: Based on my perusal, the sizes ranged from 00/XS to 16/XL. The shops accept and sell only women's clothing.

The verdict: The shop's motto — "Limitless Closet. Endless Possibilities." — sums up the appeal well. I'm hanging onto the membership for at least another month to find some more music festival outfits.

  • And maybe, just maybe, spending more time renting will help me kick my buying habit. My overflowing closet would thank me.
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