Five Best Sydney Op Shops

Ilias Bakalla
16th Aug 2017

Let’s imagine you’ve just entered a high-street retail store and found yourself a t-shirt, a t-shirt so bold, quirky, and alluring you feel it radiates your individuality as a person. That one t-shirt usually has about 5 replicas in the same size and then another 5 different sizes, behind it, so on average the store has 25 copies of your new favourite garment. Depending on the scale of the franchise you’re shopping at there could be up to 75 copies in your area!

By now most people know that our favourite labels are produced in appalling conditions in the developing world yet we (and I) still maintain our adulterous affair with many of their logos. Op-shopping provides a means of justifying this consumerist desire while still being environmentally responsible by simply recycling the fabric, instantly the clothes have a second life. Too often certain, colours, cuts and looks are disregarded as ‘last season’ and people are yet to realise how dynamic clothes of different decades can actually be.

Sydney’s op-shopping game is strong and has surpassed the classic Vinnies and Salvos options, with a number of curated shops popping up in the last 5 to 10 years. They range in price and aesthetics, some stores operate independently while most are part of franchises. Certain hubs have emerged in the inner city: Surry Hills has developed a boutique op-shopping culture, with an emphasis on high-quality, high-fashion, vintage garments. Newtown is another hub that has reared its head recently, here the focus is more on price, variety and contemporary fashion.

Swop exchange -> Newtown’s freshest op-shop, Swop, only opened in March and I already feel it’s leagues ahead of others in the area. Mainly because their clothes are sourced entirely through local exchange, their unique process allows patrons to bring in old clothes and exchange them for store credit or cash. Despite having a limited supply chain, they still manage to have a broad variety of garments; the extensive collection of 70s floral shirts and patterned pants really caught my eye as I walked through the store. Furthermore they reject circulating any labels that are fast fashion (H&M, Zara, Cotton-on etc), taking away the demand for labels from bigger stores, and pushing the emphasis toward quality second-hand garments that are produced ethically.

U-turn ‘contemporary branch’ Newtown -> U-turn is a franchise with 6 stores across Sydney, most of their clothes come from Italy, USA, UK and locally. They divide up their fashion according to contemporary or vintage and fill out certain stores with each. My personal pick is their contemporary branch in Newtown, the bulk of the store is made up of branded clothes, whilst a small amount of timeless vintage fashion fills out the rest of the store. Its cheap for a curated store and they often have sales on the already discounted prices. There is less of a consistent aesthetic, which is advantageous if you are unsure of what to shop for. Plus I simply love the neon signs they have inside.

Cream -> The cream of the crop and your one stop op-shop is Cream. This franchise has a contemporary, generic fashion, something-for-everyone vibe. What places them on this list is their up-cycling ethos: taking second hand garments and tailoring them to become new items of clothing. Often big mens button-up shirts are cut to be female items, Jeans are turned into shorts Even old button down shirts can become backpacks. This pushes the envelope in the op-shopping game and pedals the sustainability argument that is central to op-shopping culture. Their clothes are sourced locally, from the States and Japan too, there is certainly a ‘Cream’ aesthetic, the pillars of which are; denim, corduroy and funky patterned button downs.

C’s flashback -> a genuine op-shop in regards to the variety of weird and wacky clothes among the racks. Certainly a cut above your Vinnies and Salvos as there is no room for unfashionable items. There are cute little sections for western style clothing, while bright coloured party shirts and 90s sports jackets consummate the true vintage vibe. Price wise there is great value to be found, compared to the classics (Vinnies & Salvos) it is only slightly more. When you taking into account the labour and time one spends slogging through the clothes in either of those stores, its a small increase to pay.

Collective ensemble -> Inconspicuously placed along the south end of King Street, Collective ensemble has the western-boutique fashion vibe of many Surry hills stores packed in-between its walls. The small store has clothes with an Americana feel popping from the walls; tassel jackets, suede jackets, flared jeans and leather boots are some of the delights you may find. I was informed by the clerk that their stock comes from a vintage wholesaler, where they buy in bulk. With no specific curation in mind the stores stock changes month by month, sometimes a lot of 90s rave ware may come in, other months they might have seventies blazers and plaid packed floor to ceiling. Keeping their regular customers on their toes, eager to see what each month has in store.