‘Fashion intuition and a Junkyard full of gems’

Is sustainable, soulful shopping the perfect antidote to fast fashion? Maitland’s ‘Junkyard Gypsies’ are curating and creating a place that’s fashion-forward and guilt-free.

For Melanie Anderson and her co-founder Donna Varley, ‘Junkyard Gypsies’ was an idea born out of endless cups of coffee and a friendship that began 11 years ago – while they were both working as bra fitters.

“Junkyard Gypsies is about bringing together what doesn’t go – but kind of does – and creating an eclectic mix of really strange and wonderful things. Anything can be a beautiful space or outfit. That’s the thing about Junkyard: it’s about what we find and bring in and that those things have meaning,” Melanie explains.

“It’s been a dream of mine since I was very young and textiles are definitely in my blood – from both sides – but particularly one grandmother who used to dye flour sacks during the war time and make beautiful dresses for her neighbours. She was really clever and sewed a lot.

“I’ve always loved beautiful things but I’ve never had enough money to spend on big pieces and I’ve always appreciated the beautiful quality stuff. But I would go hunting for something similar that I could make my own that didn’t cost as much. I’ve always been aware that there are a lot of beautiful things out there – already made. If I ever bought anything new, I thought about it really hard. It had to earn its way into my life – whether it was my home or my wardrobe,” she says.

Donna also comes from a resourceful family. “I’m a graphic artist by trade but I’ve loved fashion all my life. My mum was a sewer and so was my gran. Melanie grew up differently to me as far as the bohemian side of things – I was one of those people who was brought up to think that you only went to a second hand shop if you didn’t have any clothes or were poor. We weren’t wealthy, so my mum sewed all our clothes, we just made everything.”

Over time Melanie and Donna’s friendship expanded to op-shopping together and then, about five years ago, they were both feeling restless in their current jobs. “Donna and I started talking about how great it would be to create something where we would go and find these beautiful things and then we could share them with other people as well as help people feel great while providing something affordable. At the same time we’d be able to share our passion,” explains Melanie.
They did a couple of markets together with what they had collected, as it was important that their business be sustainable – financially as well as fashionably.

“It took a long time to bring it all together and we were very fortunate that my dad had the brew shop (The Country Brewer, Maitland) and we could have the loft space above it, albeit hidden out of the way with no windows. Our growth from there was really just word of mouth and Facebook.”

That was four years ago and as Donna says, “we still had our dream of having a real shop with a shop front but it’s very difficult to do that sustainably.”

More than just a junkyard full of gems

Early last year the ‘Junkyard Gypsies’ dream became a reality when they moved into a historic building on Maitland’s High Street. Behind the retro doors, underneath pressed metal ceilings, in front of a dramatic staircase, this self proclaimed junkyard is now the home of sustainable, soulful fashion and is filled with textile treasures, historic homewares and up-cycled outfits.

Read more in the Autumn issue of Hunter & Coastal Lifestyle Magazine or subscribe here. 

Story and photography by Sally Maguire