Beth and Brigid are the sparkly ladies behind recycled and vintage clothing empire, SWOP. They’ve been friends for over 10 years and started out re-selling their own clothes in markets and on websites like eBay. From these humble beginnings, they’ve created three bright, homey and fun-filled spaces across the country with an intentionally curated selection of vintage and high-quality modern clothing. Customers can browse the racks and purchase for themselves or bring their own clothes to sell or swop. The shopping model makes sustainable fashion accessible to all and brings whole communities into a cycle of mindfulness when it comes to the things we put on our bodies.They’ve just moved into the Newtown neighbourhood, opening up their special shopping experience to Sydneysiders (finally!). If you haven’t already, pop into one of their stores and nab something new or think about taking in that bag of old clothes you’re not so into anymore.
Tell us the story behind swop, did you always want to be in business together or did the idea of SWOP begin the process?
Beth: I think it slowly progressed into the idea that we should start a business. We were already having markets and buying stuff and reselling and using eBay. We’d always kind of been into buying and reselling again even if it was just our own clothes. So that was always like a passion of ours.
Brigid: We went travelling together and we discovered clothing exchanges and vintage shopping in America and we thought why can’t we do this at home?
Beth: We would plan our holidays around vintage shopping and um clothing exchanges because we were so in love with it. And then you know we came back to Brisbane and started to settle a bit and thought ‘this is something that we really like to do, why can’t we turn this into a business?’ So we kind of got our credit cards together and threw ourselves in with pretty much no business knowledge.
Brigid: I ended up doing the NICE program that is with the government, where they help you start your own business for the first year. They give you a mentor, they help you write a business plan, just give you a very basic wage for a year while you’re in start up, which was really helpful considering I didn’t even do business at school so I didn’t know what I was doing. But it just kind of came down to having basic common sense which I feel like Beth and I have and we just kind of figured it out as we went.
What’s it like working together as friends? How was the transition into business partners?
Beth: We’ve been friends for over 10 years now, so I think we knew each other pretty well. But of course a business relationship is kind of like a marriage. You have to think about each other all the time.
Brigid: And it’s a ‘we’ not an ‘I’. I feel like I saying that all the time even when sometimes it’s just me there and I’m still like ‘we.’ I think Beth and I have really different personalities which works in our favour. We work really well together. We’re like the yin and yang.
So let’s talk a little bit about ethical and sustainable fashion. Obviously your model is really helpful for bringing people into that cycle. Has that always been a passion of yours, or has that kind of grown as swop has grown?
Beth: For myself personally that came later. I don’t think I had much education when I was younger that there was even a problem. We’re really lucky that we already had that passion to recycle clothes and now there’s this really positive side to it. We are able to do something personally that is helping contribute to sustainable and ethical fashion and bringing it to the forefront and making it accessible to all people.
Brigid: The biggest thing about fast fashion is the fix that you get, it’s exciting it’s bright, there’s lights. And we’re trying to emulate the part of that – you get to come in and buy something that’s affordable but it’s also quality and you’re also helping to slow the impact of fast fashion. We’re just showing you a different path where you can still keep up with fashion, it can still be affordable and accessible but you can do it in a really responsible way. Instead of contributing to something that’s going to fall apart, the materials used are a poor quality, they are made in an unethical ways. We’re just trying to do our part to educate people about their shopping style.
Are you finding that you are able to have those kinds of conversations with your customers?
Beth: Yeah definitely. You know it’s a bit more in the media now so people are more aware of it, and they are like, ‘wow this is so cool, like I can actually do my part and bring in my clothes’ and it also makes them think when they’re shopping ‘is this something I’ll be able to take to SWOP later? Is it going to last? Can I pass it on to a friend?’
Brigid: Yeah people are finding their own unique style as well. We don’t want you to be a carbon copy of what’s hot this month you know? We want you to find out what you feel great in – that’s what real style is. If you’re rocking an 80s glitter jumpsuit and you feel a million bucks that’s way better than buying, I love Gorman, but the new statement piece from them you know?
I’ve been in on a Friday and there’s been so many different demographics in the shop. You’ve really created a little community. Did you have this in mind when you created SWOP? Who was your intended audience?
Beth: We just knew what we liked. We thought, ‘there’s gotta be people out there that like this.’ That’s probably one of the things we’re most proud of, is that we are so inclusive of all ages and sizes and whatever. There’s something here for everyone. I think that that just grew organically. The stuff that we were purchasing people liked and then they were bringing in their stuff and then their friends were coming in because they heard about it.
Brigid: Somehow the most loyal customers are like between the ages of 60 and 75 (they are there every week). They love that their clothes are appreciated, they love that they’re going to new homes and they’re gonna be re-lived.
Beth: Or they love seeing it on the rack or someone wearing it.
Brigid: It’s so cool that a 14-year-old girl can come in here and feel like they’re shopping somewhere cool but then they’re with their dad and their dad found a sick shirt that he’s going to wear to the boys day on the weekend. That’s where I get pumped the most, bringing a lot of people from different demographics together.
Tell me about the new store in Sydney? How did that come about?
Beth: It took us a little while but we found a space in Newtown and we’re loving it so far! I think we really suit the area and already such a broad demographic of people have been coming in so that already has made us so happy.
Brigid: We haven’t done much in terms of advertising, I’ve just put it on the Instagram and we’ve already had so many people come in in the last few days so that’s promising. It’ll probably just go just as we’ve always grown, just organically and by word of mouth.
You’ve obviously worked really hard to get to where you are, three stores across Australia is a pretty big deal. Have you found any extra obstacles being women in business?
Brigid: Definitely in the beginning I found a lot of hardship. When we first started out it was just me in the shop and Beth still had her job in the city. I had a lot of conflict with the people we were renting our space from. I hadn’t encountered sexism in the workplace before, I always felt that I was a strong independent women and no one could fuck with me kind of thing. But coming into a business where I was in charge of this whole space I got talked down to a lot, I was told I was a silly girl and that I had no vision
Beth: Being hysterical
Brigid: Yeah being hysterical! Because I wanted to feel that I was safe, that the shop was safe at night, had a locked door you know things like that. So, we love supporting women in business for that reason. We don’t ever want anyone to ever be talked down to, we want there to be an equal power with women and men in the workplace. I just can’t stand anyone thinking they’re better than anyone else. You know everyone is in this world together there’s no reason to be a fuckwit.
Beth: Yeah there’s obviously a long way to come on that side of things even for us just experiencing a small doses of sexism has really brought it about that yeah this is still an issue we can all get behind it. But there’s also been so much progress and the fact that we’re all talking about it and it’s in main social media is so good.
Brig: We have to take the time to celebrate it too!