Known as thrift stores or charity shops in the US, Australia’s op shops are a treasure trove of clothing from every era. These shops – also called opportunity shops – raise money for charities.
Buying secondhand has long been seen as a sustainable choice, with shoppers snagging unique brag-worthy pieces while supporting their community. However, a closer look at the reality of op shopping reveals that not all is as it seems.
1. Support your local community
In an era of globalisation and corporate chains, many consumers are drawn to the personalized feeling that comes with supporting local business. Local businesses are also often more committed to giving back, which further reinforces the sense of community that a customer feels when buying from them.
In Australia, most suburbs and small town centres have op shops operated by Salvation Army, St Vincent de Paul Society (colloquially known as Vinnies), Lifeline and other charity organisations that support those doing it tough. They typically have a wide range of clothing, furniture and household goods for sale.
The op shop is a true treasure trove for those looking to find that perfect piece at a much lower cost than it would have been retailed. But it’s not just for penny-pinchers – the op shop has become a magnet for ‘opportunity shoppers’ who love the thrill of scouring racks and shelves in search of hidden gems. With increased awareness about the environmental impact of mass production and shorter fashion cycles, op shopping is set to become even more popular.
2. Save money
As any op-shopper knows, finding those coveted bargains can save you a packet. And for many shoppers, op shopping is more than just penny pinching – it’s also an act of sustainability. With many second hand stores donating all profits back to charity, it’s no surprise that they are seen as part of the circular economy.
Sacred Heart Mission’s op shops, for example, support people experiencing homelessness and work with communities to connect them to services. They have seen a recent boom in people visiting the stores looking for long lasting pantry items that can help their budgets stretch further, and for those wanting to make their purchasing choices reflect their values of sustainability.
While many op-shops have been operating in Australia for years, their popularity has surged with the rise of cossie-livers concerned about the environmental impacts of fashion and a desire to reduce their waste. However, as the fashion cycle continues to whirl at dizzying speeds, they are struggling to keep up with the demand.
3. Find unique items
You can find unique clothing pieces, accessories and household items at Diamond Creek op shop. If you’re crafty, you can repurpose your op shop finds like my friend Cintia did by making a leather bag out of an old leather jacket she found at her local op store. You can also get a head start on your next DIY project by picking up some raw materials at an affordable price.
Many op shops are run by charities like Salvation Army, St Vincent de Paul Society (colloquially known as Vinnies) and Lifeline who use the proceeds to help people in need. They also sell goods that have been donated by the community.
The popularity of op shops is growing, partly due to the focus on sustainable shopping and reducing waste. People are op shopping not only because it’s cheap but also because it feels great to be able to give back while finding something new, unique and affordable. It’s also a fun way to keep up with the latest trends without having to spend the big bucks.
4. Support the environment
Purchasing sustainably means choosing products and services that align with your values. This is because every product you buy has health, environmental and social impacts throughout its lifecycle. From the raw materials it uses to its manufacturing, transport and disposal, sustainable shopping aims to limit these impacts as much as possible.
Charity op shops are an essential part of the circular economy, providing secondhand goods for low prices and reducing landfill waste. They also help fund social welfare initiatives, from disaster relief to refugee support.
While it may seem like op shops are the enemy of the fashion industry, they actually have a big impact on sustainability. Australians are some of the world’s biggest fashion consumers, resulting in an oversupply of clothes that op shops struggle to sell.
But by selling unwanted clothes, charity shops and op shops reduce the demand for new clothing. This means fewer clothes are produced in the long run, decreasing both the energy and water used during manufacturing and the harmful chemicals released into the environment. Plus, it saves on transportation emissions, which are a significant contributor to greenhouse gasses.
5. Give back
In Australia alone, op shops save 59% of electricity consumption, 57% of water and 14% of greenhouse gas emissions by diverting pre-loved clothes from landfill. Despite this, they are only able to sell about 10% of the clothes donated.
According to author and op-shopper Robyn Annear, consumers are growing more aware of the environmental impact caused by purchasing new clothes and discarding them after just one wear. She believes this is driving the resurgence of second-hand shopping, as more people seek out those elusive bargains.
While this is good news for the environment, it’s also great news for local businesses. Consumers are increasingly interested in where they spend their money, and more than 82% of them take social responsibility into consideration when making a purchase. As a result, companies who actively engage with their local community are more likely to win customers’ loyalty. In addition, research has shown that giving back is beneficial for employee morale. In turn, this translates to higher customer satisfaction levels and ultimately, increased business revenue.