Vinnies is widely known for answering the call to help people in need. But when you combine that compassion with the creativity of volunteers like Gay and Maria, it’s clearly dressed for success.
For the past three years the women have been the beauty and brains behind the Batemans Bay branch’s front windows. From recycled cardboard dresses to a Christmas window featuring a real tree cut up to resemble a dress, the most romantic wedding displays to a setting that looks like one of those vintage travel postcards, Gay and Maria have nailed it.
Gay describes herself as “fanatical” about what she calls trash fashion – recycled pieces that might have had their day as far as the original wearer was concerned, but still have life in them as window fashion. It’s all about recycling and saving waste from landfill, she said, giving pieces a new lease on life – or at least in the window.
Nothing is wasted. If the items are stained or torn and can’t be sold they can be used in a window display. But if the pieces are still in good nick, once the display has been up for a while, customers can buy them.
And they don’t even have to be actual clothes. One of the most popular set-ups was a dress Gay made entirely from leaves.
“My friends were wonderful; they all went around finding leaves for me,” she said.
“But I forgot that leaves shrink so that was a bit of a problem – by the end of the display time, it had all gone brown.”
Another of the popular windows was one done by Maria, depicting what looked like a scene from an old travel postcard or magazine.
Shop manager Megan said the women worked with what was in stock – or treasures they had found or been given.
“We had these old suitcases in the shop and Maria just pulled everything together on the day to make the display,” she said.
“It was beautiful.”
Megan said customers regularly asked to buy items in the various window displays.
“However I do like to try to keep the display intact for the duration of the window, which could be one to four weeks,” she said.
Like most Vinnies volunteers Gay and Maria started a variety of jobs in the shop before they found their “place”.
Maria has been volunteering for about four years, Gay for six.
“Doing the windows was a gradual thing,” Gay said.
“I’ve always loved working with fashion so I suppose we started out with choosing items for the windows, then backdrops.
“Maria has great taste and decorating skills.”
Both became volunteers accidentally. Gay, a keen golfer, was sidelined with a broken leg when one of her golfing buddies suggested she volunteer at Vinnies whilst recuperating.
“She introduced me to the manager who asked me, ‘when can you start?’.”
Maria moved to Batemans Bay from Canberra about five years ago and, whilst dealing with Centrelink, was asked if she’d like to volunteer.
“I thought it sounded like a good idea,” she said, “so they set me up at Vinnies.
“In the beginning I was very quiet,” she said.
“That’s because you couldn’t get a word in edgeways,” Gay joked.
These days, the two work well together as a team with complementary skills. While Gay likes to plan the displays in advance because it takes time to collect the materials she needs (including items saved from landfill ), Maria is more spontaneous with an excellent eye for design and fashion, according to Megan.
“We don’t argue about things,” Gay said, “but we do like to debate.”
Megan said she has little doubt that the innovative window displays draw customers into the shop – and help raise funds for Vinnies to assist people in need.