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12 x 12 at Donkey Wheel House

Shopping Melbourne
12 x 12 at Donkey Wheel House

Time Out says

This cluster of socially conscious retailers is a 12-step guide to ethical buying

Virtuous things are happening at the bottom of Bourke Street. Just across from Southern Cross Station is Donkey Wheel House: a turn-of-the-century building of red brick and gothic arches. Its five levels were once all used by the Melbourne Tramway and Omnibus Company, but these days, it’s a beacon of good ideas. Purchased in 2008 by Donkey Wheel Charitable Trust, it’s made up of organisations bent on making a difference: volunteer-run Kinfolk Café, communal workspace HUB Melbourne, and youth homelessness group STREAT. Now there’s a new addition to the family: a retail space with a heart of gold.

12 x 12 is Melbourne’s first shopping precinct dedicated to housing socially conscious brands. The idea for the project came from Hugo Lamb of consultancy company Pop Union – a group leading the rise of pop-up retail. The space showcases 12 Australian and international brands which will rotate every 12 weeks. From vintage fashion to homewares, accessories and bedding, 12 x 12 feels like a high-end artisan market.

“Ultimately they’ve got to be a business which is about creating a purpose,” explains Lamb. Follow Donkey Wheel House’s creaky ground floor corridor until you reach a clean, open space – all glass panels and timber flooring. Hanging on the walls are soft bamboo-made garments by Ettitude, vegan leather satchels by MRKT and cute homewares by not-for-profit group In the Click, who assist people with disabilities to find meaningful jobs. Fittingly, they share shelf space with vinyl records from Discrepancy: an Australian company that employs some of In the Click’s clients.

And the neat stack of toilet paper rolls in the corner? They’re from Who Gives a Crap?: a group dedicated to improving sanitation in developing countries. Racks of vintage dresses are courtesy of Dear Gladys, a brand that supports Fitted for Work in their mission to help disadvantaged women find employment.

“We understand what it’s like to be a start-up,” says Lamb. “It’s not easy to have the money to pay rent in a CBD space like this, and that’s why we’re making its communally achievable.” Donkey Wheel Trust has reduced running costs significantly, and of course, rent is divided by 12.

So who’s next to the pop-up party? “I’ve got a hit list of nearly 200 businesses, and by July, we’ll have an online store, too,” says Lamb. “I hate spending money on stuff that is meaningless. When you know you’re bought something meaningful, you’ll hold it more dearly.” The pop-up revolution is here, Melbourne – and it’s the nice guys who are leading the way.

By: Rose Johnstone



Address: Donkey Wheel House, Ground Fl
673 Bourke St
Transport: Nearby stations: Southern Cross
Opening hours: Mon-Fri 11am-6pm; Sat 11am-4pm
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