Lucy Corry looks at why — and how — we should all be em­brac­ing op shop­ping

Lucy Corry looks at why — and how — we should all be em­brac­ing op shop­ping

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - CONTENTS -

It’s not hard to see why Mi­ra­mar lo­cals dub the lo­cal Sal­va­tion Army store “Kirk­caldies”. On a grim win­ter’s day the sub­ur­ban Welling­ton op shop is wel­com­ing and well-lit, with an en­tic­ing win­dow dis­play. Clothes are ar­ranged neatly in sizes, with pre­mium items hung on a spe­cial sep­a­rate rack. There are no musty smells and lots of good loot to choose from, such as a Chanel­style Banana Repub­lic jacket in im­mac­u­late con­di­tion ($10), an Ash­ley Fo­gel top in cream silk ($8) and a pair of brand new jeans with the swing tags still at­tached. There’s an as-new Lu­l­ule­mon sweat­shirt in blush pink, a sky-blue merino cardi­gan — no pulls or pilling ($8) — and a pair of prac­ti­cally box-fresh hot-pink Con­verse hi-tops ($12). You could shop in style here and still emerge with change from $50.

There are trea­sures to be found in Mi­ra­mar’s other op shops (a huge Op­por­tu­nity for An­i­mals, a jam-packed St Vin­cent de Paul and a cav­ernous Mary Pot­ter Hos­pice shop just down the road from the Weta Cave), though they take a bit more find­ing. That kind of hunt-and-peck shop­ping is fine if you have the time and ded­i­ca­tion but re­search by Otago Univer­sity As­so­ciate Pro­fes­sor Lisa McNeill has found that a lot of young peo­ple find that kind of re­tail ther­apy too much like hard work.

McNeill, her­self a keen op shop­per, says 18-25-year-old par­tic­i­pants in the study said it was dif­fi­cult to find things in a sea of ex­pen­sive sec­ond-hand cast-offs.

“It’s not be­cause they’re lazy con­sumers or be­cause they don’t care about sus­tain­abil­ity. The fact of the mat­ter is that there are more and more tex­tiles in op shops than ever but the qual­ity has gone down over time.”

On pa­per, op shops should be the an­swer to fash­ion’s sus­tain­abil­ity prob­lems, but McNeill says they are un­wit­ting vic­tims of mod­ern so­ci­ety’s fix­a­tion with image and the lust for new stuff.

“Times have changed and the way peo­ple rep­re­sent their per­sonal image has changed sig­nif­i­cantly,” she says. “How some­one looks on the out­side has be­come in­creas­ingly im­por­tant — the whole selfie phe­nom­e­non wouldn’t ex­ist if we didn’t have such a fo­cus on how peo­ple look — and with that comes a de­sire to keep up­dat­ing your image. The trend is very much to rein­vent con­stantly and have new things all the time. Most peo­ple can only af­ford to do that if they buy at the lower end of the mar­ket.”

The flow-on ef­fect has had a dele­te­ri­ous ef­fect on op shops, McNeill.

“Young peo­ple say, ‘Why would I buy a top from an op shop for $6 when I can go to Kmart and buy a brand new one for $4?’”

In the olden days — be­fore the 1980s — up­dat­ing your wardrobe took a lot more work. If you wanted new threads you sewed them your­self (or paid some­one to do it for you) or saved for high-qual­ity items that were de­signed to last. Now it’s pos­si­ble to or­der a dress from your sofa on Mon­day night and be wear­ing it to drinks on Fri­day. It will prob­a­bly cost less than a round of drinks (and might not last much be­yond the month), but who cares when it’s so easy to get an­other one?

McNeill says the re­sponses to her sur­vey show a need to re­think both our shop­ping habits and how gar­ments might be most sus­tain­ably reused.

“When you buy a brand new top for $4, wear it three or four times and then do­nate it, the prob­a­bil­ity of some­one else pay­ing $6 for it — or even buy­ing it at all — gets very nar­row. A big­ger ques­tion is, then, what do you do with it? Be­cause there aren’t nec­es­sar­ily clear an­swers to that, maybe peo­ple have to take a step back be­fore buy­ing and think, ‘What’s the life­time of this item? Am I do­ing the right thing by pur­chas­ing volume over qual­ity?’”

McNeill has been work­ing with Ric Odem, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Franklin Hos­pice, to look at both how char­ity shops can rein­vent them­selves and how to con­vince peo­ple to buy pre-loved cloth­ing.

“The chal­lenge for us — and the op­por­tu­nity — is to re­think the de­liv­ery sys­tem. The lay­out needs to be thought out as well. At our shop in

How some­one looks on the out­side has be­come in­creas­ingly im­por­tant. The trend is very much to rein­vent con­stantly and have new things all the time. Most peo­ple can only af­ford to do that if they buy at the lower end of the mar­ket.

Lisa McNeill

Pukekohe we’ve thought hard about that be­cause we be­lieve the ex­pe­ri­ence is part of the sell­ing. Not ev­ery­one likes shop­ping in a place that looks like Step­toe and Son.”

FIONA FRASER knows ex­actly what makes a good op shop. The for­mer mag­a­zine editor, who now lives in Hawke’s Bay, is in­ti­mately ac­quainted with New Zealand’s op shops af­ter chal­leng­ing her­self to only shop from them for a year.

Fraser ini­tially em­barked on her op shop odyssey af­ter she and close friend Robyn McLean com­mit­ted to tack­ling their “reck­less” shop­ping habit.

“We both needed to save money and break our ad­dic­tion to the buzz of buy­ing new clothes,” she says.

They fac­tored in a few es­cape clauses — they could buy new un­der­wear and ac­tive wear, and two new pairs of shoes each dur­ing the year — and they set up “Polyester and Tweed” ac­counts on Face­book and In­sta­gram to show how they were do­ing.

While McLean fal­tered af­ter a few months (“She’s a woman who loves Karen Walker but she came un­done at Glas­sons,” her shop­ping com­pan­ion hoots), Fraser sol­diered on. She found all sorts of cov­etable items in op shops and re­cy­cled cloth­ing stores — a Stan­dard Is­sue cropped merino cardi­gan and a Michael Kors coat; two An­drea Moore cardi­gans, a blue vel­vet vin­tage jacket and many “beau­ti­ful”

You can’t say, ‘To­day I need to find a pair of jeans so that’s the only thing I’m go­ing to look for.’ Op shop­ping isn’t struc­tured that way. You need to take your time and be pre­pared to ri­fle through ev­ery­thing. That’s how you find the good stuff.

Fiona Fraser

vin­tage frocks, among oth­ers. She was just two months short of com­plet­ing the year when she fell off the wagon in style at an open-all-hours An­thro­polo­gie store in Los An­ge­les.

“I’d al­ways been an op shop­per, but do­ing Polyester and Tweed com­pletely changed me,” she says. “I wanted to break that ad­dic­tion of buy­ing new clothes and it ac­tu­ally worked. I don’t reck­lessly buy things any­more.”

Like all prac­tised op shop­pers, Fraser de­murs when asked to re­veal her hap­pi­est hunt­ing grounds (ex­cept to praise the char­ity and re­cy­cled cloth­ing stores of Hawke’s Bay). She boy­cotted SaveMart af­ter the stores were crit­i­cised for un­safe work­ing con­di­tions, “but there’s only so long you can stay away from SaveMart, it’s al­ways full of such good stuff”.

She says op shop­ping needs to be ap­proached with a dif­fer­ent mind­set to strolling the mall.

“You can’t say, ‘To­day I need to find a pair of jeans so that’s the only thing I’m go­ing to look for.’ Op shop­ping isn’t struc­tured that way. You need to take your time and be pre­pared to ri­fle through ev­ery­thing. That’s how you find the good stuff.”

Fraser says a lit­tle fab­ric knowl­edge can help stream­line your shop­ping mis­sions. “I’m al­ways look­ing for wool, cash­mere and silk — I can tell the dif­fer­ence be­tween silk and polyester in a heart­beat — and when you get to know how they feel you can run your fin­gers across a rack and find the good stuff more eas­ily.”

Even though she’s now free to shop where she likes, Fraser re­mains keen on trawl­ing her favourite haunts — and find­ing new ones — as a way of up­dat­ing her wardrobe.

“Things I wear that I’ve found in op shops are al­ways the ones that get the most com­ments from peo­ple.”

CAN­VAS FASH­ION editor Dan Ahwa may have en­vi­able ac­cess to sought-af­ter lo­cal and international la­bels but that doesn’t stop him from seek­ing out in­spi­ra­tion in pre-loved cloth­ing stores. Ahwa reg­u­larly vis­its op shops and vin­tage stores, whether he’s look­ing for pieces for shoots or gems for his own wardrobe.

“The best way to wear a vin­tage or sec­ond­hand piece is to mix it in with your ex­ist­ing wardrobe so it feels cur­rent,” he says.

Ahwa says sec­ond-hand cloth­ing stores should now play a greater role than ever as peo­ple be­come more aware of sus­tain­abil­ity: “They re­mind peo­ple that there is a more mind­ful way to shop for clothes — and there’s al­ways that ex­cite­ment of find­ing some­thing spe­cial. Plus, Sal­va­tion Army stores are al­ways a great way to sup­port the lo­cal com­mu­nity.”

While Ahwa has built up good re­la­tion­ships with store own­ers who will save him spe­cial pieces, he says novice op shop­pers should al­ways as­sess a gar­ment’s qual­ity be­fore buy­ing. “Is it worth mend­ing or not? Will you wear it more than eight times? If not, don’t buy it.

“Buy­ing vin­tage or op-shop finds and re-work­ing them, or per­haps mend­ing and adding some­thing else to them, en­cour­ages peo­ple to be creative and to pick up a nee­dle and thread or a sewing ma­chine and learn to do some­thing other than stare at their phones.”

Par­lour Store, a vin­tage shop in Auck­land’s High St.

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