Due to the rise of social media, it’s harder to repeat outfits and we don’t seem to get the value in our clothes. The solution? Thrifting and second-hand renting!! When it comes to circular fashion it is key that we extend the lifecycle of garments that are still good to wear: just by using a dress 9 months longer, we can reduce the environmental costs up to a 30 per cent! The Clothes Library offers endless options: monthly subscription plans for borrow, swap and purchase with discount; membership and clothes trading or just second-hand shopping as usual! A business model that has it all covered, with big dreams and 33,000 pieces of clothing saved from landfill or getting dust in our wardrobe in just a year! Seriously, we all should be thrifters!
We interview Sarah Freeman, the founder of the Clothes Library, who declares herself an “addicted to second-hand shopping”! All she sees are benefits in thrifting or renting second-hand clothing! She really has come to this world to offer an actual solution by empowering consumers again. Sarah explains ALL you need to know about a second-hand shop, including the challenges, the nitty and the gritty! Without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, The Clothes Library!!!!
What is your background Sarah, and what was your tipping point to start The Clothes Library?
My background is in personal training and massage, so nothing to do with fashion or sustainability really at all! Besides that, I have always loved OP shopping though since I was a little kid. I guess the tipping point was for starting The Clothes Library was when I was either, admitting I had some sort of addiction to OP shopping as well as a desire to not be featured on a TV show like Hoarders. In my mind, I had this idea that I could create some sort of business model where everyone would benefit by getting involved, from saving money to reducing their fashion carbon footprint.
I was researching all the designer dress rental business models (Runway Unlimited, Gwynnie Bee) so I took what I liked from them and twist it. Basically, the whole idea in my business responds not just to make a profit out of second-hand clothing, but because we want people to shop at The Clothes Library because they are getting really good quality clothing, nearly brand new, for a fraction of the price. And of course! Those who come to shop second hand will become a bit more conscious about what and how much they are consuming.
Before I started The Clothes Library, I was constantly seeing in the media all the negative publicity the fashion industry was getting. What frustrated me is that there was so much awareness being raised about all the negative impacts on our planet, but no solutions whatsoever on how us, people, could fix the problem! My mum always taught me “not to focus on what caused the problem but to focus on finding a solution.” And bringing solutions as well as empowering people to be part of the solution was exactly what I wanted to do: get folks to save money, reduce waste with zero difficulties.
What is the mission behind The Clothes Library brand?
Our main mission is to make sharing outfits as natural as Ubering or doing Airbnb! We want as many people as possible to borrow their clothes on a monthly subscription, and make second hand shopping the new normal – because it truly is the most sustainable way in fashion!
We aim to have something for everyone for any occasion. We want people to come to check if they can get what they need at The Clothes Library before they check the retail outlets.
The mission is to reach the everyday person that has never even thought about what they are wearing, or how much they consume or the effect that it is having on the planet, and just becoming more conscious about our consumption and wasteful habits.
You run a very genuine second-hand garments shop… What are all the things people can do at The Clothes Library aside from purchasing?
Everything is for sale and people can purchase whatever they like as any second-hand shop. What makes us a bit different is that with us folks can also do a short term rental, for which they pay the purchase price of a garment and take it, wear it, wash it and get up to 70% of their money back. Also, you have the option of joining The Clothes Library as a member, which then entitles you to be able to trade clothes with us and even put high-end items on consignment, and you get money when the garment sells. And if you become a member on a monthly plan, you can take 3 to 6 items at a time and swap them over as often as you like, or even keep hold until you wish. If they really love what they have borrowed they can purchase it with a 20% discount on the item.
How does a second-hand shop work? We are curious to learn those “secrets” that most of the people don’t know!
There is so much work involved behind the scenes with having a second-hand shop. Sourcing clothes as cheaply as possible are the main aim if you aren’t a charity because you are competing with other second-hand shops price-wise. We also don’t get a lot of clothes donated, which means I have to trowel second-hand shops and garage sales to find those treasures to later sell them at an affordable price!
We wash all of the clothes when they first come in and make sure they are sanitized and fresh. Fun fact is that my home looks like I am either a hoarder or that I am trying to start a laundromat LOL!
What people aren’t probably aware of is that there are sooooo many clothes out there, amazing and unique, and yet they waste so much money shopping retail!
But the one secret that people need to know is that if they want to sell me clothes, I have to be able to sell them for at least twice what they sell them to me for to break even. Once people start using The Clothes Library, they realise that even if initially they don’t earn a lot of money by selling their clothes, they make up in savings when shopping or borrowing second hand (instead of paying retail prices!).
What are your criteria when selecting the second-hand fashion pieces?
The main criteria is ‘would Ii wear it’? I don’t mean as in is it my style, but if it is in good conditions! If there is something wrong with an amazing garment that is fixable, I still would consider it wearable. Here is an overview of my criteria when selecting second-hand fashion:
- The garment should be in new like condition.
- There should be no obvious signs of wear and tear.
- There should be no rips or stains or broken zippers or buttons.
- It needs to of been laundered correctly and has no iron marks or be stretched or misshapen or have any shrinking.
When I am sourcing clothes I choose nice fabrics, and I try to get into a wide range of colours and prints because it keeps things a bit more interesting. A lot of what we get is black or grey and when there is too much black or grey on the floor the shop starts losing its appeal. I shop only for good quality brands and designer labels that are in excellent condition! In the case an item is damaged, we are completely transparent about it and we give people an extremely good deal!
Everything at The Clothes Library has flaws or, as I like to call it, “character” with really fabulous pieces in it.
What about the fast fashion brands, do you accept these labels?
I don’t source clothes that are from fast fashion labels, but in saying that I don’t even accept them as donations. These are the items that people don’t want to pay much money for, so I cannot afford to spend money on them either! And yet I don’t exclude them.
My heart is in two places when it comes to fast fashion though. I don’t like what it is doing to the planet, but in saying that, if people buy fast fashion brands from a second-hand shop instead of the retailer, then I believe that it serves a purpose – because basically, it’s what people want since they are wearing it! I am not here trying to reinvent the wheel and I understand that most people aren’t going to buy a dress to save the planet. They will buy it because it looks good, they feel good and it is affordable. Unfortunately, most people aren’t going to change what they are wearing but if this is where The Clothes Library becomes a good option: change the way they shop by giving them the option buying second-hand fast fashion brands or even renting clothes of high-priced brands more affordable.
My aim is not to be a place that is just a fast fashion outlet, but I also don’t want to exclude these fast-fashion brands garments because then where it supposed to go?
What are the benefits for those who decide to donate their clothing at The Clothes Library?
We are very grateful for anything that gets donated – it makes it easier for us to keep the prices low so that it is affordable for everyone. If someone is kind enough to donate their clothes to us we tell them to choose a few things to take with them that they need, want and will use.
If someone is donating stuff to us that not suitable to sell we put it in the free to a good home bin. If it is beyond being wearable still we either upcycle it into a recycle shopping bag or we turn it into rags and sell it to a local furniture shop or mechanics. This means that even if it is your old bed sheets that you need to get rid of, we can still take them off your hands and do something with them to stop them ending up in landfill quite as quickly.
When we have the time, we run little workshops and taught people how to make recycle shopping bags out of old singlets and t-shirts and tote bags out of business shirts. We would like to be able to do this with schools under a specific program maybe where we can help educate children on the importance of consuming less and making better choices.
Because of the nature of your shop, each garment is unique. What kind of treasures can we find in your second-hand clothing shop?
There are so many treasures in there – it just depends on what you are looking for. There are some really amazing shoes that come into the shop like at the moment there is a gorgeous pair of Valentino flats, we had some Saint Laurent thigh high black leather boots that had only been worn once. We also had a Fendi handbag, a Christian Dior dress, a Gucci skirt, a pair of Mui Mui shoes etc. The other little hidden gems are all through the shop, including many great designer labels, some really cool 80’s clothing, an amazing range of both men and women’s jeans. The leather collection is pretty cool too… There is a beautiful pair of Gian Franco Ferre high waisted vintage leather pants that are stunning if you are tiny enough to fit in them!
If you come to The Clothes library ask me about some of these more expensive items, as sometimes these treasures are at the back to minimise theft! In fact, we are opening a new shop though that will be more of a boutique with the higher end items and the other shop will have the everyday clothing in it.
Could you give us some data on how pieces of clothing you have saved from landfill since The Clothes Library started?
We have saved just over 33,000 pieces of clothing since we started the clothes library about 15 months ago.
Since the boom of Marie Kondo decluttering methods, newspapers tell that second-hand shops seem to have been widely impacted. What are your thoughts on this and have you also felt an increase of stock in your second-hand shop?
The fact that we are not a charity shop, gets many people to don’t think about donating to us. As mentioned earlier, you will benefit by giving it to us – so feel free to do so!
The thing I have noticed is the increase in people trying to sell their clothes to me without being members, and then here is the thing: we need more customers than I need clothes at the moment. It is a two-way street: if you are a person that shops with us and supports our business then we want to be able to support you! We have made it a “members only” model because it weeds out the people that just want to offload stuff and have no intention of shopping with us.
The only real benefit of the whole Marie Kondo craze is that the second-hand shops are bursting at the seams, and a couple of them have offered me half price or that I can buy in bulk with a discount.
What is it that makes people buy second-hand clothing? Why should everyone do so?!
It really depends on the person, me personally I always shopped second hand because I love the experience. I like the shops and I like foraging through everything and trying to discover the treasures. I also like that the garments are all different from what other people are wearing!
Some people shop second-hand because it is cheaper and they can get what they want at a price they can afford. Other people shop second hand because they don’t want to contribute to the damage that is being done to the planet. There are quite a few that would shop second-hand to get the style of vintage clothes that they like that aren’t made anymore.
I think that there is no reason why everyone shouldn’t at least try to find what they are looking for preloved. Hopefully, though the culture of fast fashion will die down a bit, and people will stop treating clothes like they are condoms.
With the rise of influencers and social media, there is a fear of being seen with the same outfit twice! What do you think about this?
Fashion shouldn’t be designed to be worn once and then thrown away, but to get at least 30 wears out of them – and stop the mentality that they can’t be seen in the same thing twice.
It should be considered cool if you could wear the dress to all of your special events in the year and it didn’t matter if you were photographed wearing the same garment. If people were to collect photos of themselves wearing the same outfit at many different events, and posted those to social media, or had some sort of competition to see how many different people you could get to wear the same dress to as many different functions, it might be more beneficial to our planet and make it something fun for people to do instead of being so caught up in the consumerism of modern society.
I am sure most of us are guilty of at some stage buying something we didn’t really like at a price we couldn’t really afford to impress people we didn’t even really know right? I mean it seems so pointless…
Digging into your journey, what have been the biggest challenges faced while running The Clothes Library?
Finances. Anything else can be fixed if you have money. I started the business with no money and no planning or investigating. I had no idea about all the extra costs that were involved and how expensive it is to run a business. It has opened my eyes to a lot of things especially how the struggle is real for a lot of small business owners.
You get stuck in the cycle that if you pay someone else to do the work so you can work on the business to grow it, then you make no money and can’t survive! For now, I really need a website and an app but I have paid numerous people to build my website and never ended up with anything that has all the functions on it that I need. I want to get an app developed as well, but you need a website first!
I am working on getting an investor but in the meantime, I have decided to co-share a space to use a shop with a bar in the morning and a restaurant at night. It just means that I am not limiting my only income to be from clothes but also renting the space.
Where would you like to see yourself and the brand in the next 10 years? What is your big BOLD dream?
If I can find a way to make the business model for the clothes library sustainable, I would love to have one in every shopping centre. At the moment I am trying to figure out is if it will be better to get a few designers on board to stock a range of their clothes for the monthly subscriptions just so that there is the option of different sizes and brand familiarity so that it would be easier to choose things from an online platform.
If I can get a few shops open around Sydney in different suburbs to start off with, I would like to have different styles of shops, some more boutique than others and some that are clearance shops where people who don’t have much to spend on clothes can still get something nice at a price they can afford.
We would also like to develop some sort of educational program to take to schools where we can teach kids how to upcycle and how to clothes swap and the importance of sustainability not just with fashion but in general.
Another idea is to source from companies that have singlets that are pre-consumer goods that have turned into deadstock before they made it onto the landfill. I’d love to organise people who are homeless and unemployed or even people with mental illness or some sort of disability that stops them finding employment, to learn how to make recycle bags and encourage them they can sell the bags out front of supermarkets to shoppers.
Overall, I want to be able to infiltrate sustainable fashion into Australian households in a way that it’s not even thought of as something strange or that its an effort.
Is there any advice you’d like to give to other businesses trying to make a difference for good?
Don’t give up when things get tough. There is always a way to achieve what it is you want to achieve. It might be hard work and long hours and what you end up doing may not necessarily be what you planned in the beginning, but somehow in some way, you can make it work and, if you can’t do what you set out to do, at least you tried. Failure isn’t not being successful, but it’s about not bothering to give it a go in the first place. Learn from every mistake- teach others what you learnt.
Another lesson is to COLLABORATE!!!!! I cannot tell you how important it is to share information, share experiences, share opportunities and people will want to do the same with you. It is hard when you are trying to do everything on your own. Help others out wherever you can. Support businesses in your area and get involved in community events. Meet people. Ask for help when you need it. You can write all the business plans in the world but you have to get out there and put them into practice to see if it works.
If you could write a message on a big wall that the entire world could read, what would it say?
Oxygen, water and sleep. These are the three most important things that will keep you healthy. Take 5 really deep breaths every couple of hours, drink a glass of water when you are finished and always try to get 8 hours sleep each night.
Finally, where can we find you? Shops, online, worldwide…?
You can find us in Potts Point – Sydney. We have 2 shops there at the moment: 15 Springfield Ave Potts Point is our new shop – we have a bar serving breakfast and dinner. Come and join us for Cocktails and Frocks. Our original shop is located at 17 Darlinghurst Rd also in Potts Point. Online, find us at www.theclotheslibrary.com and please don’t judge us on the website… (If you are reading this and know how to build websites in WordPress using Divi, email me and we can work on setting up my WooCommerce properly! We are also on Facebook, Instagram and don’t be a stranger, email me at Sarah@theclotheslibrary.com or call me 0425217121
If you can’t get enough of thrifting, read this article our amazing blogger Jen Guice put together where she explains all about our positive impact on wearing thrifted outfits: Recycled fashion – looking good and doing good!
Disclosure: This post was sponsored by The Clothes Library. Ourgoodbrands only features brands and contents that are aligned with ethical, sustainable, eco-conscious world, which means we have carefully researched and written the contents in this article, and specific product information is checked with the business. For the interviews, any opinions expressed are the writer’s own, generally being the founder of the brand. Images supplied and approved by the brand featured, or credited accordingly otherwise. For more information about our policies, click here.
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