Welcome to my new series thrifterviews. Thrifterviews are interviews with creative people about their business or practice and their relationship to fashion - or thrifting to be exact. I would love to normalise thrifting and get y’all to join the gang. Besides, I want to inspire you with different creatives from all around the world. The creative industry is (often) underrated, and this could show you what beautiful paths people take and how we can all be creative in one way or the other.
I couldn’t be happier to start my thrifterviews series with Katherine’s and Sophie’s vintage store Yarn Yarns, in Northcote, Melbourne. It’s not your usual vintage store, calling it just a store doesn't actually do their eco-conscious fashion business justice. There’s so much more to it than you might think. But one thing you should know! If you're big into vintage treasure hunting, this is just the right place for you.
I noticed Yarn Yarns when I was strolling down High Street one evening. I was intrigued by all the cool vintage clothes I could see from the shop window but the shop was closed! After admiring all the clothes for a while, I read on the window that you can actually rent clothes from there! That's when I knew I had to meet Sophie and Katherine.
The thing that struck me as really interesting is that Sophie and Katherine have the coolest and most fitting surnames for their fashion business: Woolley and Cotton.
And if you think it couldn’t get any better, it can! One day they decided to google “woolley cotton” to see what comes up, and the first result was an article about Katherine’s great great great grandfather, Francis Cotton. There was a photograph of Francis in the late 1800s in the article that was taken by someone called Charles Alfred Woolley, a relation of Sophie’s!
So it seems like it's meant to be.
And this is how we started our conversation:
Me: I would love to see your favourite piece from Yarn Yarns!
Katherine: I don’t know. I have a few!
Sophie: I know, it’s so hard to choose.
Katherine, coming back with a pink frill dress: This is one of my favourite pieces (photo below).
It’s not something that’s very often hired but people love it. It brings so much joy to the shop.
Funnily enough, people who have been in bands come to try it cos they wanna wear it as a stage outfit.
But I like the story too. The lady who brought it in found it in this old mansion in the countryside in Spain, and it was where this retiring flamenco dancer lived. She was looking through all these suitcases and found the dress and brought it all the way to Australia.
Me: It’s amazing that your clothes travel and bring so many fun stories with them!
I read on your website that every piece has a unique story to it which makes it so special to rent clothes from here.
Katherine: Yeah it’s something we are trying to do with just the rentals. I haven’t finished writing all the stories yet!
Sophie, coming back with a blue paillette dress: This is probably my favourite (photo below).
The person who owns it is a girl that we used to work with and she’s a stylist so she has this amazing wardrobe but that’s all the story we have for this one.
Me: That's so nice! Let’s dive right into what you’re wearing today. Describe your outfit of the day and where you got it from!
Katherine points at her blue and white striped dungarees: This is secondhand. I got it from Etsy with the idea of it being mine but I’ll put it up for hire in the shop.
She then points at her red blouse: And this I got in a secondhand shop in London.
Sophie, pointing at her white dress with a blue flower pattern: I got this dress here. And my scarf is from an op shop.
1. Describe Yarn Yarns in 3 words
Katherine: Buy Rent Share
You can buy some of the clothes. Renting and sharing means people bring in the clothes to share. Some of the clothes are on consignment that we sell and you can bring things in for hire when you don’t want to get rid of them permanently but are willing to share.
Me: This is amazing! I wondered how the sharing worked and why people would do that. It’s cool cos clothes you don’t wear that often don’t take up space in your wardrobe but you still have access to them!
Katherine: That’s actually one of the reasons why we started it in the first place. I have so many clothes in my wardrobe that I rarely ever wear. Like this is one of them (points at the pink jumpsuit, photo below). I don’t really get an opportunity to wear it that often.
These pieces hold so many memories in them so you want to keep them. And people who have brought pieces in are very trusting and they’ve been really wanting to share their clothes.
image from the Yarn Yarns website
Me: I just want to live here now and be part of this all.
2. How did you get into vintage clothing?
Katherine: This is a loooong time ago when I started to go to op shops. I wasn’t really doing it cos of my awareness of how fashion contributes to waste in the world. It was my boyfriend at the time who introduced me to it. I just started following him to op shops and then I realised how fun it was to find all these awesome treasures.
It wasn’t till later that I realised how much better it is to buy second hand. Awareness has grown a lot more since then!
Sophie: I always loved costumes in movies and period movies. My mum was really into antique and op shops and all of that stuff. I can’t really remember it being a start, I remember always being like that and just being happy to be able to wear something that was made before I was even born.
3. You started Yarn Yarns in 2018, so just about a year ago. What sparked the idea for your business?
Sophie: We started doing a blog about people and their vintage items. That was one of the things that sparked up the idea of renting and sharing cos people had these amazing clothes. Our friends had all these amazing clothes that we’ve never seen before. And they didn't just wanna get rid of them but they'd also not wear them all the time.
Katherine: I don’t really know when we really made the step from going from the blog to this space.
Sophie: I think we just talked about it. I think you had enough of working where you did (laughing).
Katherine: For us it was mostly about sharing the stories. And then when we started looking into it more, we realised how much of an environmental impact fashion was having and that renting was becoming a bigger thing. So we realised what a good idea this was.
Me: Is renting clothes actually a big thing in Australia?
Both: It’s starting to get big.
Sophie: I remember wanting to rent something for my thirthieth cos I had a sparkle themed party, and I was like I’m not buying this lavish outfit that I’m not gonna wear again.
But all the places that I knew you could rent were either costumes or high end rental spaces. I didn’t want to wear something like that. We became aware of what was missing, but even then we didn’t have the idea for this space. It came later.
Me: Yeah, I don’t know of any rental space that is vintage except yours. You know of rental spaces where you can hire high end fashion. This is really something new.
Katherine: Everyone from Europe that comes in says they’ve never seen this and they all find it so cool!
Me: Yeah, it’s cool for backpackers actually. When you live out of a minimal wardrobe and you want to go to a nice event, you can come in and rent something. You don’t have to buy anything and end up not having space in your rucksack when you move on to a new place.
Do you ever have backpackers coming in?
Katherine: Backpackers occasionally come in but they have bought and haven’t hired anything yet. Maybe cos people don’t realise that there’s clothes for hire here. People who hire usually know the place already.
I mean we could make sure they find out (laughing).
4. Do you know all the people that are hiring from you, and do you need a membership?
Katherine: We have talked about having membership but I haven’t done that quite yet. We don’t know all the people coming in. And it’s definitely growing. Obviously cos it’s a fairly new idea, the renting side was slower to take off than the buying. But it is becoming more popular.
Some people come in now and say they only want to rent, not looking to buy anything.
5. Has anyone ever stained a rental? Katherine: People have been worried about that when they come to hire but there hasn't been any problem so far. Apart from that one time when there was this very fragile jacket and I just realised it was just too fragile so we took it off from the hire thing. People hire for dates. I’m trying to think of the weirdest thing... . Oh, one girl hired an outfit to go to Revolver one night. It’s a pretty infamous bar in Melbourne that stays open from Friday night to Monday. She was a backpacker, actually one of the only backpackers who rented something.
6. Did opening Yarn Yarns impact your own consumption of clothes? And is your wardrobe smaller now?
Sophie: It did in some ways. I’m so much more conscious about the purchasing, I don't mindlessly purchase like I used to do. I got rid of lot of stuff that I didn’t fit into and things like that.
Katherine: Yeah, same. I think I’m finding it easier to give up things but at the same time there are so many things where I’m like 'aaah I can’t resist'. But if I do buy something I’d either replace it or sell something in the shop or I put it up for rent.
7. What’s another good reason for you to choose vintage over new clothes, apart from the environment?
Katherine: The stories! I just love to think of where the clothes have been in their history. And that’s what originally started our blog. I like to go in op shops and think where has this been, who owned this before.
There’s a dress in the back and it’s got someone’s name sewn onto it and I actually got another of her dresses coming in soon and I just want to know who this person is!
Me: That reminds me of something! Back in Scotland I was organising clothes swaps and some of the clothes we looked through had names sewn onto them and those came from care homes so the people wearing them have probably died. It used to creep me out a bit. But then again, most secondhand clothes have probably had an owner who’s dead already.
Sophie, laughing: It would only creep me out maybe if they died when they were wearing it.
Usually I don't think about these things. I just always think that not only is it recycling but it feels nice that someone else is loving the clothing and it's not just sitting somewhere in landfill. You get attached to these special pieces.
Katherine: That’s how I remember things! I remember what I was wearing. It’s really funny.
Any moment you have you’re like I shared that with this piece of clothing.
Sophie: Yeah with my friends I’ll be like ‘and you were wearing that outfit’ and they are like ‘how do you know what I was wearing?’
Katherine: Actually, now that we are talking about people that are dying, a guy called up the other day and sadly his mum has passed away. And he wants us to go and look through her stuff.
Me: That’s actually so beautiful! Do you get that often?
Katherine: No, that’s the first one. It’s mostly people bringing things in but some vintage hunting as well.
Now, we are all looking at Blazer, who's chilling next to us.
Katherine: Blazer is part of the Yarn Yarn team. She’s a shop dog and with us all the time. She’s very chilled out. She tried to sleep on my head the other night.
8. Do you think the fashion industry is heading towards a more eco-conscious mindset?
Katherine: I think so definitely. I read an article recently saying that second hand clothing is gonna become much bigger than fast fashion. And I think it is. A girl came in the other day and she put some clothes up for hire and she’s doing some sort of design in fashion where she’s going right to the roots of the beginnings of how to make your clothes and trying to make all those steps more eco-friendly. It’s a new position, and I wish I could remember the name of the job. Those kind of things are popping up in fashion, I think it’s heading towards the right direction. Sophie: Yeah. I just wish it was faster!
Me: Totally! We need to build a circular economy and hopefully it’s gonna happen quicker.
Katherine: Yeah, people are gradually becoming aware of it. It’s just very slow.
In this area, for instance, they banned plastic bags, and I mean they should have done it a long time ago but still, it’s such a good thing.
The second part of the interview are questions that I ask all my thrifterviewers:
1. What’s your favourite thrifted piece?
Sophie: I have a dress that's not very wearable so I wear it mostly for festivals. It's more wintery. It’s a long sleeve full length polyester dress that’s green but with splashes of purple. And it looks like fireworks. It’s so fun, I love it so much and don’t wanna give it up so I just have it up for hire.
Katherine: For me it’s the pink jumpsuit! I love it, it just fits so perfectly. I wear it to festivals, or special occasions, like the launch of our shop.
Me: It must be so much fun seeing your clothes on other people!
Sophie: Our favourite thing is seeing the photos of them wearing the clothes to their events. They hire them to such fun things.
Katherine: The biggest thing for when people hire clothes from the shop are weddings.
2. Where do you like to thrift the most?
Katherine: I often shop online for secondhand clothes. But I love going to Greensborough to the Savers they have. The suburbs op shops are great.
Sophie: Country op shops are my favourite. Not as picked over as in the city. Everyone’s more into thrift shopping here but in the country you can find some really weird and good stuff that’s really cheap.
3. What are your tips for people starting to rent?
Sophie: Just do it.
Katherine: People are so hesitant about renting.
Sophie: Yes they are. Most of the time things can be repaired.
Katherine: It’s not that often that you ruin something. That has never happened so far.
Sophie: Especially when you’ve been out somewhere dressed nice like weddings and so on. It just doesn’t really happen.
Katherine: Maybe at festivals but still it’s never been an issue here.
Sophie: I remember I rented a jacket for a festival from here and I was so worried about it and it was totally fine. And then I thought ‘have I ever ruined anything at a festival? I haven’t.’
So even though you are a bit in a more rough environment I haven’t wrecked anything and I didn’t wreck the jacket. I was just very much more aware of it and even if I was drunk I was very careful. I just always remembered to put the jacket away carefully.
4. Do you have tips for thrifting (in Melbourne)?
Sophie: Be patient!
Katherine: You have to give yourself time.
Sophie: Yeah cos there’s a lot of stuff to go through but it can be worth it. You might go through 10 bad things to find like one amazing thing. I think be patient and just do the searching.
Me: It's like love. You don’t want to just fall in love with anybody as quickly as possible. You want to wait for it to happen.
Katherine: That’s such a nice way of putting it. It is like love!
Sophie, laughing: Yeah!
Katherine: It can even work sometimes like when you’re not totally sure about a piece and then you build a relationship with it. You form a loving relationship.
5. What’s one special story about a vintage hunt that you did?
Katherine: I have the reverse actually. When I donated a pair of pants that I LOVED but they just never quite fit me and I tried so hard. I donated them and a week later I saw a girl wearing them and she looked amazing. I was so happy seeing her and that they were gone to a really cool loving home.
Sharing the love of something rather than finding something for myself.
Sophie: I feel like I had too many good experience, I loved so many things that I’ve gotten, I don’t have one that stands out. But it is nice when someone loves something that you’ve loved.
6. Final question. What does low impact mean to you?
Katherine: This is something I am trying to work on and build my own awareness of. I only recently found out that having a big dog has the same ecological impact as having a SUV car. I was really shocked! I am trying to work out how I can reduce her impact on the environment. I was thinking of going around with a jar for her poo. I can get biodegradable plastic bags but the only way they work is if you put them in a compost bin. I actually didn’t know that, I was like yeah I’m doing a good thing but I put them straight in the rubbish bin and that doesn’t do anything.
It’s nice to change different parts of your life, just a bit at a time.
Sophie: Yeah just being aware of it as much as you can. Consciously thinking about instead of mindlessly doing things that could be impacting nature negatively. Trying to think of your actions, if you forget your keep cup for instance. I feel like I’m just thinking about it so much more than mindlessly accepting a plastic cup. I’m like ‘right, what can I do, how can I carry this.’
Katherine: Gradually changing little parts of your life is so important.
I feel like I was a little slow to catch up onto some areas. And now when I get coffee with a normal take away cup i’m like 'omg what do I do?!'
Sophie: I know, there’s been times when I was at work and I was like what do I do, just pour it in my mouth! And you just have so much more guilt whereas before I just didn’t even think about it. It’s important to have guilt (laughing). No, but I just think about it now.
Katherine: Actually, there is a coffee shop down the road and they get people to bring in their old mugs and if people forget to bring their takeaway ones they give you one of these old mugs which is cool!
And that’s the end of the interview! Thank you so much for this little chat, I really enjoyed learning more about your amazing space and your thrifting experiences & pieces!
This is the perfect start to my new interview series and it was so lovely to meet you, Sophie and Katherine, and Blazer of course!
Make sure to check out Yarn Yarns on Instagram and on their website. And if you live in Melbourne or visit Melbourne at any point, visit their space in Northcote. Next time you want to buy something special that you might end of just wearing once, think about renting something from Yarn Yarns instead. This is such a unique place with the loveliest owners that you don’t wanna miss out on.
Much love, Viki xx