This article was first published by Onya Magazine on 16th March 2013
The VIP launch of Wardrobe Weekender held on Thursday night as part of the L’Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival was an evening filled with chatter, bargains, buttons, bubbly and of course fashion.
Designed to challenge the traditional buy and sell retail model with its unique but simple ‘swap shop’ format, after attending one, I am already a convert.
Unsure of exactly what to expect, I climbed the narrow wooden stairs up to Captains of Industry in nervous anticipation. Kate Luckins, the brains behind The Clothing Exchange, greeted us warmly at the door where we were pointed towards the table to check in our garments.
The unique selling point of the Wardrobe Weekender and The Clothing Exchange is that you arrive with items you no longer wear and leave with new ones that you will. Ultimately each visitor acts as both the stockist and the customer. In my bag I have two items – a long silk purple dress that never really did fit right and a pair of wide woolen grey trousers – which are quality checked before being exchanged for two small cream-coloured buttons.
“Hang on to the buttons’, we’re told, “They’ll be your currency for the evening.” We’re also informed about the format of the evening and the rules – basically ‘play nice and no elbows’. Popping my buttons safely in my pocket and slightly confused about why I’d even need to use my elbows, I walk in and get my first proper view of the set-up.
The quirky venue of Captains of Industry certainly fits in with the novelty of the event. The brick walls are whitewashed, simple wooden fittings such as ladders and old photo frames serving as almost the only décor save for the old sewing machines and workman’s tools that line the walls. Even the bar remains an old shop counter, filled with shaving and shoe cleaning equipment. Through the windows is a great view of Bourke Street and Melbourne’s GPO. Closer inspection also reveals three small rooms. Tonight only two of them in are use – one housing the vintage clothing from United Archive and the other a communal changing room. By day all three are bustling as a cobbler’s workshop, hairdresser/barber and a suit tailoring business.
On one side are the local designers and boutiques, the only ‘new’ items for sale – graphic print leggings from Lydra, prints and stationary from The Hungry Workshop, jewellery from Dani M and sparkly vintage goodies from the Lala pop-up shop, as well as rail upon rail of vintage dresses and furs available for hire for the duration of the festival. Taking up the rest of the space are wooden clothes racks that will soon be full of clothes up for grabs.
With each new arrival, I have to look around the racks again to make sure I don’t miss out on anything. People are making full use of the changing rooms too, taking handfuls of items off the rails to try on. I pick up a few items on my rounds, before I catch sight of a sheer spotted blue tea dress. I try it on, it fits and I’m immediately filled with glee that I have managed to snag myself a great find. One button spent, one more to go.
I hang around the rack closest to the counter when I see new garments being hung up. I’m immediately drawn to a bright red jumper, my heartbeat quickens and I suddenly realise what the ladies meant about the use of elbows. I want that jumper. I need that jumper. I will do anything I have to to get my hands on that jumper. Luckily no-one else has spotted it yet and my elbows remain perfectly still by my side as I ask if I can have a look at it before its even been placed on the rail. It’s extremely soft and has tiny silver diamantes sewn around the collar. Slipping it on, I know it’s what I want my final button to be spent on.
Lara McPherson of Lala Productions, one of the event organisers, can’t speak more highly about The Clothing Exchange. Having been involved for the past few years, she finds it fantastic when she sees familiar faces coming back to each event.
“Sometimes they’ll even bring things they picked up at the last clothes exchange. It’s fantastic to see recycling in this way – and a great alternative to cleaning out your wardrobe of clothes that are too good to throw away or you don’t want to give to an op-shop.”
Events have also been held in Brisbane, Sydney, and Perth and as a regular event at the L’Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival for the past seven years.
At the end of the evening, I’m incredibly happy with my finds and shocked that they were essentially free. My initial hesitation has completely disappeared as I eagerly enquire about when the next one will be. Thankfully I’m promised there’ll be a few more this year – see you there!
Three Top Tips
- Loiter near the counter to ensure you get the first look at everything before it’s hung up on the rails for anyone to take
- Try everything on – like normal shopping, sometimes things look better on the hanger or vice versa. Don’t waste your buttons on something that doesn’t look or fit right.
- Your weekend pass allows you access to the event on both Saturday and Sunday, and your buttons can be used on either days. If you don’t see anything you like the first day, come back the next!