Since 2015, Emily Sheahan has strived to shift attitudes around fast fashion and the circular economy in Adelaide. First with Swop Clothing Exchange, then as co-founder of the Slow Fashion Festival, then with The Commons, another pre-loved clothing shop and exchange that opened on Young Street in 2018.

“Underlying this whole concept was that element of sustainability and conscious buying that I wanted to address,” Sheahan told Broadsheet when we visited at the time of opening.

But when Covid-19 reached Australian shores, the retail industry – particularly bricks-and-mortar – was hit hard. Now, in order to survive, The Commons is going entirely online.

But Sheahan hopes it’s not the only way people will engage with retail in years to come. “At the end of the day, you still want to offer people this thriving experience to walk around in,” she tells Broadsheet, a week before the closure.

“It’s still fun, it shouldn’t be this disregarded ‘I-can-do-this-on-a-whim’ sort of thing [online]. I feel like the city really misses out on that.”

The Commons, located next to Twenty-Fifty-Two, is filled with vintage pieces from designers such as Comme des Garcons, Issey Miyake, Prada, Vivienne Westwood and Jean Paul Gaultier, and pieces from local designers that can be purchased or exchanged. It’s also been a hub for local makers and creators, hosting magazine and label launches and art exhibitions.

“We built a really lovely community around it,” says Sheahan. “I was really happy with the diversity of what were able to offer. We grew in terms of stock, but not only that, there were a lot of relationships built out of it that have been really rewarding – the labels and creatives that I was able to see the start of.”

Those include shoemaker and jewellery designer Done by Matea; tea and design store Spill The Tea; jewellery designer Romelia; and leatherworks maker Stuff by Glad.

Sheahan’s still working out how to adapt the exchange model to an online platform. “That’s what we’ve been trying to play around with online, whether it becomes like a pick-up-drop-off kind of scenario,” she says.

“I know companies like The Real Real in the States [have] opted for curbside pick-up as a way to get around things like this. So there’s really interesting ways around it, and I think if anything, it’s kind of forced people to be innovative around how you do business.”

The full extent of the economic impact of Covid-19 won’t be known for some time, and The Commons isn’t the only store to be affected (and it won’t be the last). But Sheahan hopes to reopen a physical store if the opportunity presents itself in the future.

“I honestly reckon everyone will get bored for the next year and a half … there’ll be a whole bunch of empty tenancies, and then – hopefully – rent will drop, and a whole bunch of people will come through with their really great ideas.”

The Commons’ last day is October 10. You can shop online here.