Fast fashion is flooding the stores, but longtime savers aren’t giving up the hunt

Sue Carmichael rummages through a clothes rack in her Op store in Goulburn, New South Wales.

The long-time bargain hunter doesn’t have to look at the brands to tell which are from “one of those chains.”

She pulls one out to demonstrate.

“The elastic comes off and it fits well, but it’s easy for the eye to see,” she says.

The 58-year-old buys almost exclusively second-hand.

Today she’s on the hunt for a pair of white shoes for an event in Brisbane, but says it’s becoming increasingly difficult and expensive to find these quality items in surgery stores.

The rise of fast fashion has disrupted the traditional clothing lifecycle as fewer garments are designed with second or third owners in mind.

Laura Washington encourages her students to buy second-hand clothes.(Delivered: Laura Washington)

The Head of Fashion Design Studio at TAFE NSW, Laura Washington, says fast fashion is the antithesis of heirloom garments cherished by bargain hunters.

“The lifespan of these clothes is greatly reduced – things like the thread guide (the weave of the fabric) fall out of alignment after a wash or two, the clothes come off much more easily because of the construction and sometimes the poor workmanship or the quickness processing,” she says.

But amid reports that the golden age of thrift is over, long-time op shoppers say there’s still treasure to be found if you’re willing to wade through the deluge of fast fashion hitting the shelves.

Ms. Washington describes herself as an avid second-hand shopper and encourages her students to source second-hand clothing for rework.

“I can still find these little treasures,” she says.

demand for change

A report by the Australian Fashion Council (AFC) released this week found that Australians buy 14.8 kilograms of clothing, or 56 new items, each year at an average price of $6.50 each.

Much of this ends up in landfills – 10kg worth per person is thrown away every year.

The AFC report’s author, Peter Allan, told ABC Radio Sydney’s Drive program that the amount of clothing bought has doubled in 25 years, but the public is calling for a change.

“Consumers are now taking that in the other direction and saying, ‘We’re looking for something more durable’ – something that’s a little more timeless in its style and trying to extend the life of our clothes,” he says.

The industry has responded by establishing the National Clothing Product Stewardship Scheme to find ways to reduce textile waste, including a proposed levy on clothing imports.

That’s good news for op shoppers in the long run.

Aife O’Loughlin, customer experience manager at Salvos Stores, says managing the volume of fast fashion is a major challenge, but she’s optimistic the Australian industry and consumers will change their ways.

She says after having this conversation many times over the past five years, she sees a change.

“[There’s] That priority and local focus in Australia on what we’re going to do, how we’re going to mobilize industry, how we’re making change and how we’re going to engage charitable retailers to keep the products circulating for as long as possible,” she says.

Meanwhile, Ms O’Loughlin says there are no hard and fast rules about how fast fashion donations are handled.

“Obviously it depends on what condition this item is in and whether or not it will be sold in the local community,” she says.

thrill of the hunt

Growing up in Avalon on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, Alex van Os didn’t want to wear what everyone else was wearing.


She preferred to rummage through surgical shops.

“I had a strong sense of personal style from a young age, even in elementary school, and I think the OP stores just allowed me to experiment,” she says.

Ms van Os, who is now a sustainability stylist, says the sheer volume of fast fashion on the shelves has taken away some of that joy.

“The shelves are so full when you go to op stores, which is great, but you have to sort through so much fast fashion,” she says.

She remains a strong advocate of buying from charity-run op stores.

“Whether I find maybe just one item and didn’t find maybe three or five items before, I still know that my money is helping someone else and keeping clothes from going to landfill, which is very important to me,” she says .

Digital sales platforms have also transformed the second-hand clothing market, with high-quality items being sold online.

The Salvos Stores are part of several charities that operate online stores to sell select brands and coveted vintage pieces.

But for loyal Op Shop customers, nothing beats the thrill of discovering a treasure in person.

“An op shop is a place where you can clear your head because it’s a different kind of shop — it doesn’t play music and it’s ‘sell, sell, sell,'” says Ms. Carmichael.

“There are people with stories.

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