29 April 2024

Ryan's in-jean-ious approach making op shop a fossicker's favourite

| Michele Tydd
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Man standing in op shop changing room with jeans as curtains

Anglicare’s Dapto op shop manager Ryan Xuereb in the retro change rooms with repurposed jeans for curtains. Photos: Michele Tydd.

Woonona’s Ryan Xuereb has turned a boyhood hobby into an unexpected and highly successful retail career.

He and his team of volunteers have turned a huge, backstreet commercial space in Dapto into a stylish Anglicare op shop with a vibe that attracts return customers from as far away as the Southern Highlands and Sydney.

“Some even describe it as a David Jones experience,’’ says Ryan, referring to the quality and variety of goods on display.

Ryan started op shopping for fun when he was 15, but he never dreamed it would become a career.

After finishing school at Cedars Christian College at Farmborough Heights, Ryan spent two years studying design in Sydney.

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He started out dressing windows at the op shop he now manages in Marshall Street, Dapto, which attracted attention.

He went on to curate stock at a few Mission Australia and Anglicare op shops throughout the Illawarra, and in 2020 he was offered a managerial role back where he started in Dapto.

With little passing traffic, he had his work cut out, but its popularity soon grew through word of mouth.

“It’s about creating a great shopping experience that appeals to all generations,” he says.

“People love fossicking through the new and used clothing of every shape and brand, as well as the vintage and modern furniture, jewellery and a range of homewares and accessories.”

The quirky extras such as the retro change rooms with repurposed jeans for curtains add a sense of fun.

“We also provide background music comprising classic hits over the decades and some of our customers just come in to listen to their favourite songs because it brightens up their day,” Ryan says.

Man standing behind a display in an op shop

Ryan with one of his creative displays at the Marshall Street op shop.

“One of the best parts of my job is arranging the displays and I usually start with a very beautiful or interesting object and work around that.

“By the time I’m finished, that central object is usually sold, but it’s done its job.”

Ryan attributes his love of colour and design to a creative mother, and to watching as a child the renovation of his century-old family home at Woonona.

“My inspiration these days comes from a lot of sources, from magazines to social media. But it’s more about making those ideas your own,” he says.

While proud of the store’s success, Ryan stresses that its core purpose is to uphold Anglicare’s commitment to supporting the disadvantaged.

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“We have a range of services to help people in need, including a food pantry,” he says.

“We’re also big on sustainability – we have corporate partners who are often left with end-of-line garments or ones with minor flaws, which they donate to us rather than sending them to the tip.

“Our sewing circle ladies fix the flaws, like a missing button or broken seams in the clothing, and then they are back on the racks.”

Ryan is quick to attribute much of the shop’s success to his volunteers.

“I want them to enjoy working here, so I tend to pick people on their skill set because doing something you love and are good at is rewarding.

“I have volunteers who, for example, have a passion for shoes and handbags, others who love jewellery or sewing – to have them working here is a win-win situation.”

Despite his huge success with the store, Ryan is not the type of person to rest on his laurels.

That’s the curse of the creative, he jokes: “We never want to become stale or complacent.”

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