A dress reminiscent of the sixties, made of pure silk and adorned with triangular patterns of muted periwinkle, teal and butterscotch. A cosy Tommy Hilfiger sweater, its distinguishable blue and red shades intertwined in argyle checks. Black corduroy Fiorucci jeans, tailored for a better fit, with the two little angels peeking out from the back jacrons. These are a few of the hidden gems I’ve purchased while trundling the second-hand stores of Perth.
An outing to a second-hand store never fails to excite me. The opportunity to rummage through racks upon racks of thrifted goods, seeking that quirky find or a hint of a recognisable label, is thrilling. And it is hardly a solitary hunt.
Claire, store manager of RSPCA Reloved Fashion in North Perth, fiddles with the clothing rack stationed behind the front counter, which is bursting with donated second-hand clothes waiting to be punched with a tag, priced and hung. She’s dressed in a comfy, oversized plain black shirt, worn as a dress, which she eagerly purchased after it was donated by a store regular. I notice her coordinating slouchy black Dr. Martens, matching the pair I decided to wear today, which bob in the air as I sit on the stool Claire offered me, since she prefers to flit and fidget by the rack. She appreciates my boots, which are less understated with their colourful embroidered florals crawling up the sides.
“I think my wardrobe’s about 95% second-hand clothes,” Claire says. “I get to try all sorts of different and cool stuff for a lot cheaper… take more risks.”
Claire and I revel in the fashion world. She boasts an eye for style, having started her professional clothing journey working in a fabric store. Claire laughs as she remembers those early days as a “poor university student,” and how she “lucked into” her current position. Her creative background and love of animals combined, leading her to Reloved and her “favourite job ever”.
Why buy second-hand?
There’s an evident revamp of the second-hand scene and I can surmise the significant causes. There’ll always be the financial benefits, which is at the forefront after years of financially hampered global circumstances. The stigma around shopping second-hand is slowly fading with time, as the benefits are now being seen to outweigh the perceived negatives.
Considering the fashion industry continues to be responsible for 8-10% of global carbon emissions, not to mention insurmountable water use (2,720 litres of water makes one cotton T-shirt), the environmental impact is staggering. Plus, there’s the problematic labor practices (a 17% increase in child and forced labour in 2019, for example) and never-ending ethical dilemmas (the Gucci blackface sweaters must not be forgotten). So, an alternative appears most appealing. However, despite our awareness of these abhorrent practices, most of us still conform to fast fashion, so let’s approach the appeal from a fresh angle.
It can be assumed that many are aware of the usual second-hand shopper demographics, having noted their distinctions and quirks during shopping outings. The eco-conscious, where purchasing ethically and responsibly are the driving factors; the penny pincher, where cost necessities dictate; and (the subgroup I find most interesting) the savvy thrifter, whose motives commonly entwine with the aforementioned drivers. They are often striving for fashionability—to be in vogue and a stylish trend-setter.
Statistics say 83% of second-hand shoppers are driven by fashionability when shopping in second-hand stores. These are the types that amass 2,000+ followers on the second-hand selling app Depop, posing in hand-cropped Ralph Lauren polo shirts, Y2K saddle bags and silk slip-style camis, all photographed against the backdrops of their off-white bedroom walls. Or, the more seasoned type that seeks out their favourite local strips on the weekends, hunting through hangers and browsing shelves for that hidden gem. People like Claire, who is dedicated to the hunt, and goes to “pretty much all” of the second-hand hot spots over her weekends, even after working Reloved on weekdays. It’s a lifestyle that requires a decent heaping of commitment and a bit of luck.
Reloved’s social media promotion has increased, with Claire taking over this task temporarily. She hopes to grab the attention of the younger shoppers and remind the odd Instagram or Facebook scroller that they are open on the weekends. Claire notes the burgeoning success, as she photographs and posts pieces that’ll often catch someone’s attention. She said that recently “someone rush[ed] down at five minutes to close saying, ‘I just saw this piece you put on (Facebook) and I had to have it!’ and bought it immediately”.
The end of our conversation is heralded by the weekly truck delivery, as clothing is regularly rotated around to better fit the demographics of the stores. Claire notes the different clientele of the stores, “cheap and cheerful youth stuff, and street brands tend to go to Freo,” for example. Reloved has accompanying stores in Fremantle and Subiaco, where they have been operating for around four years.
A personal touch
“We are set up as more of a boutique style here at Reloved,” says Claire. That is unequivocally evident from the layout of the stores, the product range and especially the commitment of the employees. Claire is devoted to keeping the space up to date, and you’ll often find her moving fixtures on a quiet afternoon. A new addition—the bric-a-brac display—keeps things interesting. “It definitely gets people through the door, even if it doesn’t bring a lot in monetarily… I’ve put it up against the window so people always have a little squiz. Gives the shop a nice feel.” It is eye-catching: tiny pots with striking blue lids and hand-painted pink roses and, on occasion, an assortment of vintage Royal Doulton tea ware. Claire is in the process of refurbishing a vintage spice rack, which will join the collection later. She shares the story of a favourite item she has sold like this: an original Toy Story figurine in “mint condition”, released in 1995 with the first film. “I sold it to a kid who wanted to play with it. I was really ecstatic that it was going to be actually played with.”
Claire’s commitment seeps past her work life, and she is inclined to take an item or two home. “I’ll do little repairs when I have the time, I tend to bring a load home and do a wash sometimes, if there are some really beautiful, special pieces that have a little mark on them.” Claire was the one to tailor the Fiorucci jeans I ended up purchasing. She’s worked with jewellery before and has a habit of restoring and polishing the silver jewellery that comes through the store. However, she knows when enough is enough: “I have to put some boundaries on myself, I’d take home too much otherwise!”
Claire declares that “building up those relationships is something I love doing. I know all my regulars around here. There’s some that live just around the corner that I pick up from regularly.” Similar can be said of Diane, store manager of the Subiaco Reloved store. She recounted to me a heartwarming tale concerning a regular customer who brings in hand-knits every winter. “Big bags of gorgeous hand knitted jumpers, scarves and beanies. She’ll do that four times in the winter. They sell like hotcakes; as soon as I’m unraveling them, people are saying ‘how much is that?’”. This knitter has approached other second-hand stores, but has deemed the experience “soul destroying” as she hardly received an acknowledgement for donating her hand knits. Thankfully, Diane differs and is “on them like a rash”, texting the patron regularly to keep her updated on how the knits are selling.
Not everything is second-hand
Some first-hand stores are also thrilled to help with the cause, especially with the decrease of waste. Marie Claire Shoes, located near Reloved Subiaco on Rokeby Road, donated new shoes to Diane. Good quality, however they were marked with a few scuffs and imperfections and therefore were unable to be sold full-price. They were all purchased within a day or two at Reloved, Diane saying they went “off the counter” priced at $40-50, less than half their original price.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean all donations are appreciated. COVID-19 has had the homebound cleaning out their closets and donating an assortment of oddities to the stores. Diane cringes as she tells me her experience of opening a bag and finding used G-strings, and Claire notes of many socks and jocks discovered. They go straight in the rubbish bin.
Behind the scenes
I caught up with Maddy, an ex-volunteer at Vinnies Wangarra, to compare her experience of working in the second-hand industry. Like Reloved, Vinnies also “does a lot of promotion online and in person for the organisation as a whole, and to show the public new items of clothing that each store has received, ideally to encourage people to visit the stores.” Vinnies works to donate to St Vincent de Paul, similar to how Reloved assists in funding the RSPCA. Maddy’s passion is evident, though not as strongly directed towards fashion, but more helping the community and St Vincent de Paul. She exudes conscientiousness, saying “I began volunteering there because I enjoy giving back to people and I believe if everyone helped our community in some shape or form, then the world would be a better place.”
Being a time-poor university student, thrifting escapades have been put on the back-burner for Maddy, who admits, “I would like to go to more second-hand clothing stores and buy clothing, as I believe organisations such as Vinnies not only give back to the community, but also promote the recycling of clothing – one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” You’ve got to look a little harder between the racks in these less cultivated stores, but it certainly has the potential to reap similar rewards. Vinnies has some issues much like any other store, as Maddy recounts the attempted stealing of a giant photo frame which was luckily apprehended before the thief could casually stroll out with the large item.
Since visiting Reloved over a year ago, I’ve undeniably shaken off the contempt I felt surrounding second-hand buys—born out of my own proudness and lack of knowledge—and embraced many aspects of the lifestyle after a healthy dose of exposure. I’ve meandered through Northbridge’s cool and cultivated Fi & Co and Vintage Vinnies, to the many Salvos, Good Sammy and Red Cross stores south of the river. So, garnered from my own experience, I implore any hesitant buyers to embrace the experience, because you never know when you will happen upon the next lucky find.