Olivia Mangan and Monique Thomas are the women behind Recycle Boutique Australia - a retail space that offers people the opportunity to shop, sell and participate in a sustainable clothing culture.
How have your personal values shaped your business?
We’ve tried to build a business we can both be proud of. For us that means establishing strong foundations, being genuine in our interactions, considering our impact, researching, innovating, and holding ourselves accountable.
“We work towards reducing the environmental impact of the clothing industry. At our stores you can shop, sell and participate in a sustainable clothing culture.” Can you elaborate on this concept of a sustainable clothing culture? What does it mean to you?
If you’re buying new, invest in timeless, quality pieces, or something that you really love. If you are experimenting with your style, do so with pre-loved pieces. Take good care of your garments to make them last. Should the time come, recycle your clothes so they can be passed through many more hands for years to come.
Do you feel your customer base is particularly interested in Recycle’s Boutique’s ethos, or conscious of their environmental impact when shopping? How do you raise awareness among your community?
With the spotlight being shone on the fashion industry by the likes of The True Cost, Fashion Revolution, and The War on Waste, we’re now seeing more people shopping with us from an ethical standpoint. Other customers are looking for variety or affordability, and that’s okay too! We haven’t done much advertising yet—instead, our focus has been on providing a reliable, friendly service in-store. The community has been good to us, and word of mouth has been our best source of raising awareness.
"We would like to see fast fashion companies held accountable for the volume and quality of what they’re producing, as well as for the unsustainable culture that they are enabling."
Has the influx of fast fashion products affected the quality of secondhand retail stores? How do you choose what you accept or do not accept from sellers? Run us through this quality control process.
We see so much mass produced, poor-quality product every day, and we’re not the only ones. The act of donating your unwanted clothes needs some consideration. In recent years charities and secondhand retailers have become overwhelmed with the volume of cheap, poorly constructed or damaged fast fashion product.
Our staff are trained to consider how a garment is made, what it's made of, and if it potentially has a second or third life. We do end up receiving more than we can take, and the hardest part of our job is turning away someone’s garments. We’ve found by communicating that we curate based on the quality and longevity, it's much less personal for the seller.
As a retailer, do you feel feel a strong sense of responsibility to encourage change throughout the fashion industry?
We want to do as much as we can to encourage change within the industry because we see so much waste. We believe educating our customers about the lifecycle of a garment and the importance of quality is part of how we can best affect change. We also feel a responsibility to encourage more people to shop pre-loved. By showcasing curated products in a fresh and considered way, we hope to remove the stigma surrounding secondhand retail.
Something that interests us at Intent is the psychology of fashion and people’s relationships with clothing. How would you describe your own relationships with clothing; have they evolved over the years?
Monique: My relationship with clothing was always evolving. When I was younger I cared less about quality and more about trends and affordability. Then in my early teens I said goodbye to my pair of flared Supré track pants and discovered op shopping. The variety that came with shopping secondhand was completely new to me. I was definitely guilty of purchasing more than I needed, because there was only one of everything. It wasn’t until I began working in consignment that I realised just how transient my wardrobe had been. I’ve learned now to value quality, timeless pieces that I can easily wear and that make me feel good.
Olivia: As a teenager it was all about labels. Buying and selling secondhand was the only way to afford the big names. All the years spent shopping for used clothing is what taught me to value quality. I still don’t have a complete wardrobe that I feel comfortable with, but I’m aware that I feel best when I’m wearing really well-made pieces. A perk of this job is access to a huge variety of great pieces, so we can try new things with minimal impact. Which is fun, but ultimately maintaining a refined wardrobe is the goal.
"We want to do as much as we can to encourage change within the industry because we see so much waste. We believe educating our customers about the lifecycle of a garment and the importance of quality is part of how we can best affect change."
Looking at the fashion system itself, what in particular do you feel needs to change?
The way we shop needs to change. We need to value quality over quantity, and learn to look after our clothing to extend its lifecycle. We would also like to see fast fashion companies held accountable for the volume and quality of what they’re producing, as well as for the unsustainable culture that they are enabling.
Which initiatives / organisations / individuals / retailers in the fashion industry do you feel are making significant waves, and why?
There are a few international players in the pre-loved clothing industry who we admire for their large-scale operations. Vestiaire in Europe, The RealReal in USA and RagTag in Japan all offer a retail experience that can sit beside the likes of Gucci and Chanel. These guys are testament to secondhand being just as desirable as purchasing new, if not more exclusive when you consider that there is only one of everything!
When you look to the future of fashion, what excites and/or daunts you most?
Seeing the environmental impact of the fashion industry potentially move past the point of no return is terrifying—the industry needs to slow down! On a more personal note, technology and the endless opportunities it creates really excites us. It has the potential to revolutionise the way we operate and assist us in running a business effectively—one that can positively affect change within the fashion industry.
Photography Jasper Kitschke
Production Sigrid McCarthy
Learn more about Recycle Boutique