Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (Boutique)
Maille Halloran: Recycle Boutique started in New Zealand. How did it make the trip across the Tasman?
Liv: Mon and I worked for the company in New Zealand for a few years. We loved working in the store and loved the core of the business. We moved over here and saw an opportunity to do so much more with it, because there’s even more waste. Australia’s much larger so there’s a real need for recycling services here. There’s a lot more consumption, especially because there’s a presence of fast fashion stores that don’t have outlets in New Zealand yet.
MH: Waste is obviously a very big issue, but what are the other problems within the fashion industry that you’ve identified and feel the need to address?
Mon: Mainly overconsumption. Because we are sorting people’s clothes in the store we see it firsthand. Most garment’s life cycles are short – they’re not built for a second life or made to on-sell. There’s so much waste and it’s not going anywhere! It’s ending up either in landfill or in third world countries, and they are starting to ban it there because it creates a massive problem for them too. We thought about so many parts of the fashion industry that we wanted to do something about, but in the end it came down to environmental issues. We had to pick one issue and that’s the one we ran with.
MH: How does the physical presence of a Recycle Boutique store promote sustainable consumption?
Mon: The store gives us the opportunity to communicate with people when we are sorting their garments. Bringing your clothes in to be examined is a very personal thing and we understand that. If we cannot accept something we gently let the supplier know that unfortunately there’s only so much we can take, and that it all comes down to the item’s lifecycle, longevity, how it’s made, and what it’s made of. I guess the core of what we’re trying to achieve is to recycle really good quality clothing that comes in five times over, and to encourage people to buy second hand rather than first hand.
MH: I suppose people would take rejection better knowing that you’re making a judgment on the item’s durability, rather than the sensitive issue of the customer’s taste!
Mon: Definitely, and taste is not what it’s about.
Liv: We get so much stock coming in and we turn a lot of it away. I think at first we were in over our heads with the volume of it. We sat down, talked, and tried to work out the truth of why we have to turn away some garments. We realised it was all about the life cycle of the garment. I think telling the truth and being honest about this has been received well by customers.
MH: Speaking of customers, buying ethically first hand is not an option for everyone, given the price tag of many “slow fashion’” labels. Does Recycle Boutique achieve the middle ground where shopping sustainably is actually affordable?
Liv: The issue of price is probably why I got into all this to begin with. When I was younger I wanted a certain expensive brand or piece; now I want things of a certain fabric and a certain quality and I can’t necessarily afford them new. You can get these things at op shops, but they don’t have the resources to curate their items in the way that we can. The focus of charity stores is not necessarily the environment either, and that’s obviously a significant issue for us. Part of the appeal of setting up Recycle Boutique was to show people that you can spend the same amount of money that you might spend at a fast fashion outlet, and get a whole other level of quality.
MH: And what is your customer base like? Are you able to cater to all sizes, tastes and body types?
Mon: It’s definitely limited to what’s brought in. We hope to do more marketing to communicate the variety we do have, because we think that what we have can work for everyone.
We would like to see more of the 14+ sized garments brought into the store, but this comes back to the industry. A lot of clothing manufactured in these sizes is not well made enough to have a second life. This is a shame because we really consciously want these sizes in the store.
Liv: We do get an older generation bringing in vintage clothing that’s been with them for years, and they’re often so surprised that we want their items. We’re thinking, “are you kidding? This is great!”
MH: Thanks Mon and Liv! One last question: you’re still a fairly new business, so what’s next for Recycle Boutique?
Liv: There’s a lot of people out there who are addressing the problems of consumption and waste in the industry, but nobody’s doing it in the form of consignment. That's our point of difference and the reason we've been talking about more stores since day one.
We’d also like to expand our men’s section to be equal with the women’s. The men’s section has definitely grown since we’ve set up and we have a lot of men as customers.
Mon: We currently have 2,500 suppliers registered and that’s just one store. The New Zealand Recycle Boutique has seven stores, which shows the opportunity we have for growth here. Expansion was always the goal for us, which is why we’re opening a new store in Collingwood in December. Watch this space!
Stay up to date with Recycle Boutique's happenings here, here and here.
Maille Halloran is struggling to complete university degrees and occupying herself by curating unlicensed minions merchandise on Instagram.