A long, red scrap of cloth and an old mirror wrapped in lights comprised the red-carpet centerpiece for an event Saturday, Feb. 15, that exemplified the Durham Scrap Exchange’s mission of creative reuse — the Swap-O-Rama-Rama.
In return for a suggested donation of $10 and their own bag of old clothes, participants could peruse rows of clothing and shoes, then visit do-it-yourself stations to bedazzle, sew or paint their found items, all in one big room at the Lakewood Shopping Center.
“Part of the reason we have so much stuff is we live in this consumer society, and we are trained to be consumers,” said Ann Woodward, executive director at the Scrap Exchange.
“So this is really an alternative to thinking that way. There’s a lot of lessons in this activity.”
Liz Mahanna and Katherine Bliss played ultimate frisbee together several years ago. Now, they make crafts all the time from all kinds of mediums, including copper jewelry, glass art and pottery. That’s what brought the two of them and Mahanna’s daughter, Sky, to the swap.
“We love swaps,” Mahanna said. “We used to be part of a group that put on an art show once a year to raise money for local community nonprofits, so we’d make a lot of stuff for that, and now we just make stuff randomly, when the urge strikes.”
She said she’d heard about the event in an email and thought she and Sky would make a day of it.
“I’m going to be swapping, (Sky) might be decorating something later,” she said. “I love passing clothes around and not buying new stuff. I love recycling.”
Attendee David Goodman said he and his partner, Greg Palmer, are costuming enthusiasts. Goodman bought Palmer a sewing machine for Christmas knowing his love for the fashion design reality series Project Runway. Now, Palmer takes sewing classes at the Scrap Exchange, where the two have shopped often in the past.
At the swap, Goodman found a Russian soldier’s cap, among other items, and marched down the runway wearing it.
“It’s a great place to recycle stuff from around the house,” he said.
This swap was the Scrap Exchange’s eighth Swap-O-Rama-Rama. Employees, board members and volunteers hosted the first one at the Durham Armory in May 2009. The original swap had county funding that paid to make it a large, lively event with a marching band.
The national model for the Swap-O-Rama-Rama was created by Wendy Tremayne, a yoga instructor and philosophy teacher. Swaps are now held worldwide in more than 100 cities, according to Tremayne’s website.
“The coolest thing is to be able to bring items that you no longer need and walk away with a couple of really cool things that you’re excited about,” said Heather Cashwell, who serves on the board of the Scrap Exchange and works on recycling programs for the state of North Carolina. “It’s saving resources, exchanging materials.”
In addition to clothing tables and do-it-yourself stations, Saturday’s swap featured local pianist Ronnie Capps and Girl Scout cookie sellers from local Troop 1621.
Another special touch was the swap’s Mardi Gras table. Attendees could start working on their costumes for use on the March holiday. Cathy Kielar, a board member at the Scrap Exchange, said she’s helping organize the Durham Mardi Gras event that will take place on March 4. Kielar said she’s participated in at least four Swap-O-Rama-Ramas in the past.
“(At a swap) you have unlimited resources in a way. Your imagination just gets totally stoked,” she said. “So you go, ‘Oh, I could put this with this, and make this!’ We’re all creative, if we’re in the right environment and we stop the mind talk of telling ourselves we’re not.”
Though the Scrap Exchange has held swaps before, this one was a mile marker for the organization.
The building that once housed the Lakewood Cinema will be the new home of the Scrap Exchange as soon as the organization plans how it will adapt to the new space. Woodward said that would hopefully happen by the end of 2014.
“We have spent 15 years on facility issues,” she said. “We have done a lot of due diligence looking at facilities and figuring out what we needed, knowing that we want to own a building.”
She said the 22-year-old organization has had a total of three previous locations: in Northgate Mall, in the Liberty Warehouse, and in its current location. The move to the warehouse was an upgrade until the warehouse roof collapsed in 2011.
The $5,875 monthly rent for the current location at 923 Franklin St. is $1,000 more expensive than the monthly mortgage for the new location.
“It’s a thousand square feet more on 2.4 acres, and we own it,” she said. “We can do whatever we want here — so watch out!”
Rebecca Currie, the Scrap Exchange’s finance manager, said the organization will evolve in the transition to the new space.
“We’ve been limited in the past by being in a space that someone else owned that we could only do so much to; we had to work with what it is,” she said. “And now we have this possibility to really make it what we want it to be.”
Currie said the organization will work on the move with BuildSense, a Durham-based architecture and planning business.
“We know it’s going to be a long-term process, so they’re going to get everybody together, talk about what we like about our space, what we need, what we want and then help us imagine it,” she said.
In the bigger picture, the Swap-O-Rama-Rama is only one part of the Scrap Exchange’s Capital Campaign that seeks to raise $5 million for the organization.
Scrap Exchange Capital Campaign committee member Libby Richards said the money would be used for job creation, increased capacity for activities and classes and adding to the organization’s endowment fund.
After having known friends at the Scrap Exchange for more than 10 years, Jim Kellough said it’s even more than a place to get creative — though for the swap, he dressed in a brightly colored costume with an orange plastic beak.
“It’s my social club,” he said. “It’s a venue that’s open to anything anybody wants to do, if a person has a nutty idea. In comparison to other arts institutions, it’s much more open.”
Employee Kyle Knight said his work processing donations at the Scrap Exchange is a dream job.
“Everybody that works there is completely family, and everyone that comes in is truly inspiring,” he said.
“You never know what’s going to come in, you never know who’s going to come in, you never know what conversation you’re going to have with who. It’s never a dull moment.”
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Edited by Andy Bradshaw
Video by Kaitlyn Knepp