To encourage circularity, Rose Vincent balances a second-hand shop with community clothes swaps and mending workshops at the Old Church Wardrobe in Bendigo.
An old church in Bendigo has been transformed into a thriving hub of sustainability, powered by a dedicated and passionate group of volunteers and some funding support from Sustainability Victoria.
Run by Neighbourhood Collective Australia, the Old Church Wardrobe started as a second-hand clothing shop. It has grown to become an educational space for the community to learn more about waste and the circular economy, as well as pick up new skills like sewing and upcycling.
The project was given a kick-start through funding from Sustainability Victoria’s Circular Economy Communities Fund. Through the fund, not-for-profits, social enterprises and community groups were challenged to look at waste differently and move towards a circular economy where we reuse, repair and recycle, rather than throw valuable resources away.
This is just one of the programs Sustainability Victoria delivers on behalf of the Victorian Government to help build local economies through the creation of jobs, skills and a focus on local capability and expertise.
CEO Rose Vincent said the group has been careful to balance the second-hand shop with behaviour change activities like community clothes swaps and mending workshops to encourage circularity.
“The more research we did in the lead up to this project, the more we learnt about how op shops can contribute to fast fashion practices and textiles going to landfill,” Rose said.
“Many people justify new clothes purchases by donating to op shops, and most op shops take tonnes of these donations to landfill each year because they are too damaged to sell. The wardrobe project was born out of residents’ desire for an op shop at the church, but with a focus on sharing, swapping, mending and upcycling. We stop textiles going to landfill and move to a no-waste system," continued Rose.
The wardrobe only accepts high quality items and has higher pricing than a traditional op shop to discourage excessive spending.
In addition to their shop, Old Church Wardrobe has partnered with textile recycling company Upparel and encourages community members to pay a fee to have their clothing recycled when they can no longer be worn.
The wardrobe has also teamed up with local op shops to repair woollen clothes they would normally send to landfill. Project volunteers are now equipped with the skills to mend these items with a traditional felting technique and then sell them at the second-hand shop.
A local op shop manager said they were grateful to have an option to be putting fewer items in the bin.
“We spend so much on throwing out donations, it's a huge problem. We don't have the volunteers or the systems to repair the way the Old Church does, so it’s a wonderful partnership,” they said.
Almost 800 members of the Bendigo community have participated in the wardrobe project so far, appreciating the opportunity to learn more about waste, master new skills, make meaningful connections and share their knowledge with friends and family.
Thanks to more than 3,000 hours of volunteer work, the Old Church Wardrobe has already seen strong success, diverting 25 tonnes of textiles from landfill.
To pay it forward, the wardrobe has recently started facilitating workshops for other community groups and neighbourhood houses, helping more people to take action at a local level.
“The mix of relationship building and opportunities to get inspired by what others are doing has been really effective,” Rose said.
The Circular Economy Communities Fund, delivered on behalf of the Victorian Government, provided almost $5.4 million for social enterprises, not-for-profits and community organisations to develop smarter ways of using resources. More than 60 projects were funded, including repair cafes, slow fashion hubs, community composts and worm farms, and more. So far, 1,000 tonnes of waste has been diverted from landfill and 150 local jobs have been created.
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