Paul ‘lives and breathes’ all things Fitzroy – he enjoys the north side’s lively eclectic bars and restaurants, the street art covering the narrow backstreets, but more importantly he is passionate about the op shop he volunteers at on Brunswick Street.
One of two Sacred Heart Mission op shops in the Fitzroy area, Paul says the second-hand haven is diverse, welcoming and community minded, but has also supported his growth as a volunteer.
After being diagnosed with HIV at age 46, living with mental health issues, dyslexia and bouts of homelessness, Paul explains he has endured his fair share of trauma.
When Paul first began volunteering at the store, he limited his use of technology as well as interaction with staff and other fellow volunteers.
He slowly began to interact with customers during his shifts and Paul soon developed the courage to leave the back room to instead merchandise the store and its window displays.
His window displays include ‘loud and proud’ visual creations celebrating important LGBTIQA+ community events such as ‘Wear It Purple Day’ and Pride Week, which is something Paul is passionate about, as he has a long history with Melbourne’s drag community.
Through designing the window displays and working on the floor Paul’s customer rapport building, along with this confidence, grew.
While Paul worked on making the shop a welcoming and inclusive environment for the community, he realised he could extend that through his unique customer service.
“I met a customer one day who looked lost in the store,” Paul explains. “When I started a conversation with them, I realised they wanted to dress in the other genders clothing style, but didn’t know where to start. They felt self conscious and a little out of their depth. I wanted to make them feel safe and free to shop from any clothing rack.”
Since then Paul has been advising and helping transgender people in the store, by styling and dressing them because he explains when people are transitioning, dressing in the other genders fashion style is often the first stage of their journey.
Greeting the customer at the door with a beaming smile, Paul says he starts with the person’s preferred pronouns, their name and how they would like to dress, which makes the Fitzroy op shop much more than a second-hand store.
“I explain to people everyone has different body shapes, sizes and styles,” Paul says.
“Some people don’t know their size in the other genders garments and need to understand bust, or shoulder width and the length of a dress or shirt on them.
“I teach them how to visualize what a garment would look like on themselves while their browsing through the racks.”
Paul gives his full attention to customers so they feel safe and their privacy respected and one of the ways he tries to do this is by setting up a clothing rack outside the dressing rooms while the customer is trying garments on.
“It takes patience, trust and a welcoming environment to connect with my customers,” he says.
The customer walks away with a bag full of purchased second-hand garments that are not only helping others, but also themselves.
“His commitment to helping people who are transitioning to find the right clothing is something to be admired,” Fitzroy Store Coordinator Damian says.
The community our Brunswick Street store has entered only after a few years of opening is something that we’re extremely proud of. The op shop fits right in and its customers always find an outfit that’s perfectly fitting.
Stay up to date with our monthly newsletter, Heartbeat