Circular Fashion and The Virtual Op Shop Mall by Nina Gbor

Preloved clothing is one of the popular ways to curate a sustainable wardrobe. Several platforms have emerged to support the need for a circular economy. Second hand clothing is rapidly gaining communities of people who are embracing style and sustainability. We spoke to the founder of Sell My Clothes (The Virtual Op Mall), Irena Trajkovska to hear her reasons for creating the platform and how it’s supporting sustainability in the fashion industry. 

Irena Trajkovska, Founder of Sell My Clothes - The Virtual Op Mall

Irena Trajkovska, Founder of Sell My Clothes - The Virtual Op Mall

1. Hello Irena, talk to us about Sell My Clothes.

Sell My Clothes (SMC) is a Virtual Op (shopping) Mall. It’s a new concept based on the physical shops, except it’s online. Many of us lead busy lives these days so it’s just easier to sell or get what you need online. This Virtual Op Mall is for buying/selling/swapping/donating/renting fashion items only, but it incorporates a Map of garage sales and markets all over Australia as well, maps of tailors, op shops and charities all over the country. We also have a personal eco styling services for those in need of wardrobe restyling or a wardrobe upgrade. On top of that, we’re excited about giving everyone the chance to guest blog and show their op shopped or preloved personal style because we believe that “Style has no price tags”.

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2. Tell us how the idea for the platform was created. 

When we first moved to Sydney, I found myself hunting for new clothes for my kids every few months because like all children, they are growing. Somehow, deep down inside, I knew the fast fashion cheap stores were not the answer for our needs, although it seemed the only logical and financially sustainable solution at the time.

So, one day we mistakenly entered Vinnies thinking it was just another store. We later realised it was a second hand shop! To be honest I was initially apprehensive, even though excited about the prospect. I was, at the time fighting with the stigma that I had been engrained with my whole life that second hand clothes are only for poor people. It is truly hard when you are trying to wipe off decades of limiting beliefs about second hand. 

With a newly discovered and growing sustainable lifestyle, I noticed the impact that recycling clothes was having on our family budget. All of a sudden, we were left with excess money to spend on experiences, rather than material things that we or the children would outgrow or lose interest in. 

After spending a lot of time scrolling through preloved ads, engaging as an active member within second hand fashion groups and struggling with sales from all over the world, I decided to create a safe place for the Australian second hand fashion community, and this is how the Virtual Op Mall was born. 

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3. What’s the link to sustainable fashion? 

We encourage people to reuse, resell and recycletheir fashion items. There isn’t a single person that hasn’t done impulsive shopping, and we’ve all had bad days when we bought something, only to find that we didn’t like it the following week. Our motto is: DON’T THROW IT AWAY, resell it and save it from being added to the landfill! The bonus is that you will earn some extra money. The same goes for reusing and recycling – this is why we have our map of tailors, the blog, and a personal stylist – you never know how a single piece can be reused, differently combined or recycled, so take the chance and give it another try!

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4. With so many second hand platforms online, how is SMC unique? 

We LOVE that the market is waking up and all these platforms being born! I am sure we are all unique in a different way, but what makes The Virtual OP Mall one of a kind is that there are no transaction fees.  Compare it to a real shopping mall – we do not interfere in the stores’ policies and payment methods, nor we want to take percentage of their sales with the customers. It is also Australia wide ONLY (no worldwide competition), great filters that will help you find anything you need and other awesome features to help you maintain your sustainable life.

We are here to host their stores for which they pay a one-off, monthly or annual subscription fee (rent of $2 per product, $9 per month or $79 per year and that is all), give them a 24/7 technically supported platform and spread the word on the social media. We also have many other features (as mentioned above) that are FREE and there to help the second hand community in their sustainable journey (like creating groups, followings, ratings, adding events, sharing unique pieces found in the op shops around the country, etc.)  

5. What’s your hope and vision for the future of SMC?

We’d be delighted if we could see it growing with people who never ever thought of using second hand fashion pieces. You know, you can sell ice to Eskimos, as they know the benefit of it, and how to use it, but try doing that to someone from a hot climate who’s never seen it in their life. We are on a mission to try and do that – convert as many people as possible into a more sustainable lifestyle, and by doing that, to stop the devastating impact that fashion has on our environment. 

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Living your personal style by Nina Gbor

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Whenever you have to follow a dress code that doesn’t authentically feel like ‘you’, you might feel a stronger sense of self when you can bring elements of personality into it. 

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Case in point, this outfit. Dramatic, quirky and unusual pieces are how I express the creative and rebellious parts of myself that I don’t verbalise. Because I don’t have a different outlet for them, they manifest in my style.

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When I used to work in an office, this kind of outfit was typically how I styled myself to look corporate; monochrome chess board top paired with a multi-coloured small-pattern pencil skirt, chocolate brown belt and geometric pattern stilettos. Most of this outfit is preloved/second-hand. 

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I say this often, but I can’t emphasise this concept enough. I’m always flattered if someone likes my style, but I don’t encourage anyone to necessarily dress like me. As an unconventional stylist, I encourage you to find your own unique, individual form of self-expression through your style. 

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When you cultivate your style wellbeing, you’ll have your own personal style formula, which will naturally find you using your clothes for longer periods of time because they look amazing on you. And they’ll also make you feel so damn good!

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 STYLING

The look: My love for uncommon pieces was the attraction for buying this chess board statement piece. The pencil skirt, also patterned, works with the top because they have a strong black colour in them that connects. The stilettos also have lines that add to the thread of black colouring, bringing it all together. And the chocolate colour belt? Well, a bit of chocolate is always fun so why not?

Styling tip: If you have several seemingly random pieces in your closet, use the colour threading system I described to put pieces together that you wouldn’t normally wear together. The outcome? A range of new outfits created from multiple combinations in your closet. You can apply this principle to patterns or more plain clothing, office wear and other types of styles. 

Outfit sourced from:

Chess board top: ANU Outdoor Preloved Market (2017).

Patterned and multi-coloured pencil skirt: Salvation Army (Salvos) Op Shop (2016).

Chocolate brown belt: PDSA Op Shop, (UK, 2009).

Geometric pattern stilettos: From my wardrobe. 

Photos by Brunela Fenalte Photography.



- Nina Gbor

How sustainable fashion leaders use technology to build more meaningful business by Nina Gbor

Fashion is the 7th biggest industry globally, currently worth $2.4 trillion. It is also the second most polluting industry in the world: creating 92 million tonnes of textile waste and 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon emissions, more than all international flights and marine shipping combined. 

With the global population expected to reach 8.5 billion by 2030 and our overall apparel consumption forecast to increase by 63%, there is no doubt that our current trajectory has us heading towards absolute catastrophe. 

Fortunately, change is in motion. 

Over the last 18 months there has been a radical shift in the overall mindset, reimagining the way we make, buy, use and dispose our clothes. Circularity being the goal, a means to achieve climate and resource protection whilst supporting economic growth.

Here in Europe, unique collaborations between Global Fashion Agenda (GFA), International Apparel Federation (IAF) and Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) are stewarding transformative change to build a more circular economy, technology playing a pivotal part in facilitating this at scale.

I was curious to learn more about what sustainable fashion leaders back home are up to and how they are using technology to build more meaningful business. What better place to begin this conversation, than with a fellow female founder Natalie Johnson, CEO of Sustainable Fashion Marketplace, COVE.

Image: Natalie Johnson, CEO of COVE

Image: Natalie Johnson, CEO of COVE

What inspired you to move from “traditional" retail into sustainable fashion? 

I’m predominantly a fashion buyer with over 15 years’ experience in “traditional retail” but have spent a number of years working with start-ups in the fashion tech space. It was here that I was asked to be a judge at a pitch competition for fellow start-up companies in the ethical sector. One of the contestants was Gordon Renouf, Co-founder of Good on You. I was fascinated by his story and the huge traction he’d achieved. Everything he was creating aligned perfectly to my then side-hustle, COVE and I was keen to collaborate. It was actually Gordon who suggested I pivot my business model into the ethical space, which I did 18 months ago and have never looked back. When industry heavy weights like Farfetch, Yoox-Net-A-Porter and Matches Fashion are releasing “conscious” collections, and here in Australia The Iconic and David Jones have gotten behind transparency, you know it is not a trend – it’s here to stay.

 What significant differences between “traditional” and sustainable retail have you experienced?

The main difference I’ve noticed is mindset. There is a huge shift towards collaboration and community spirit in sustainable fashion. Everyone wants to share and help those around them succeed, it’s a very rewarding space to work amongst thought leaders taking risks and actually making positive impacts. The attitude of the customers in this space is also different. They’re incredibly passionate, kind and vocal. Gen Z in particular is an enormously powerful and educated sector, who wants to know the origins of items before they buy. This is making transparency a critical part of the value offering and will be price of entry for any fashion brand wanting to exist in 10 years. Another big difference with conscious shoppers is their loyalty and how they will become true brand ambassadors if they believe in your purpose. 


Can you share any particular insights around customer behaviours and how you are leveraging these to provide optimised experiences which directly impact your bottom-line?

Customers want to build trust, with where and how they shop. They realise that every time they’re opening their wallet, they’re voting for the world they want to live in. Whilst I don’t want to give away specific insights just yet, I will say our customers want to be heard. We have created a specific Facebook group for our most loyal VIP customers where we ask this community for their insights and road test some ideas before building out features. This has saved us valuable time and money and has been deeply insightful in how to map our priorities to deliver the most meaningful impact. Without our customers we are nothing, so it is important to us for them to feel involved.

Brands, like many businesses today, are more and more confronted with demands to play an active role to reduce their environmental footprint. What are some things your brand partners have adopted to get this balance right?

It’s not just about packaging however that is the biggest start. Many of our brands are switching from plastic polybags to biodegradable or compostable mail bags. We also have brands like Arnhem from Byron Bay that have incredible initiatives where they have a composting bin for their staff and even grow themfresh fruit & veg. Tigerlily are calculating and offsetting their carbon footprint, by only using sea freight vs airfreight to save tonnes on carbon emissions. There are other, simpler, considerations such as using recycled card and ribbons to tie on swing tags. From an apparel point of view it’s avoiding polyester like the plague. We want to ensure we never stock polyester garments. We can’t say with 100% confidence that a thread or label isn’t polyester, but we are working towards being polyester free and encouraging brand partners to never use it in their garments as there are enough green alternatives out there.

What tech solutions or changes have you made or are in the pipeline to reduce your environmental footprint and/or give back?

There’s little things such as the entire COVE team using Ecosia as our search engine, who plant 1 tree for every 45 web searches. They are currently up to over 60 million trees! We want to share our own contribution towards this with our community, so are in the process of developing a widget which will have a live counter of how many trees we as a company have planted and also how to offer this initiative to our customers at checkout so that together we can become carbon positive. One other element to our business model is licensing our Clo3D design software which helps brands improve efficiencies, reduce costs and lower emissions in the pre-production phase of garment sampling. Then there are bigger, more complex pieces of tech, such as building a blockchain with partners Flight Path for trusted radical transparency through brands & designers supply chains.We are also working on a new feature that will allow customers to either: buy new, rent, sell second hand or donate their product, in one convenient place. Plus at checkout, we’re partnered with i=Change; a charity platform where $1 is donated every time a transaction is made, which goes to empower young girls in underprivileged communities.

You're a passionate advocate for positive change. What is your secret to success? 

Collaboration. I cannot bring my vision to life on my own nor do I want to learn and build all the technologies required from scratch, especially when most of them exist. Instead my approach is to partner with masters within each area and work together to create a better future. We have been very strategic in our partnerships to ensure they not only align with COVE’s core values and long-term objectives but are positively changing behaviours and making a profound impact.

What shifts are you seeing brands take or not take to build a more circular economy?

Packaging is again the first visible and noticeable change. Fabric waste is starting to be minimised through the design process with tech like Gerber, which can layout your designs to optimise the fabric and eliminate/reduce waste. We’ve identified that designers do not generate revenue on the rental and second hand/donation side of the market. This could be a welcome change that tips behaviours towards building more innovative and circular models like those created by Threadtogether here in Australia or ThredUp in the USA. Moving to adapting a more circular model is slow. Not through reluctance. I think we can all agree everyone wants to be making this change, it’s through education and information. This may be because it is new, there are still many unknowns and costs associated that can make the changes seem prohibitive or restrictive. We think Anne Marie Bonneau says it best when she says “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” and that’s what we encourage with our partners. 

It’s an incredibly exciting time in fashion tech, a sector which remains a Pandora’s box of opportunity to explore, create and transform in ways that delivers positive impact at scale. 

As we are witnessing the world over, the future does not need to be a compromise between achieving social, economic or environmental prosperity. We can have it all if we are collaborative, conscious and harness technology to create the much-needed systemic shifts towards a circular economy. 

Written by guest blogger, Penny Whitelaw, Co-Founder of To Me Love Me

Insta: @2meloveme I Facebook: @2MeLoveMe I Twitter: @WhitelawPenny

Bright Yellow Winter by Nina Gbor

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My wardrobe is full of vibrant colours to keep my style fun and playful. Recently the days have gotten shorter and the weather colder for many of us in the southern hemisphere. To help me mentally cope with the colder, darker days, I up the ante with BRIGHT, BOLD COLOURS!

Exhibit A: this super bright yellow early 1980s hand-me-down I got from my friend’s mother, Maryanne. Maryanne is my good friend Kylie’s mother and she has had this gorgeous yellow number since the early ‘80s before she had Kylie and her sisters! Fortunately for me, none of them wanted the dress so I got it. I rocked it with a pair of light brown studded falcon ankle boots I found in a preloved boutique. 

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Have you ever noticed that most Winter attire in retail are usually dark and neutral colours, while summer clothes are often bright, cheerful and colourful? I think it should totally be the other way around. We should have bright clothes in winter to raise the energy and ambience of the cold, dark days with cheery, vibrant colours. And then in summer, when we already have longer, brighter days, more sunshine and generally lighter moods as a result, we can opt for darker colours and/or just maintain the colour vibrancy. 

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 I do my best to extend my summer wardrobe through to winter by wearing thermals underneath clothes and jumpers when needed. This means I get more use from my clothes, buy less clothing for winter and therefore waste less clothing. And quite significantly, I get those bright, energetic, colour boosts in winter. It also has a positive effect on anyone who sees me on a winter day because they get hit with an uncommon dose of ebullience. 

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So, this dress is a metaphoric toast to those of us with winter days ahead of us for the next few months. Stay warm and keep it colourful! 

Outfit sourced from:

1980s yellow dress: Hand-me-down from Maryanne’s wardrobe.

Light brown studded falcon boots: U-Turn Preloved, Vintage, Designer Fashion Boutique

Photos by Brunela Fenalte Photography. 

- Nina

Secret Sisterhood social enterprise for women by Nina Gbor

Nina Gbor on the left hand side. Jacquie Love on the right hand side.

Nina Gbor on the left hand side. Jacquie Love on the right hand side.

I’m all for social enterprises that empower, uplift and inspire women. I spotted the lovely Jacquie Love outside of the International Women’s Day event, held by the UN Women National Committee Australia in Canberra last month. 

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Jacquie was raising funds for UN Women’s gender inequality initiatives by selling beautiful jewellery she designs for the label she founded, Secret Sisterhood. It’s a mission/purpose driven social enterprise that employs women in India to make the jewellery and then gives 100% of profits to charities aimed at ending gender inequality. 

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Secret Sisterhood is also a movement, a growing community of women and girls with the collective goal of ending gender equality. They are a global community connecting through events, services and of course jewellery.  One of the things that caught my eye at the UN Women event were the compliment cards from Secret Sisterhood. Inscribed with phrases like “You are really strong” or “You should be so proud”, this is the perfect thing to completely shift someone’s day into a happy one. I might even keep a few in my wallet as my self-love affirmations.

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I also loved their Intentional Words jewellery line each with words like Love, Gratitude, Kindness and Peace. These are pieces I would wear with nearly any style of outfit. It feels good having a positive word or symbol with me all day long. 

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Needless to say, I’m now officially a fan of Secret Sisterhood. It’s one of the exemplary enterprises, showing how a business can be run in a way that uplifts, supports everyone involved.  

- Nina Gbor

*Photos from Nina Gbor and supplied by Secret Sisterhood