Where to shop, donate and sell clothes beyond the Op Shop

10 March 2022
Where to shop, donate and sell clothes beyond the Op Shop

“We can't take your donations, sorry. Our storage is full.”

I overheard this response to another customers at the Op Shop just after the new year. It's not the first time either and I have also received this response when trying to make a clothing donation. 

Before I learned about the major environmental and human impact of the fashion industry, Op Shops were the go to place to help me make way for the old so I could replace with the new. Essentially, they were my scapegoat. I could unload a bag at their stores, or into a charity bin when the store declined my stuff. There was never a moment I wondered why they couldn't take my stuff or where everything donated ended up. 

I bundled up scruffy shoes, stained clothes, shirts with loose buttons, dresses with broken zippers, and mistakingly shrunken clothes alongside piles of stuff that wasn't in fashion anymore, believing Op Shop employees would find a customer or give it away for free. To this day I cringe remembering all of the high heel shoes I donated - when really I didn't want the guilt of throwing something away because I trashed them on a night out or the clothes I moved on after a handful of wears. It's appalling I would try donating something visibly wrecked or poor quality to another person when I wasn't happy enough to wear them. Peak privilege. These days I aim to use my privilege to only choose secondhand, repair what I have, upcycle when possible and recycle responsibly. And call out fast fashion businesses to stop making so much clothing.

It wasn't long into my quest to create less waste and live more sustainably I learned charity stores like Op Shops receive so much stuff that is beyond their ability to sell. According to Jana Bowden Professor of Marketing at Macquarie University, charities reportedly send about 60,000 tonnes of unwanted items (clothing, electronics, toys etc) to landfill every year. The cost of sending items to landfill can cost charities over a million dollars a year. Money that should be going to community programs. 

Not all of the excess a charity store goes to landfill here in Australia. It's sent overseas - kind of like how Australia used to send plastic overseas for recycling. 70% of donated clothing is shipped to secondhand markets in on the African continent. Last year Foreign Correspondent ran a segment titled Dead White Mans Clothes. The show reported the never ending bales of clothing sent to Kantamanto Market in Accra, Ghana. 40% of the clothing exported is going to landfill due to low quality (you know, like my stained clothes and wrecked shoes) creating environmental and humanitarian issues. 

Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda have tried to implement a complete ban on all imported secondhand apparel, claiming the industry harms local environments, people, and textile industries in these countries. Unfortunately countries like the US, one of the main players responsible for sending many of these secondhand garments, have pushed back against these import bans.

I have a pile of clothing and shoes I need to move on. The photo above is a snapshot from the box. There are many reasons why people need to move clothing on; weight gain, weight loss, change in lifestyle, shoe size changes (ha, thanks pregnancy!), new locations with different climates, new style interests, allergies...really the list in endless and not always because of needing to buy new stuff. But for many the Op Shop has become a place to deal with our unwanted stuff. 

These days I don't solely rely on Op Shops to donate and buy clothes. To alleviate the stress they appear to be under from donations I look at shopping and passing on via an array of different outlets alongside Op Shops. These actions help to invest in new circular shopping models too that could help make shopping secondhand easier and most importantly normal. 

Clothing Swap Party

A clothing swap party is an event where attendees bring a certain number of clothing and accessories. All of the items are laid out and everyone is encouraged to “shop” from the clothing supplied. It can be an informal get together with friends in a house or a more organised larger event with clothing exchanged for buttons that are used as currency to “buy” new (to you) clothing. Check The Clothing Exchange (Aus), EventBrite, Facebook Events for clothes swap events happening near you.

Buy Nothing New Groups

The mission of Buy Nothing New Groups is to build community and connect people through local gifting of items like clothes. Find out more via the buynothingproject.org where you can find the app. Many of the Buy Nothing New groups I have found have been via Facebook.

Facebook

Facebook provides a variety of ways to move stuff on. There is a dedicated Facebook Marketplace, locally based Buy/Swap/Sell groups, specific groups for garment items like clothes, shoes, handbags or brands, age, and sizing.

Depop, Poshmark, ThreadUp, Vestarie Collective, The RealReal

Re-commerce is the category online platforms like Depop, Poshmark, ThreadUp, Vestarie, The RealReal, among others, fall under. Individuals sell via the apps or website. Depop, Poshmark, ThreadUp are peer to peer, while Vestarie Collective and The RealReal approve clothing and then collect (via mail) to sell on. All platforms take a small cut from the total transaction amount, plus shipping on some. I have used Depop to buy pregnancy clothing and found the process user friendly.

Charity Bay

Charity Bay allows people to sell unwanted items and donate the sale to a charity of the sellers choice. It's done via their app and website. You can read a blog post about my experience with them. I have a handful of clothing items ready to sell with Charity Bay soon.

Ebay, Gumtree

The Ebay and Gumtree platforms have been around for a long time helping people shop, donate and sell clothes and shoes. In my early twenties I would spend hours (and many dollars) on eBay searching for secondhand designer clothes. Gumtree has been wonderful to find baby clothes, nappies and shoes. 

Consignment Clothing Stores

Consignment clothing stores were a complete unknown until five years ago. A consignment store sells preloved items either purchased from the customer or they pay a percentage of the sale price once the item has been sold. I have been offered 30% of the sale price or I can take 50% of the sale price as a voucher to use in store.

Most stores will require customers book a time to bring in the clothes they wish to sell. An employee will vet all items for missing buttons, holes, stains and to make sure the garments have a resale value with them. Most won't resell fast fashion brands.

I can see how consignment stores and their online versions can help fill the void for people who want to update their wardrobes often and also incentivise people to look after their things.

Consignment stores local to Melbourne are Mutual Muse and Goodbyes selling clothes from $30 to $100+ and then Secondo, Stop Staring, EuroTrash and Mio Tesoro catering for more designer items. There is even a consignment store dedicated to baby and maternity clothes called Use-Ta.

Any clothing unfit for repair or wear can be passed onto the following locations:


Remember: rethink donating clothing (or anything else) to an Op Shop unusable or unwearable. They deserve our best like everywhere else. 

I don't blame Op Shops for needing to send bales of clothes overseas or turf to landfill. But they could be part of the solution. I have yet to find out more information on how or if Australian Op Shops are advocating to be part of conversation.  Of course by buying less new clothing and fast fashion companies vanishing is fundamental in addressing the issue (okay a bit more complicated but nothing the billionaire owners of these companies can't fix with their wealth!). We truly have enough clothing and textiles on this planet. In the meantime I have enjoyed trying different ways to shop, donate and sell clothes beyond the Op Shop and I hope you do too.
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