The meticulously colour-coded racks of second hand garments at Newtown’s Swop Clothing Exchange are heaven for any compulsively organised retro fashion fan. Swop is relatively new on the Inner West’s formidable retail scene, but the funky little store is offering something otherwise lacking among the area’s many vintage and second hand shops: a community marketplace where clothes are currency.
Sydneysiders can bring their unwanted retro, vintage and high quality on-trend clothes to Swop, in exchange for store credit or cold hard cash, at a respective 50 per cent and 25 per cent of its resale value. Friday is selling day, and you can cash-in one bag of seasonally appropriate clothes and accessories to fuel your next shopping and swapping spree at the store.
When you’re on the buying side of the counter, all the hard work of traipsing through sales at vintage stores and never-ending op-shop shelves has been done for you. Swop’s stock is curated by the people selling on their clothes, and then filtered for quality and enduring style by the fashionistas in charge of the store.
“It’s kind of like the best of all the best op-shops in one,” says Bethany Wicks, the colourful co-owner of Swop.
Alongside her business partner Bridget Gordon, Wicks developed the concept for the store based on similar models of clothing exchanges in America, and an unbridled addiction to pre-loved fashion.
“We’ve just stuck to what we know and love, and I think that’s part of our success.”
What they adore spans across four decades of fashion, from ’70s go-go mini dresses in neon floral prints to '80s leather bomber jackets, classic R.M. Williams boots, acres of colourful silk headscarves and even some early 2000s flares and tube tops. Since they steer away from high-end designer brands, you can nab most of these items for $20-$50. This is largely to keep stock flowing and fresh.
“We’re working on really high volumes and we want to keep buying each week,” says Wicks. “We don’t want be like – ‘sorry, we can’t buy because we didn’t sell anything this week because the price point was a bit too high’.”
While some of the quirky attire might not be your style, Wicks says you’ll be surprised by how quickly your shopping bag fills up.
“Even though we do have a certain aesthetic, we’re in the Inner West and we cater to that demographic, I can guarantee most people who come into this store will find something they like or have a fond memory of from their youth.”
Setting up shop 18 months ago in the community-minded Inner West was no happy accident. Wicks and Gordon started Swop in Brisbane in 2014, and when they decided to transplant their success to Sydney, they were looking for an area full of creatives with diverse styles keen to support local initiatives.
“We rely on our community for our stock, so we really wanted somewhere that was going to get involved and we could definitely feel that in the Newtown and Enmore area,” says Wicks.
The slow fashion that Swop advocates for has become ingrained in the region, with sustainable values reflected in regular local events like the Makers and Shakers Market and Sydney Craft Week, as well as the amazing vintage stores and op shops around Sydney. And the convergence of Swop’s carefully considered vision with social trends is proving to be a national success; there’s the shop on Enmore Road, two stores in Brisbane, and the young retailers also have their sights set on a potential Melbourne venture. Plus, there’s always a line out the door when the swap counter is open.
“People come weekly and I can never get over it – where are they keeping all these clothes?”