Thought leader Tobias Schmidt asks some very good questions

On Nov 12, 2012, at 10:36 PM, Tobias Schmidt wrote:
Hello Ms Hughes
my name is Tobias, I’m a graduate student at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, and together with three classmates I am working on a research piece about the sharing economy (i.e. everything related to renting, re-using and of course: swapping). In our project (which is supported by the municipality of Vancouver) we try to relate all findings to the question how municipalities can support or accelerate the growth of the sharing economy. My part is to focus on the cities of Portland and New York, both having a good and innovative reputation concerning this topic.
While gathering information about existing initiatives in Portland I received the impression that you have become a representative of the sharing economy in Portland and gained some experience in talking about it. I thought that maybe you have some good ideas and insights about how to help the sharing economy in Vancouver and in general?

Wow, I’m honored.  Where did you learn about my involvement in the sharing economy – it’s always fun to see where people hear things.

You may also want to check out this article by Jeffrey Lynott of the Neighborhood Notes for a broader look into all of what’s going on in the Portland area when it comes to the sharing economy.
For these reasons I would really like to ask you these questions:
1) What is your general impression of the sharing economy in Portland?

I think Portland is ahead of the curve when it comes to the sharing economy.  I think part of that is because from what I understand Portland has many female business owners here, and many times women are on the cutting edge of discovering and implementing practical and positive ways to serve their communities.  I think sometimes men wait for accolades or money to be thrown at them before they move on things.  Whereas women get together and discuss “how can we make this work on a shoestring?”  I think women  – and Portlanders of both sexes – are braver to just jump out there and try something to see if it works.

Is it growing rapidly?

I can only speak from my experience with free swaps, but when I first started my swap several years ago I had 3 women show up.  By February of 2011 my swap database had reached 800+ women and it was becoming cumbersome to send out monthly emails, deal with correspondence, etc. (I do free swaps as a volunteer for fun, and am a busy mom and voice talent/co-owner of an audio production company to earn a living).  So I started up the Swap Positive website and listed a handful of other free swaps that were going on in the area. As of November 2012, free swaps have expanded to 16 regularly scheduled swaps, plus several additional one-time swaps that may become repeat swaps (we had the first ever Maternity swap earlier this month and there is a swap exclusively for women 50+ coming up next week)!   When Portlanders  become comfortable with a new concept (such as free swaps), they have no problem branching out to brand it their own.

2) Do you see barriers that hinder the growth of the sharing economy in Portland or success factors which helped it in the past?

Success factors include being very clear with what is expected, and having very simple rules to follow. If you make it too complicated, people don’t want to try to figure it out – they just won’t come.  It has to make sense.  I think having the remainders be donated to charities who will GIVE them away, not sell them, is a big draw…as is the idea that people are cleaning out things they aren’t using, and recycling them to people who CAN use them.  When the sharing economy is seen as people helping each other AND having fun, I think it’s more successful than say, creating a “haves and have-nots” cycle.  The have’s and have-nots cycle is what many non-profits currently do unwittingly – people that HAVE money or goods donate it to the HAVE NOTS.  It puts a definite us/them line in there.  No one wants to be a ‘HAVE NOT’.  With the sharing economy EVERYBODY is a ‘HAVE’.  We all have something good to bring to the table to share.  And we ALL are philanthropists, because the remainders are given away freely to those that can use them.  Everybody wins.  It’s more of a fun game you get to participate in…and you end up sometimes scoring some really neat stuff!

I think one of the barriers to begin with was people assumed that only ‘poor’ people went to free swaps.  At a free swap, you don’t know who just lost their job, or who just won the lottery – and no one cares – just bring something(s) to swap!  You can tell by the quality and wide variety that a lot of people have some great stuff to share.  One time a woman brought a full length fur coat because her ex  gave it to her, she never wore it, and just wanted it out of her house.  We all oohed and aahed over it, and then had a fashion show and voted on who it looked best on, and the ‘winner’ took it home with her.  Free swaps are this really fun camaraderie vibe.  I remember one swap had a lot of 80’s era clothes, which made some women roll their eyes and others about leap out of their skin with happiness.  You just never know what you’re going to get at a free swap, you need to come with an open mind and ready to play.  So another barrier might be for people who expect it to be like a department store – it’s NOT.  If you have something in mind you are looking for, you may or may not find it.  But you may end up going home with something you never in your wildest dreams thought you’d be able to get.  It’s 100% thrilling fun and entertainment.
3) Has Swap Positive received any help from the municipality of Portland?

Nope.  At least not yet.  Wanna talk to them for me?:)

If not, can you think of actions, polices or even regulations that could help your initiative and the overall sharing economy?

YES!  I would love to have community centers and senior centers all over Portland be free venues for local swaps!  The community centers could each decide what they wanted to swap:  Maybe one would feature tech equipment, another children’s toys/clothes, another might feature books.  Or maybe they’d choose to have a theme for each month.  Or maybe they’d be a straight ahead all-size family swap and include everyone and everything.  Each community center or senior center could decide.  I’d love it if swap locations and what they featured were listed on a local municipality website that could be easily searched by those in the community interested in swapping.  Then my dream would be to have non-profits pick up the swap remainders and GIVE them away to people in the community who maybe couldn’t make it to the swap (College students? Recent immigrants?  New parents?  The elderly?  Giving any clothing/fabric or non-working items to a quilting bee or crafting center to use for quilts or art projects?)   There would be no money changing hands, because people donated the items for free to swap, so it doesn’t make sense to make others PAY for what was given free.  It would be great to incorporate the skills of the community center members to help in the hosting and planning of the swap(s), possibly also involving local high schools/colleges/universities by giving unpaid internships to high school or college students so they could learn how to set up, advertise, and host free swaps for school or volunteer credit.

Hope this helps – good luck on your project!  If you could send me a link to your completed article, I’ll post it on the swap positive site at  I also have just started another blog to encourage thought leaders, and I’m including you there as well – check out  to see what you think.
Barb Hughes
P.S.  I look forward to posting Mr. Schmidt’s completed research report.

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