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Is fast fashion ruining the op-shop?

Op shops are often regarded as a treasure trove of clothes from decades gone past, but has the retail evolution into fast fashion eroded some of their magic?

My favourite Saturday pursuit from the age of nine was to take what measly pocket money, bike into town, and waste it on something pointless. From magazines to milkshakes to dangly earrings that would turn my lobes green, it was a guilty pleasure. Then, aged about 14, I entered an op-shop for the first time and realised I need never waste a cent again. There stood a treasure trove before me of all-you-can-eat affordable fashion.

Over the years, the incredible offering by the op shops seems to have become smaller. You could blame Ebay and Trade Me – now when gran pops off it’s more likely her family will sell her Formica table set than donate it. You could blame the likes of NastyGal, trawling the cheaper charity stores for vintage steals to sell on at an inflated price. But the effect of fast fashion shouldn’t be overlooked.

A Business Insider report from February this year says that poor quality fast fashion pieces are filling up the racks, and that isn’t enticing to the consumer who can get cheap clothes in better condition straight from the high street.

Elaine Moore from St John’s Pukekohe shop says that about a quarter of clothing donations are rejected. 

“We are a high-volume store and that generally means donations coming in constantly from the time we open the doors throughout the day,” she says. “We have a number of team members who concentrate just on processing incoming clothing, sorting… clothing predominantly arrives in large black sacks so you can't always see the condition when its dropped off.”

Moore, who says she has had a ‘lifetime love’ of op shops, was drafted in by St John to open the store in 2014. She admits things have changed, even in that short time. 

“The volume rejected probably has increased somewhat, but I think that is more to do with the fact that people have to pay to throw out their rubbish now, rather than the quality of the actual clothing,” she says, noting that the cheaper price of clothes also makes it more likely that people will donate them.

“It is true that fast fashion is giving customers more choice at a low price point but I don't believe it is having a significant effect on the op shop space. As long as communities continue to support op shops by donating quality clothing, customers will always come to seek out a bargain and something that is different.”

Moore says that if people ‘know their labels and fabrics’, they will be able to hunt out a bargain regardless.

“[There] is a definite shift by many to consciously move away from being a throw-away society,” says Moore. “Its increasingly the younger generation frequenting op shops and they are the very ones most likely to be attracted to fast fashion.”

Many would argue if anything the popularity of op shops is thriving, with influencers like Alex van Os who is also a Red Cross Australia Ambassador, creating an entire brand from thrift shop fashion. In China, clothing swaps have seen a monumental rise in popularity this past year. It seems that the real danger of fast fashion for op shops is the rise in the volume of donations to be processed and the pressure that puts on volunteers. 

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