After living in cities overseas and in New Zealand, Emma Whitlock and husband Andy knew that they wanted to bring up their children in their own hometown of Taupō. The lake, the lifestyle and being close to family brought them back several years ago.
Andy’s job allows him to work from anywhere, but Emma needed to find something new after they moved. She applied for a few roles, but nothing felt like the right fit. In the meantime, she had been enjoying the chance to explore the local op shops looking for pieces on behalf of friends.
“I was finding lovely things for my friends,” says Emma, “They encouraged me to jump online to resell some of my finds and make some money.”
Emma set herself up on Instagram and found that quite quickly, her passion for op-shopping was turning into a successful venture. She decided to defer the place in teacher training she had applied for and give herself the chance to turn her passion into a living.
“I knew that to make my venture, Charting Eden, successful, I would need to treat it as a job. Looking for clothes, shooting the pieces, putting them up online, engaging with my customers and followers and packaging up the sold pieces to send is really time-consuming, but I never get tired of the work,” she says.
“I look for good quality pieces by well-known brands. I sometimes find genuine treasures by
international designers, but I generally avoid ‘fast’ fashion pieces. My customers are looking for items that will be in their wardrobe for more than just one season.”
Emma believes that reselling clothing has an important role to play in a more sustainable future. “Many of my regular customers want to reduce their footprint and find things for their wardrobe from the thousands of tonnes of unwanted clothing out there rather than buying new, but they lack the time to visit op shops. They can jump onto Instagram and scroll through a curated collection at Charting Eden and find something beautiful. Taupō locals can collect their pieces directly from me. Everything else I package and send via courier to customers nationwide.”
Emma acknowledges that some people do have concerns about the burgeoning reselling trade; that if resellers are regularly visiting all the op shops, there won’t be anything of good quality left for those that depend on op shops for affordable clothes for themselves and their family.
While the vintage clothes trade has been around for a long time, when Emma started reselling
online, there were only a handful of others in New Zealand focused on reselling contemporary
women’s fashion. Now, this market has exploded with dozens of resellers making the most of
various online platforms such as Instagram and TradeMe.
“It’s an issue I consider all the time,” says Emma, “If you have a growing number of resellers in a town the size of Taupō, who are all constantly visiting the local op shops, it will undoubtedly have an impact on what is available for others to find.”
Emma limits her visits to local op shops and leaves town to visit op shops further afield every
fortnight. “We have wonderful op shops in Taupo. The people that work in them are all lovely and know me well. I have always been open about my business and I consciously stagger my visits to avoid over-shopping any one place.”
Ultimately though, the volume of unwanted clothes appears to be never-ending. “Reselling clothing has an important role to play in a circular economy. Charting Eden is about connecting beautiful clothes with people that want to shop more sustainably. Along the way, we are also supporting charities and building a community of people who love sustainable fashion.”
Social media enables Emma to run a business with low overheads, customers nationwide and a lot of flexibility, but it does have challenges. “The algorithms within Instagram control access and exposure and they are impenetrable, so that can be frustrating. Trends on social media also change very quickly. I have learnt that I need to find a balance between what is popular on Instagram versus what feels right for me and authentic for the brand and community I am building. I like to experiment and have fun with things, but I have a strong vision for Charting Eden and a certain amount of consistency in my approach works best for me and seems to appeal to my customers.”
“I have loved op-shopping since I was a child,” says Emma, “When I was about eight, I used to go to a little op shop that was in the Paetiki shops and it has been one of my favourite past times ever since. I love that I have been able to build a business doing something that I really enjoy. It’s a lot more hard work than most people realise, but it gives me flexibility and the opportunity to make a positive contribution socially and environmentally.”
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