Lifestyle & Culture

How going ‘op-chic’ and donating thoughtfully pays off

Sarah Webb turns back the clock in fashion and learns that there’s a sense of responsibility when opting for the op shop.


As an avid op-shopper myself, I’ve noticed that when it comes to style, we Millennials are a nostalgic bunch. Have you taken a brief look around your lecture theatre of late? Whether it’s a pair of knackered converses, loose-crotched dungarees, or the increasingly popular tattoo choker – the hallmarks of historical trends seem to linger at every turn.

So when did buying second-hand stop meaning sh*t and start meaning chic? If you’d asked my 12-year-old self, the answer would’ve been along the lines of “never”. Op shops, I’d been told, were strictly reserved for penny-pinching old folk on the hunt for a shoddy bargain. But somewhere along the line, something has clicked. We’ve been returning to the musty-scented racks of our local charity stores and giving new life to pieces we’ve spotted our parents wearing in family photos – shoulder pads and all.

Fashion has a way of repeating itself and it seems to me we’re having a damn good time popping tags, getting retro and saving cash along the way.

So are we a generation of cheapskates, or something more? It certainly doesn’t hurt for us as uni students to save a bit of coin on the clothes we wear. For many of us though, it’s about finding new ways of being unique and forming our own identity.

Nic Woods, a volunteer for the Salvation Army charity store ‘Salvos‘, says vintage clothes, with memories already nestled inside their dusty pockets, set a point of difference in what can otherwise often feel like a rather mundane retail landscape.

“Op shops and Sunday morning markets give us a chance to explore our personal style away from the ‘buy one get one free’ deals at the local Westfield shopping centre,” she says.

When you CAN afford that jar of organic pesto and sourdough bread to accompany, your $20 “splurge” on a second-hand bomber jacket feels a lot more satisfying than what you would have forked out for a brand new one.

It all seems to be about pushing back to simpler times, blending old with the new to inspire a look that celebrates creativity rather than logo-centric fashion symbols. No longer do we feel the need to buy big brand labels to make us feel like we’ve achieved status. Like the stray Staffy that followed me around Callaghan campus one day (my constant whistling and patting didn’t help), our generation is swooping timeless vintage pieces up into our arms and proclaiming “I LOVE YOU AND I WILL MAKE YOU MINE”. Each rare purchase brings about a joy that’s made all the more satisfying by knowing that you’re promoting sustainability, rather than contributing to disposable culture.

Speaking of disposables, one thing we should be wary of when donating to or buying from an op shop, is that it comes from a good place and doesn’t look like it should be dumped. Just because you’re donating or buying second-hand, doesn’t mean you have to skimp on quality.

We’ve all scored that elusive bargain at least once and revelled in telling people it was snapped up for a steal at the local op shop. But for every bargain, there are thousands more duds that have to be disposed of, at a cost to the charity.

In the 2012 National Op Shop Week, it was found that Australians donated over 300,000 tonnes of items to charity op shops, 60,000 of which ended up in landfill at a significant cost to the organisation. This is what makes knowing what you can donate important, as giving inappropriate goods can actually be counterproductive at times.

Nic says, over time, the quality of donations that Salvos receives has reduced, so they’re now working to raise awareness of donating in addition to the quality of donations.

“We’re now urging people to donate only good quality, working items that they would be happy to give to a friend. When you’re looking at what to donate, think ‘would I give that to a friend?’”

“As long as it’s not torn, damaged or stained, and you’d be happy for someone that you know to wear it or to treasure it, that would be my guideline,” Nic says.

So without further ado, here are some of Nic’s tips on what you should and shouldn’t be donating to your local charity store.

Do donate “items in ‘sellable’ condition” – small furniture, items in pairs (shoes, gloves, socks), books and records. Provided they are all still in good nick, these items are a safe bet to donate.

Don’t donate “unusable, damaged or broken items” – anything you wouldn’t use yourself or give to a friend. So steer clear from giving away torn, stained or ripped clothing

No doubt the benefits of op-shopping are abundant. The donor gets to de-clutter their wardrobe and you get to feel good about giving back to the community by helping local charities raise valuable funds. Plus, it’s good for the environment as the items are recycled and not going to the landfill.



Image: RubyGoes, Flickr, no changes made.

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