Discover the Melbourne vintage store that champions upcycling

I just think we need to encourage customers to think of new ways to use parts.

The trend cycle in 2022 is moving at breakneck speed. Fashion influencers on apps like TikTok have the divine ability to spark a micro trend – think leggings, pearl necklaces and sweater vests – and fast fashion brands are churning out masses of poorly made items. to respond to a population eager to keep pace. So what is the antidote to this culture of overconsumption and disposable purchases?

Vault, a vintage store in Melbourne, believes vintage fashion and upcycling can provide us with a way to tap into the trend cycle without buying new items. The not-for-profit vintage store, located in Melbourne’s iconic Block Arcade, is a new venture for the National Trust of Victoria. Opened in November 2021, proceeds from the store go towards the preservation of historic properties, including the Rippon Lea Mansion, Como House and the Old Melbourne Jail.


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After decades of volunteer-run vintage markets, the permanent showcase is a way to raise funds and engage a younger market in the work carried out by the National Trust. And since Generation Z and Generation Y are particularly fond of second-hand fashion, Vault’s upcycled fashion show as part of Melbourne Fashion Week (M/FW) will serve as a timely introduction to anyone who has yet to visit the store.

As the official media partner of M/FW – and a longtime proponent of a slower, more considered approach to fashion – fashion magazine is particularly impressed with Vault’s approach to vintage fashion. While some would say that preserving the integrity of a vintage piece is of the utmost importance, Vault wants to encourage people to take ownership of an item by modifying and recycling it. An 80s prom dress that looks too fancy for you to wear? No worries, turn it into a ruffled tulle midi skirt.

It’s this approach, which Vault calls its Upcycle Initiative, that sees the store inviting a team of local designers, including Sorrento, Chelsea Hickmanand moose dollto breathe new life into old clothes for his M/FW debut. We caught up with Vault Director Jack Fordham to discuss the environmental impact of fashion, how you can keep up with the trend cycle without buying again, and what we can expect from the next show.

Can you tell me a bit about the Vault philosophy?

I think something we want to champion is that buying used clothing is the most sustainable thing you can do in fashion. We definitely encourage our customers to take pieces – and it doesn’t matter if it’s a designer piece or a rare piece – if they like it, and they think it would be better without sleeves , or if they want to change the color of this one, or if they want to make a top out of a skirt, it’s like, go ahead. As long as they reuse, I think that’s a good thing.

It’s really interesting to hear you say, especially with designer pieces, because I know some people are keen on preserving them.

I think there is room for that too. We have a beautiful 1969 Pierre Balmain dress in the shop and I wouldn’t recommend taking it apart. But look, it’s up to the owner – if he wants to change it, he should. I just think we need to encourage customers to think of new ways to use parts.

What are some of the benefits of buying vintage fashion?

The fashion industry I know overproduces 30-40% of products, contributes 10% of all global carbon emissions, and is the second worst in the world for water and plastic pollution. Buying second-hand does nothing. There really is no lag.

You prevent something from becoming waste and you also prevent yourself from buying something new.

Everything is very cyclical. Even the things that we thought, ‘Oh, that’s so old fashioned, who could wear that now?’, are all coming back into fashion. As a fashion-loving individual, I have pieces in my wardrobe that I’ve had since I was 14. I still wear them and they still fit because my mom liked to buy oversized. I just think it all comes together, and why not swap out some of your pieces for new vintage pieces and redo an entire outfit?

How can shoppers use second-hand clothes to their advantage when trying to shop for current trends?

They can mix and match in the store which is great. Or we can give them a shirt from the store to see how they might wear it at home, so they can look at what they have in their own wardrobe. It also goes into the details. We sell a lot of costume jewelry, and sometimes just adding a brooch or necklace can also update the outfit.

Pieces that still exist today must have good quality fabric and craftsmanship if they have lasted this long.

Within Vault we have a lot of designers from Australia and even Melbourne who are no longer there. It just shows you the quality that was made at the time, that they are 50 years old but still look in great condition. For example, at the bottom of the runway, we put a wedding dress from 1989.

We didn’t do anything to the dress, we just styled [it] with a contemporary hairstyle and makeup, and that changed everything. Some pieces may look dated on a hanger, but as soon as you put them on a moving body, they really change. It is also about the confidence of the wearer to bring this piece to life.

It looks like the trend cycle is accelerating. Do you think that’s really good for vintage because it means styles quickly come back into fashion?

My personal belief is that it’s too fast. Companies like Shein and even ASOS, like what do they really produce? It’s nothing of quality. But I see a lot of people, just through Instagram and TikTok and other social media platforms, they’re going to buy a cute vintage dress or a two-piece from Vault, and then they’re going to match that with, like, a new pair of Prada shoes .

It’s about putting the money on a quality piece but matching it to something that costs around $20. That’s not to say there aren’t issues with luxury also being a contributor to fast fashion, but I see it often, the way people mix up and down.

What was the inspiration behind the M/FW upcycling track project?

The Block Arcade is a beautiful old building. Seeing fresh new designers in there is something that doesn’t happen very often. But in the 80s, they were doing parades through the Block Arcade. Even long before that, there was a thing called “doing the block”, where ladies and gentlemen strolled around the Block Arcade and Collins Street and window-shopped. We’re sort of bringing that tradition back. Part of the reason for doing these tracks [was] the amount of stuff I had in Vault.

Lots of things are great, but there are a few pieces that are so dated. [We had] this great marshmallow 1980s wedding dress and while I believe my statement that anyone can wear anything, it wouldn’t sell. We gave it to a designer called Oscar Keen who did it again in this amazing piece. It was about giving away pieces that might have a hole, or might be stained, or moth holes are a very common thing in vintage clothing, and just taking the pieces that are too worn out and reusing them.

Upcycling has really taken off during the pandemic, with established designers getting involved due to manufacturing difficulties. Do you think he’s here to stay?

I really do. With the way things are going, I think that will continue. My only rule with the upcoming track was that the designers had to use deadstock or offcuts, and there was no space (other than maybe a zipper) to buy anything for the product. Everything was simply reused from their own workshop or from Vault.

It’s always amazing what people can do. Sometimes limitations are also good for creativity.

Absolutely. I hope this is the start of an annual event for us, that we can champion sustainable fashion here at Fashion Week and make it a bigger and better event. This is only our first year, but I hope there will be many more to come.

You can attend the Vault Runway on October 14 during Melbourne Fashion Week 2022. Read more here.

About Renee Williams

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