A Captive Audience

Project Goodwill
June 3, 2010, 12:57 pm
Filed under: Research | Tags: , ,

April 1, 2010

Henry Roth.Life cycle … Henry Roth donated dresses from his archives. Photo: Quentin Jones

Reworked wedding dresses are helping transform the local op shop into a fashion destination, writes Natasha Silva-Jelly.

Trawling through an op shop in search of buried treasure has long been the preserve of the devoted fashionista. But what you might not know is that the humble op shop has been busy shaking off its mothball reputation and establishing itself as a fully fledged fashion destination, complete with chic fit-out and reworked designer pieces.

OneNoffs in the Sydney suburb of Randwick is one such example pioneering the op shop revolution.

The brainchild of Rupert Noffs, grandson of the late Reverend Ted Noffs, the not-for-profit charity store opened late last year as a typical clutter-filled, visual merchandising-free zone.


Student designer Louisa Rogers models her winning dress and holds an '80s bridal gown.Student designer Louisa Rogers models her winning dress and holds an ’80s bridal gown. Photo: Quentin Jones

But recently the store has been given an overhaul to sharpen its fashion focus. The pots and pans and trinkets were removed, the shelves were merchandised and, in line with Noffs’s vision to make the op shop a cool destination in which to buy fashionable clothes, shoes and accessories at bargain prices, a program was introduced allowing student fashion designers to rework vintage pieces and then sell them in the store. This gives them a cut of the profit and a platform to sell their designs.

“I wanted to make the notion of the op shop cool. If you go to New York, London or Tokyo, there are these amazing charity op shops making lots of money and there was nothing like that in Sydney,” says Noffs, who studied acting and singing and worked for Surry Hills vintage store Grandma Takes a Trip before joining the family business four years ago. He now heads the marketing, public relations and fund-raising arm of the foundation.

“We were getting so many clothes donated like gorgeous silk 1950s dresses, amazing fabrics and ’80s batwing-sleeve tops that were in perfect condition but the cuts were outdated, so I started to think, ‘How can we still use these and still sell them?’

“So I thought about how student designers could rework the 1986 pieces into 2010 pieces,” Noffs says.

“My dream was to support talented young designers while raising money for marginalised kids.”

Enter flamboyant wedding gown designer and Project Runway mentor Henry Roth and that dream would became a reality. “I met Henry at an event one evening and we got talking. I told him about OneNoffs and the idea of recreating designer pieces and he seemed to love it. I didn’t think anything was going to happen but he called me first thing the next morning wanting to meet,” Noffs says.

Both Noffs and Roth are the third generation in their respective family businesses.

The pair met to discuss Noffs’s vision and Roth immediately introduced the charity boss to Leanne Whitehouse, founder of the Whitehouse Institute of Design.

Roth then donated 200 wedding dresses from his private archives and the OneNoffs student program was born. The challenge for the first four selected students was to take one of Roth’s ’80s bridal gowns and turn it into a knockout evening frock.

Roth viewed the students’ creations halfway through the project to offer pointers and was an official judge alongside Noff and Whitehouse at the end of the challenge.

“I think the program is an excellent way to encourage the interaction between young, up-and-coming Australian designers and sustainable fashion. It also ticks all the right boxes, encouraging fashion design and supporting charity and recycling. I think we have only just scratched the surface of the potential of the scheme,” Roth says.

“I was really impressed by the standard and the restyling of these 1980s bridal gowns into evening gowns. The winner and several finalists were incredible and I was equally impressed by the sustainable-fashion element.”

Case in point: the winning design by a final year student, Louisa Rogers, who took a long, full and very dated bridal gown and slashed and dyed it to give it serious sex appeal.

“Originally the dress was very basic; it was a simple corset with gold embroidery and trimming in the bodice and it had a full, gathered skirt. My vision was to create the ultimate cocktail dress that would stand out in a crowd, so I emphasised all the frills and dyed the dress to take it away from the bridal white and give it a light-blue, tie-dyed appearance,” Rogers says.

As for the future of the program, Noffs is keen to expand it to other fashion design schools around the country. But the good news is, you don’t have to be a student to work your magic on a vintage OneNoff. “Anyone is welcome to come in and take away four bags of clothes and they have one month to recreate them in order to bring them back and sell in store,” Noffs says.

“All of the designs will have a swing tag with a history of the dress and a bio of the designer, so it’s a win-win.” Noffs is also planning to launch a bigger and even more chic flagship store in a major fashion hub such as Bondi, Paddington or Surry Hills soon.

As for what happened to all the pots and pans and bits and pieces, stand by for the arrival of Nic-Nak-Noffs.

The Ted Noffs Foundation

Reverend Ted Noffs (Rupert’s grandfather) is considered one of Australia’s great humanitarians. He founded the Wayside Chapel in the late 1960s in Kings Cross as a way to provide support for young people experiencing drug and alcohol problems and related trauma. Noffs also established Sydney’s first 24-hour crisis centre, set up the first Drug Referral Centre in Sydney, co-founded the Aboriginal Affairs Foundation and was the co-founder of Lifeline. The Ted Noffs Foundation was established in honour of its founder in 1969 and has long enjoyed a good relationship with the royal family. Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana were fans of its work and Prince William dropped in during his recent visit to Australia. Today the legacy of Ted Noffs lives on: son Wesley and wife Amanda and sons Rupert and Matt all work for the foundation, which offers a host of programs devoted to troubled youths. See noffs.org.au.

Red Cross retail

Further proof that charity shops are getting their chic on is 359 King in Newtown, Sydney. Touted as a boutique charity store, this initiative by the Australian Red Cross is brimming with a hand-picked selection of mint-condition vintage sourced from here and around the globe as well as funky streetwear, accessories and an eclectic mix of furniture and homewares. Cleverly merchandised and clutter free, the store, which resembles an upmarket treasure trove from an era gone by, also features original World War I and WWII Red Cross brochures. The plan is to introduce the concept along with more accessories-only stores across Sydney. “359 King is a totally new direction for Red Cross retail. We understand that charity stores have long been a source of inspiration for fashion-forward shoppers and we plan to evolve to ensure we offer something truly different to the Sydney fashion scene,” says Red Cross retail buyer Olivia Cozzolino.

With all proceeds going to Red Cross programs to help people in need in Australia and throughout the world, there’s really no excuse not to do your bit. 359 King Street, Newtown, (02) 9517 9209.


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