My first experiences with op-shops were magical and uncomplicated forages into the racks of my local Vinnies; set to distinctly repetitive 40s jazz that would be irritating, or perhaps just unnoticed, anywhere but there; amongst familiar faced volunteers and old women giving me unsolicited but oddly satisfying fashion advice; drenched with the mothbally smell of the first rack of jumpers for the year – soft, wooly and itchy against my fingers as I would rifle through. The joy was in the simplicity, the repetition and the comfortable unchangedness of the physical space and the people within it. But lately, in a post-Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ Thrift Shop world, a more rational magic has become apparent; the magic of the win-win-win of environmental sustainability, ethical accountability and affordability that op-shops offer, far surpassing the offerings of fast-fashion or (admired-from-afar) high fashion, on all accounts.
We all recall the mantra “reduce, reuse, recycle” from primary school; perhaps accompanied by a poorly constructed flow chart clumsily created on Microsoft Word 2003, or a generic lesson on the meanings of recycling numbers on plastic packaging. These lessons were probably important, but could hardly enthral a class of eight-year-olds.
Well, I invite you to cast aside any scepticism, because op-shopping is an ideal, and far more enjoyable, reuse strategy. This is just as well, given the jarring 2700 litres of water required to produce a single cotton shirt – placing the textiles industry behind only paper and oil in its water consumption – and the estimated 132 million tonnes of coal required to generate the annual energy requirements of the global textiles industry.
By purchasing goods second-hand these environmental harms are eliminated. Even better, by arriving at the op-shop with a bag of unwanted clothes of one’s own, the staggering 30kg of textile waste generated per person per year can be offset as well. Perfectly usable (if embarrassing or emotionally charged) clothes can have a second life. Even those items which have been loved-to-death can be resold as bulk scrap fabric by the store, generating income for the charity whilst minimising waste. And on a less altruistic note, dropping off your pre-loved goods in person happens to be the perfect justification for picking up just one more slightly-ill fitting, but oh so lovely jumper!
The costs of the textiles industry are far from exclusively environmental though, as we probably all know, but likely struggle with our conscience to confront. Textiles sweatshops – with exploitative, unreliable and inhumane contracts, wages and work environments – have become an inherent aspect of a global textiles industry dominated by profits and fast fashion. This can seem hard to act on though; designated ethical fashion is often priced at a premium, out of the reach of many students – especially when reconciled with all the other demands on our limited incomes. This is where op-shopping comes in: by avoiding the production of a new good, you can trust that your money isn’t supporting large, exploitative corporations. Even better, your money is most likely going to a charity! In this way, your (likely very limited) dollars can make a difference.
On that note, and perhaps most practically appealing to the modern, HECS debt-burdened student, op-shops offer access to a treasure trove of unique and high quality fashion on a shoestring. Whilst this clearly varies with the location, brand and quality of the op-shop and wares, $10 is likely to get you pretty far towards a sustainable haul. That’s more than can be said for even the cheapest of fast-fashion chains! Even better: although second hand, the items you find are not necessarily of low quality, such as one might expect of the average $5 t-shirt. This means you’ll be able to keep and wear your op-shop goods for longer – before donating them back of course!
What more could you want? But even if none of these reasons are compelling, do it for the fun. The experience and the uniqueness of an op-shopping trip shared with close friends, who will try on 70s formalwear and chuckle with you at ridiculous shoulder pads, honestly seem enough motivation in itself. Regardless of the reason, every dollar spent in an op-shop that would otherwise have gone to a chain store in a shiny, generic Westfield seems like a win to me.
If you’re not an op-shopper already, then why not pay a visit to The Green Shed in Garema Place next time you need a way of procrastinating between classes? It has plenty of clothing for $4 a piece, an array of costumes and shelf upon shelf books to get you started!