The “game changing” move to Docklands for ethical label as part of shopfront program
As part of a program to activate Docklands’ empty shopfronts, sustainable outerwear brand laGuapa describe their recent move into Victoria Harbour as a “game changer”.
While some small businesses can function perfectly well in the confines of a home office, others can struggle.
A chair, desk, and laptop is enough for many — an art that has been well honed during the past two years — but for other burgeoning businesses, like boutique fashion labels, working from home can be a confining experience, both physically and creatively.
So, when the opportunity comes to work in your own space, things can completely open up.
“It’s been a game changer,” fashion designer Zaida Rodríguez told Docklands News of her recent move into a previously unoccupied shopfront in Victoria Harbour.
Ms Rodríguez is the founder of sustainable outerwear brand laGuapa — one of the first small businesses to move into the Docklands area as part of a City of Melbourne program to activate empty retail spaces.
“Compared to working from home, working in a studio and having customers able to pick up their jackets from here and have the design consultations in a beautiful space, it just gives you such a different vibe. Like you’re a more established business.”
laGuapa has access to adjoining shops at the westernmost end of Collins St, with one used as a retail space and the other as a studio.
For someone with significant retail experience (having worked as a visual merchandiser in her native Spain) moving into her own space was hugely gratifying for Ms Rodríguez.
For me it’s kind of going back to the past; talking to people, making the shop look pretty. I’ve always loved retail — I mean, it’s great to shop online, but I think there’s nothing better than going to a store, trying something on and being in that environment. I’m enjoying that aspect a lot.
laGuapa (“the beautiful” in Spanish) uses sustainable and up-cycled materials for their jackets, ensuring manufacturing is done locally.
Working as a made-to-order concept, customers are able to book a consultation and choose materials and colours before their piece is put to production.
Sustainable, ethical practices are “at the core” of what they do.
“We make sure the people who sew our garments are paid fairly and are treated fairly,” Ms Rodríguez said.
“I have a manufacturer in Collingwood, where I live. I just go down the road and see the people who are sewing my garment, I talk to the manufacturer. We have a close-knit relationship.”
So far, the store has welcomed a mix of clients that follow the label and travel into Docklands, and curious types walking past.
Practicing what they preach, laGuapa is now in the process of setting up workshops on sustainable fashion, including how to up-cycle garments.
“Something that happens very often is that people are confused about what sustainable fashion is and how they can become more sustainable. So, I think education is the best way to inform customers on why it’s so important to switch from ‘fast fashion’ to a more cyclical model rather than a linear model, and why it’s so important to know your materials and know where you’re shopping.”
Push to fill empty shops
Moved to action after a large number of retail spaces were vacated during the height of COVID-19, the City of Melbourne engaged social enterprise Renew Australia to run a shopfront activation program in Docklands.
As part of the initiative, landlords donate vacant shops to up-and-coming traders, with a rolling 30-day rent-free licences negotiated by Renew Australia.
This gives the temporary traders time to test new ideas for a commercial market without committing to a lengthy commercial lease.
Lord Mayor Sally Capp, who visited the newly activated spaces in Docklands, said laGuapa was a “great addition” to the area.
“Our Shopfront Activation Program is breathing new life into the city by giving artists, makers, independent retailers and budding entrepreneurs the opportunity to test their business ideas in vacant spaces,” she said.
“We’re filling shopfronts across Melbourne with one-of-a-kind offerings to reinvigorate parts of the city that need it most, while supporting our creative and start-up communities.”
“These vibrant pop-up stores reflect the diversity of Melbourne, offering everything from fashion and food to music and art, giving people yet another reason to rediscover our great city.” •
laGuapa founder Zaida Rodríguez (centre) with photographer Jordi Garcia and graphic designer Roser Pie (Picture: Fabrizio Evans).