‘Bringing a piece of history’: Vintage clothing stores find growing market

Australian Letters is a weekly newsletter from our Australia office. Register to get it by email. This week’s issue is written by Manan Luthraan intern in the Australian office.

Until recently, I never realized how dull my wardrobe was. I did a bit of acting in my spare time and was booked for a project that required me to find my own costumes. I don’t think too much of this claim – low-budget films often require actors to wear what they have – but the guide to finding something “bright, colorful and unbranded” proves difficult.

Looking through my wardrobe, I realize that most of my clothes are monochrome, pastel colors or embroidered with logos. I can’t find anything suitable that I like in stores near me. In an act of half-credibility, I decided that what I needed wasn’t something new. It’s something old.

And so I traveled to Newtown, a Sydney suburb known for its quirky retail stores and countless thrift stores, in search of vibrant, unbranded and vintage fashion. .

In Newtown, there are too many clothing stores to count. The main street of the suburbs is dominated by lots of trendy vintage boutiques and you won’t miss them. Those stores sell everything from 1960s military jackets to vintage cowboy boots to dusty Mexican ponchos. Distinction shops have been part of Newtown’s cultural identity for decades, so I knew I could find the outfit I was looking for there.

Entering the first store I saw, Fabrique Vintage, I was blown away. The single-story space is small, but every conceivable surface has items for sale. Customers are drawn in by the colorful pants and t-shirts on each shelf, the white shoes on the store’s floor, and the vibrant coats hanging on the walls.

I asked some other Fabrique shoppers why vintage fashion appeals to them. Some people said they buy antiques because they enjoy learning about the history of a garment. Others like that an item can be rare, or that they appreciate nostalgia. Many people simply say that they prefer old clothes “because they look good”.

While ‘op shops’ that sell donations or charity items have been around for decades in Australia, commercial shops dedicated to antiques only started gaining popularity about 10 years ago, mainly in the cultural centers of the state capitals. Vintage shops first catered to older Europeans abroad, but today’s stores sell to a much more diverse clientele.

Most of the clothing comes from outside Australia. Ruth Hannan, who co-founded the Sydney-based vintage wholesale company French Fripe with her husband, Jon Orblin, said they got their order from Eureka Fripe, a partner company based in Normandy, France. . In turn, Eureka Fripe receives her clothes from suppliers around the globe, who receive pants, tops and other items as charitable donations.

“We regularly receive up to 600 kg of stock, which we repair, clean and price before sending it to the customer,” says Hannan. “A lot of work is done to produce something that can be sold. Only about 10 to 15 percent of what we offer are hard-to-find, good quality items.

“We still sell the rest of the stock, but it may need to be converted,” she said. “For example, a hoodie with holes in the bottom can easily become a crop top.”

Hannan and Orblin also operate two vintage retail stores in Newtown, with plans to open two more in Melbourne later this year.

“Since 2012, our operations have grown between 25 and 50 percent annually,” said Hannan. “In general, we do at least 50 times more business today than we did 10 years ago.”

Demand continues during the pandemic, she said, on both the retail and wholesale side. “When we reopened after locking the door, the number of people wanting to buy something when they went to one of our stores was twice as many as before the lockdown.”

Australia’s vintage fashion scene is driven by two factors: who wholesalers can source from other markets and what’s trending in Australian fashion at the moment. Hannan said designer clothing – particularly Nike and Adidas jackets and shirts with the Harley-Davidson logo – has always sold strongly in Australia, unlike in much of Europe, where specific brands are fast. quickly become out of fashion.

Melody Zeng, regional manager of Hannan’s retail stores, believes the appeal of vintage fashion lies in its sustainability and history.

“Environmental awareness certainly plays an important role in the appeal of vintage clothing,” says Zeng. “People now ask themselves why would they spend money on cheap and harmful fast fashion, especially when other better quality options exist.

“It is also to wear a piece of history. It is not difficult to know when a certain item was made, or the general area from which it came. When you add that kind of soul to something, it comes alive.”

Hannan and Zeng say the Australian vintage market is too young and unidentified, but they have said jackets are on trend. That guide was enough for me.

Seeing a purple and blue sports jacket – the kind of thing a ’90s NBA star or “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” -era Will Smith would wear – I recognized the “soul” that Zeng talk about. The jacket is heavily creased and has some well-camouflaged stains, but it does attract attention. You know it has a story to tell.

Although the film I was supposed to wear was abandoned after losing funding, it led me to a coat and an interesting story to tell. I look forward to making a proper debut with friends and family.

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