LOLA'S retro fashion shop has given Nhill a new lease of life, writes SARAH HUDSON
Like so many rural towns, a decade of drought took its toll on Nhill.
Pauline McCracken saw it first hand as a social worker with the local hospital.
"At one point there were 13 shops shut in the main street," says Pauline, who grew up in a family of six sisters in the nearby Wimmera town of Kaniva.
It was a chance discussion with one of her sisters, Tanya, that saw the two create a vibrant hub on the edge of Nhill that is at the forefront of renewed positivity for the community.
Lola's Garage is ostensibly a city-style vintage and retro clothing and accessories shop - and so much more.
Not only has Lola's Garage been the catalyst for the creation of several businesses - from jewellery to food - it also has become a bartering centre for excess fruit and veg, as well as a charity offering clothes to needy local and international families.
Pauline says the idea for Lola's came to her after running a charity clothes store, The Drought Shop, in Nhill in 2007.
"In 2010 I finished 14 years of work and took long service leave. At Christmas Tanya came home and said to me, 'You are getting old and boring, what do you want to do?', Pauline says.
"I said I missed The Drought Shop - that sense of community and pulling together - and that I'd love to go back into fashion recycling.
"Tanya (who was finishing her masters degree in photography in Melbourne) could see the vision, a funky shop that would bring a little bit of city eccentricity to the country."
Above all, though, the duo could see that Nhill "needed a laugh, to lighten up, to bring back a sense of community".
They approached the local Home Hardware store, which owned a neglected garage on the edge of town, offering to rent it.
With a lot of ingenuity and artistic skill, they trawled the local transfer station for retro furniture and consulted friends and artists, who advised a vivid colour scheme of pink, red and orange, and a vintage vibe name.
The sisters then sourced recycled and donated clothing.
More than a year on, Lola's Garage has developed beyond this original concept.
The crafty sisters are both keen sewers and restyle clothes.
Pauline says clothes that don't sell quickly are then moved to the "help-yourself" pile, where shoppers can take away a bag of clothes for $5.
Any leftovers are given to poor Filipino families.
The sisters source jewellery from local designer Christine Picone, of Zeva Designs, who makes accessories out of wire from disused TVs and assorted equipment.
Demand for her jewellery saw Christine create a sideline gourmet treats business for the garage, NhillBillies.
The owner of the local video store began making headbands and hair accessories for Lola's and now runs a successful business, Tizzy Bits by Jackie.
The sisters have created a community garden at the rear of the shop, giving away and bartering their produce, while locals, too, bring in their excess fruit and vegetables.
"We have a social and environmental conscience and we're trying to encourage that in the community," Pauline says.
"I espouse to clients the need to do things that make you sparkle in life, so I'm trying to practise what I preach."
The sisters work part-time in order to be able to help pay the bills - Pauline as a counsellor and Tanya as a relief teacher.
They say Lola's has been at the forefront of a renewed positivity in the area. "Since we've opened - whether it's coincidence or just a show of strength - things have sprung up in Nhill. There's a new cafe, art gallery and a florist," Pauline says.
"You could write a thesis about Lola's Garage. It's bizarre, but crazy, beautiful, magical."
- Lola's Garage, 54 Victoria St, Nhill. Ph: 0448 911 634.