6   +   6   =  

I flip over and over in my grasp a vintage Louis Vuitton Zippy Wallet in the traditional Monogram Canvas, complete with dust bag and small creme card stating, ‘made in France’, inspecting it with a keen eye. The golden hardware still gleams in the light, oozing of luxury. I wonder if it’s travelled with its past owner, nestled securely in a matching designer bag, to faraway holiday locales, nice date nights and trendy cafes.

Rechecking that the L on the heat stamp is short, that the O is rotund, and the T’s are almost touching, a decision is made: the purse is authentic. It is priced at a pittance compared to what it must have been originally bought for, given a handmade label that is attached with twine, and photographed for social media posting and store promoting. Lastly, it’s carefully arranged in a lockable glass display case beside the counter, under watchful employee eyes, where the subtle smell of leather permeates the case.

By my next shift at the store, it’s gone.

I’ve witnessed two types of second-hand fashion shoppers during my year as a casual employee at various op shops: the necessity buyer, and the hidden gem hunter. The former seeks the essentials at a more affordable price, usually inhibited by their monetary situation, and will kindly and quietly ask if they can put an item on hold until their pay comes in over the next day or two. The latter rummages through multitudes of racks, for a quirky find, or a hint of a recognisable label, like Levi’s macrons, or the small icon of a polo player on a horse. They are usually younger, eco-conscious and/or thoroughly exasperated with the generic looks of fast fashion. I can recognise them by their distinct personal style and, to borrow a phrase first coined by renowned fashion editor Diana Vreeland, a certain pizzazz.

Image Credit: Tessa Covich

I’ve witnessed two types of second-hand fashion shoppers during my year as a casual employee at various op shops: the necessity buyer, and the hidden gem hunter. The former seeks the essentials at a more affordable price, usually inhibited by their monetary situation, and will kindly and quietly ask if they can put an item on hold until their pay comes in over the next day or two. The latter rummages through multitudes of racks, for a quirky find, or a hint of a recognisable label, like Levi’s macrons, or the small icon of a polo player on a horse. They are usually younger, eco-conscious and/or thoroughly exasperated with the generic looks of fast fashion. I can recognise them by their distinct personal style and, to borrow a phrase first coined by renowned fashion editor Diana Vreeland, a certain pizzazz.

COVID concerns

Consumer shopping behaviour has drastically changed due to an onslaught of COVID-19-related issues. With the threat of lockdown lurking in the shadows, strolling around your local shopping centre could very abruptly be replaced with scrolling through your phone––internet purchasing the safest form of shopping. These rapidly shifting circumstances greatly impact the sales of the second-hand retail sector. Both kinds of customers have had to assess why and how they shop at these second-hand stores. I’ve surmised that the profit fall stems from a few major factors: an increase in unemployment (which drives down prolific purchasing), the issue of disease prevention and sanitation, the preference of buying in-store, and the limited online exposure of second-hand clothing.

Seeping into and evolving every facet of our lives is the internet and social media. To younger generations, these are synonymous with everyday living. To older generations, more of a monstrous beast. I can clearly picture my nearly sixty-year-old father jabbing his stubby fingers at his hand-me-down iPhone, cursing it into obscurity. He also detests social media, and occasionally reads the obituary pages in the weekend paper to see how his former classmates are tracking, rather than downloading Facebook. I see similar characters to him when working at the op shops, and they usually fit into the necessity buyer category. Decades-old monetary views, a common frugality and an aversion to credit cards and phones meant the op shops were still accepting cash through every stage of the pandemic. While working, I’ve held a small, exasperated smile the few times I’ve been asked by an older, less tech-savvy person to assist them in downloading the SafeWA app.

How does this impact us?

As the stores will begin to open up again, hesitations will continue. The best we can do to sanitise donations is to sit them out the back for a while, use signs to guide foot traffic and wait lines, and regularly scrub surfaces. The inconclusiveness regarding how COVID-19 interacts with fabric adds further uneasiness to the more high-risk and anxious shoppers. You can hope on a regular day that those donating have washed the clothes beforehand, eliminating odorous scents and dirt, but the risk of a highly transmissible and harmful virus as well?

One of the demographics hit hardest by Coronavirus-related unemployment is retirement age workers, with 13.9% of over-70s in Australia losing their jobs during the first wave. This, combined with a less prevalent use of the internet, greatly impedes these shoppers. It doesn’t just pose a huge loss for secondhand businesses, but a huge disadvantage to those struggling.

While we steadily wait for circumstances to return to normal, one issue is left: the technological divide and disadvantage.

A call to arms for young people: help the older generations out.

This is a great opportunity to sit down with Mum or Gran and help them navigate the London-based resale company Depop’s app or website, which has recorded a 163% year-over-year increase in new app signups since April 1st, 2020. Out of lockdown boredom I too snapped a few photos of my unwanted clothes, uploaded them to the app, and within a week my twice worn, too-big white Nike slides were purchased for $10 and sent over to Melbourne. That money was put straight back into buying a pair of slouchy black leather Dr Martens, which I then decorated with rainbow-coloured shoelaces. Don’t let the brand names or youth-centred advertising deter them; there is something for everyone if you’re prepared to have a cuppa, sit and scroll, and you’re helping the planet out a little, too. If you’re not satisfied there, a quick internet search will lead you to other sites, like Poshmark or ThredUp. If all else fails, Facebook Marketplace is the easiest to navigate.

For even when the Coronavirus haze clears, the internet will continue to thrive and there will still be an abundance of unwanted clothes. There’s no harm in making the best of it.