Holly Pearce of Willunga is a delightful young girl who admits to having an obsession with scrimmaging though the clothes racks at opportunity shops hoping to find another bargain. It’s the vintage clothing thing; fashion hunting.
“I’ve been doing this since I was 15,” Holly, 23, said. And it doesn’t help when she works as a barista at The Green Room on High Street at Willunga, right next door to Whatever, a fabulous retro shop that sells anything from pre-loved clothes to a vinyl 45 record Monster Mash by Gary S Paxton and an old tree feller’s saw.
“The prices of clothes at opportunity shops are really good,” Holly said. “I like unusual clothes that no one else may have. You get some clothes a quarter of the original price, and some still have the price tags on them.”
The growing trend to buy second-hand clothing at non-charitable shops is having a positive effect on the charitable op shops where people donate items – especially clothing – and are sold by volunteers. It’s why the clothing is cheap.
Gen Y seems to simply love the fashion craze, and perhaps unwittingly are helping the needy and homeless.
If you think the demand for support from op shops is not great across the Fleurieu Peninsula, as an example there are four on Victoria Street, Victor Harbor – Vinnies, the Red Cross Store, Lifeline and Whalers.
Who would have thought not so many years ago that in a country town, and a big one like Victor Harbor, there would be more op shops than pubs?
The number of op shops emphasises the change in social community trends, and the growing important role that they now play in society. There are thousands of them across the nation.
According to Jenny Todd, who is the coordinator at the Lifeline op shop in Victoria St, we would be staggered by the increasing demands for clothing and general household items.
“There is no doubt the stigma has gone about buying second-hand clothes.
“Some of the items we get in are really quite new and clean,” she said. “For some young girls that’s all they buy, and that helps others.
“But it’s not just about clothes. We get grandmas coming in, especially to buy toys… they give them to their grandchildren and replace the toys with others they get from us because they are so cheap. We also do well with the baby clothes.
“We get some really nice items here. We get our stock from our head office in Mount Gambier. A truck comes up here every fortnight to collect our donations and brings our order. Our clothes or gear gets distributed to op shops in Murray Bridge, Tailem Bend, Naracoorte, Millicent, Mount Gambier and back here.
Jenny said that the Lifeline store thankfully did not get a lot of people dropping off their junk or rubbish. “Most of it is of use,” she said. “Down the South East, when they get an abundance of stock, which can happen, they put it in containers and send it to third-world countries.
“We get the people on the lower socio-economic scale and ladies come in that are extremely well-dressed and purchase here. We also do the vouchers from Christian Community Care who give them to those in need, and we supply them with clothing.
“Some days we would get several hundred people through the doors, and many go from one op shop to the other. We are in a fortunate position too because we get the holiday makers and we open Sundays. We were going to stop on Sundays for winter, but we realised the need was so great.”
Jenny said some people were dubious about wearing someone else’s because they may be walking around thinking the person opposite them may have donated the clothes they are wearing. “That is a rarity,” she said.
“Occasionally, when it is a deceased estate they specifically ask that they do not want to see the clothing here so they write on there ‘do not send back to Victor Harbor’. We endeavour to respect their wishes at all times.”
As the coordinator, Jenny is paid for a small amount of hours, and then volunteers far more than for what she gets paid. “It is personally rewarding,” she says. “We have all of the ladies, and a couple of gentlemen, who regard this Lifeline store as their lifeline because it gets them out of their house and the chance to meet people.
“We have about 30 on the volunteer list, and we have two shifts a day – two in the morning and two in the afternoon, and we are all friends.”
But inevitably, each day this pleasant camaraderie disperses with the harsh reality of the function of an op shop besides the chase for glam – to help those desperate.
“Working in here you do think about things like just how wet and cold it has been, and realise a lot of the regulars who come in here don’t have a home to go to,” Jenny said. “It must be just dreadful.
“We all feel good deep inside that we do something to help these people, who through no fault of their own may not have a home. There is an ad on telly at the moment how homeless can happen so easily to a young person, and we see that here.
“Yes, there can be a lot of sad confronting moments when people come into the shop, and we make sure that we talk about it in general – not by names – amongst ourselves and try to get it off our shoulders before we go home. We wear the heartbreak, but the other side of this is that we share a lot of happy stories too.
“The friendships formed among the volunteers are special, and it happens as volunteers doing a good service by selling clothes that are at a very good price.”
National Op Shop Week was created by
Do Something! – a charitable organisation established by Planet Ark founders Jon Dee and Wimbledon champion Pat Cash, in association with Tina Jackson. Remarkably, there are more than 70,000 op shop volunteers across Australia.
Go across the Fleurieu Peninsula and you will find many of these stores, and while they may differ in terms of identity their need and cause is of equal exceptional value to the community.
They also request – very politely, at that – donate, don’t dump. As the general campaign goes, if it is soiled, stained or broken it belongs in the garbage, not the charity box.
In a strange way, they are also competitive, and the local Salvos Store at Victor Harbor is among those thriving, with many saying it’s due to the creative and eye-catching displays that are attracting customers who enjoy the shopping experience – as they like to do in any store.
Store manager Gabrielle Naughton said that if you cannot make a donation during opening hours, the Salvo shops encourage you to arrange a home collection by calling 13 SALVOS (13 72 58). Well done to the countless volunteers and those who support the op shops. It adds a new meaning to the term fashion statement.