When Camilla Schippa moved to Sydney after working for the United Nations in New York, there was only one corner of Australia’s largest city that reminded her of the Big Apple: Newtown. Here, she recommends the best fashion spots in the areas.
Camilla Schippa is the CEO of the Social Outfit, a fashion label founded to provide training and employment to refugees and other new migrants to Australia. On top of Newtown’s vibrant retail scene, the Inner West’s progressive character made King Street the perfect place to open a boutique.
“I lived in New York for many, many years on the Lower East Side,” Schippa tells Culture Trip. “And when I came to Sydney, Newtown was the only place that felt a bit like that part of Manhattan.”
“That’s why we’re here,” says Schippa. “It’s a more welcoming area than other parts. Newtown really feels like home to us. It’s really cool and open-minded, and we have a lot of customers that keep coming back – locals that love us.”
The Social Outfit isn’t the only place shoppers can find ethical garments in Newtown. Although many retailers are struggling and plenty of shopfronts are being turned into eateries, King Street shoppers are still spoiled for choice when it comes to sustainable fashion boutiques and second-hand clothes stores.
“To me, King Street is the most vibrant part of Sydney,” says Schippa.“There’s a mixture of people with different backgrounds. You have really cool people… people choose to live there because it’s still a community, it really has that community feel,” she says. “To me, it’s fun and colour – that’s what I think of when I think about King Street.”
Read on to discover the most colourful boutiques in the neighbourhood.
“The Social Outfit is a fashion label with a difference,” says CEO Schippa. Occupying a classic two-storey Newtown terrace, this upscale King Street boutique offers free classes, traineeships and paid employment to refugees in the workroom upstairs and the shop floor downstairs. The mission is to help new migrants overcome the hurdles of finding their first job, giving 26 refugees an opportunity since it opened in 2014 – the vast majority then graduating to employment elsewhere. With everything made in-house using fabrics donated by high-end fashion labels, plus prints created by refugee school kids and artists, the Social Outfit offers garments that are as ethical as they are beautiful. “We want to celebrate Australia,” says Schippa. “Our shapes tend to be rather simple, but our patterns and our colours are really the heroes. They’re completely unique, and they look amazing. If people come into the shop, they’ll see a lot of funky, unique stuff.”
Sydney designer Danielle Atkinson makes all of her clothes in the Inner West, carefully selecting ethical materials and suppliers for the collections that end up in her flagship Newtown store. A fixture at the southern end of King Street since 2006, Milk and Thistle shows off refined, modern garments as well as homewares and accessories sourced from around the world.
Christina Kelly took her screen-printed T-shirts from Sydney’s markets to a little corner shop on King Street in 2004, right next door to the building Milk and Thistle moved into a couple of years later. Today, the womenswear at Made590 is renowned for its bold patterns and practical design (no pants without pockets here), often made in collaboration with local designers. The label also launched the inclusive Every Body range in 2018, producing Made590’s most popular garments in sizes eight to 26.
Welcome to world of wallets, bags, purses, watch bands, phone cases, travel pouches, belts and pretty much anything else a designer could possibly fashion out of cow hide. Status Anxiety began life in 2004 before opening a flagship store in Newtown in 2018, bringing its range of minimalist leather goods – all made from premium Italian and Brazilian leather that tanneries produce just for the shop – to the northern stretch of King Street.
Two doors down from Status Anxiety sits Alpha60, an über-cool Melbourne fashion label from brother-and-sister team Alex and Georgie Cleary. The sibling duo have built 12 boutiques across Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and Queensland since 2005, delivering classic staples and more creative pieces for both men and women. Alpha60 is particularly transparent about its production process: 90 percent of the garments are made by two family-run factories in China, which Alpha60 constantly monitors for ethical working conditions, materials and quality.
Real King is one of Newtown’s ever-rotating roster of vintage stores, including Cardigan Corner, Good Times Vintage, U-Turn, Bowerbird Vintage, Vintage@313, The Real Deal and Shagwell Vintage… and that’s after old stalwarts Cream on King and the Collective Ensemble bit the dust. These are the places where bargain-hunters can sift through stacks of second-hand streetwear.
When it comes to vintage clothes, Schippa’s advice is to shop at stores that only accept donations – such as the St Vincent De Paul Society – rather than those that buy clothes and fuel the cycle of fast fashion. The Vinnies at the north end of King Street boasts huge racks of pre-loved clothing at rock-bottom prices, and the profits go to people in need.
The Newtown chapter of the Red Cross – often styled as Three Five Nine King, after its address – is another charity shop with a treasure trove of retro garments. It’s not quite as cheap as Vinnies and the space is a little smaller, but the excellent selection of second-hand clothes helps support the Red Cross’ work across Australia, which is particularly important in the wake of the bushfires that ravaged the country in early 2020.
While other vintage stores are happy to recycle garments that have been worn once or twice before the owner got sick of them, SWOP maintains a strict no-fast-fashion policy. Located on Enmore Road just a couple of steps from the Enmore Theatre, SWOP sources clothes from local customers in exchange for cash or store credit, giving new life to garments that might otherwise end up in landfill. With boutiques in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, SWOP’s colour-coded racks cover everything from punk to leather goods to ‘90s streetwear at affordable prices for quality vintage.