It’s a situation we’ve all found ourselves in: We have a vacant studio space in Brooklyn, but what we really need are German lessons. Common capitalism has a circuitous solution: Rent the studio, use the money to hire a tutor. But what if there were no monetary middle man? That’s the model behind OurGoods, a new barter network for New York creative types that helps users trade the skills or stuff they have for the ones they seek.
“I’ve traded my work dress for my personal website, for a photo shoot, fencing gear, laundry access, research assistance, and designer bike attachments,” says co-founder Caroline Woolard. Woolard sees a huge benefit to skipping cash for strapped but skilled artists—and to the conversation that goes with pricing a dress in terms of epées. “Barter asks both parties to talk about value.”
The site was launched by three partners from Trade School, a barter-for-instruction pop-up academy that ran for 35 days on the Lower East Side last winter (Woolard says it will be opening again, and for longer, this year). The OurGoods model—though it also includes live barter sessions—is structured for self-service, tailored trades. Users toggle between two main columns, “We have” and “We need,” and can filter for objects, skills, and spaces. A recent search spotted everything from kimchee pancake lessons (had) to bolts of satin (needed).
Importantly, these swaps aren’t happening in a vacuum. “All ‘needs’ are contextualized within ‘projects’ so people get to know why you need the thing you need,” Woolard says. That’s in keeping with the community focus of the project, which simultaneously keeps it honest—bad barter partners can be rated down—and ups the social capital. Because doesn’t money really mean not needing to talk? “When cash is removed, discussion is key.”
Photo: Caroline Woolard's often bartered self-designed work dress, courtesy of OurGoods