Popswap founder Lin Kowalska
Photo: mïch bondulïch

How this Stockholm innovator is fighting fast fashion with a killer app

The impact makers of Stockholm. By Invest Stockholm

Today, for anyone under a certain age, it has become almost second nature to swipe right or left to indicate a like or dislike. First popularised by dating apps like Tinder, it’s this easy-to-grasp format that makes Popswap so instantly appealing.

The clothes-swapping app invites users to virtually share their wardrobes and trade garments or accessories they no longer wear. If the “like” is mutual, a match is made and the users arrange to exchange the items. It’s a simple solution to some of the environmental issues stemming from fast fashion and a free way for the fashion-conscious to keep their style fresh without spending a penny.

“I had the idea that there should be a way to digitise our wardrobes so that we could see what each other has, and then find an easy way to trade items,” says Popswap founder Lin Kowalska. “The Popswap vision is to make fashion last longer. Currently, we only use 20 to 40 percent of what we own. The most sustainable wardrobe is a wardrobe you use. This way, clothes get new life cycles, people aren’t buying new clothes, and what has already been produced is being used.”

Launched in August 2020, Popswap already has its first influx of users hooked. While marketing efforts have initially focused on the Swedish market, the app is available worldwide with users across the globe organically finding and downloading it. Almost 80 percent of people who swapped in the first month came back to swap again in the second and, what’s more, friendships based on mutual taste are forming out of this fledgling fashion-oriented community.

“Popswap is mainly a community,” says Lin. “Fashion is such a big part of your identity and the way you express yourself; when we have done interviews with users they tell us that they are meeting ‘style twins’ and becoming really good friends with each other.”

Inspiration and education

Educating this community about sustainable consumption is a big part of the Popswap mission. It’s among the reasons that Lin was a recipient of last year’s Stockholm Innovation Scholarship, a coveted award that includes a 100,000 SEK grant and innovation coaching from business developer Almi.

From the very beginning, the team has maintained close contact with the users and continuously uses their feedback to develop a platform that meets their specific needs. They soon discovered that users aren’t just seeking ways to update their wardrobe but also practical advice for taking better care of the clothes they already own. Brands are ever-present in the pre-purchase phase, Lin says, but thereafter the communication abruptly ends. It’s here that Popswap intends to take over.

“This is all about being present in the usage phase and helping the consumers to make better use of their clothes. We’re planning to integrate inspiration and knowledge into the app, educating people about how to reuse, repair, and remake their clothes. We’re developing a fashion calendar at the moment, so people can see what they use and don’t use. For instance, if you haven’t worn a pair of jeans for three months, maybe you should remake or repair them, or the time has come to swap them for something you will use. What you like and use, you have in your private wardrobe, what you don’t like or use, you can make available to the community.”

To support this mission, Lin recently launched Fashion Goals Academy as a way to instil more sustainable habits in Sweden’s younger population. The digital platform offers a series of 12 free lectures on sustainable fashion and consumption for school-aged students, delivered by a mix of fashion and environmental experts. To date, 100 schools have signed up and are planning to start the course in the new school year. Together, the course and app work in symbiosis to encourage and inspire the next generation to have better consumption behaviour.

The final piece of the puzzle, Lin concludes, is for the industry to join forces with sustainable fashion initiatives like Popswap and together find new ways to tackle the environmental fallout of fast fashion.

“Since we launched Popswap, the industry has become more willing and open-minded to collaborate and explore new income streams that aren’t solely based on selling newly produced clothes. We need to find these solutions together. The most exciting thing happening right now is that the industry, business, and people are collaborating to become an active part of the solution.”

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