When my friend suggests going to the op shop, instantly I think ‘I hope no one I know sees me’.
It’s the same when my cousin comments on the aesthetics of my new furniture and I quickly change the subject. Or receiving a compliment on my new Japanese, fine-bone-china bowls and being asked where I got them. They were from the local Salvos store but instead I say "from the antique shop". It sounds more expensive than ‘second hand’.
Many people in my Greek-Cypriot community would look down on me if I said I shopped at the op shop. They may pity me, consider me poor, a failure. This reflects badly on my family who are then also considered failures. Migrants sacrificed their families and homes for a better life. Buying a house and having enough money to live and retire comfortably, to educate your children and see them also live comfortably, are a big part of the migrant dream. But has this dream made us materialistic at the detriment of our own planet?
Many products are made cheaply and unethically today, with chemicals and pollutants.
Our obsession with purchasing the latest trendy outfits or furniture, then donating it when we are tired of it has become normative. I was once like this. I’d feel charitable when I dropped off last season’s wardrobe to the op shop. But after watching the documentary The True Cost I learned donated clothes that don’t get sold are sent to developing nations, many of them remaining unused and end up in landfill. The problem isn’t just that we are dumping our rubbish in developing nations. Your new dress may be a bargain, but it requires electricity and materials to make. Sadly, many products are made cheaply and unethically, with chemicals and pollutants. But if you buy a second hand dress, that’s one less dress in landfill and one less new dress to be made.
Throughout my childhood, the op shop was where we donated our unwanted clothes. This is where I developed my negative connotations which influenced my buying habits. No way was I lowering my standards to buy second hand. Who knows where it’s been?!
A friend introduced me to op shopping only a few years ago. My first item was a dress she gifted me. It was a gorgeous and I loved it. Nobody could tell it was second hand so when people asked I just said it was a gift. This opened me up to purchasing more second-hand high quality branded garments. When my daughter expressed an interest in our household being sustainable, I questioned myself as to why I don’t buy second hand for her too. I could hear the voices from within my community, pitying my child, that she has a mother who can’t afford to buy her ‘fresh clothes’. On an interstate trip I visited a friend and was in awe of how she decorated her art deco apartment. ‘It’s all second hand,’ she said. ‘I got a piece here, a piece there.’ I couldn’t believe it. The truth is a lot of stuff sold at the op shop is in new or almost new condition. All you need to do is wash it or wipe it down. That’s when I made the decision to stop buying new.
Selling second hand isn’t anything new but what the planet needs is more buyers.
If you are afraid to leap into second hand then shopping vintage might be a good way to ease in. Businesses make money sifting through charity shops for the highest quality garments and reselling them. If you need your vintage price tag to buy second hand, knock yourself out.
There are various Facebook groups for selling unwanted items. The Uniform Swap Shop, deals specifically with buying and selling educational items. We’re also seeing the emergence of the swap shop and swap gatherings, where you can swap your unwanted goods for someone else’s. The Clothing Exchange is online store specialising in swapping.
Selling second hand isn’t anything new but what the planet needs is more buyers. There is so much excess stuff in the world. So strip the shame, and let’s get shopping.
Koraly Dimitriadis is a freelance opinion writer, poet, filmmaker, theatremaker and the author of Love and F**k Poems. www.koralydimitriadis.com
Is it time we turned to slow fashion?