Fast fashion is swamping op shops, but long-time thrifters aren’t giving up the hunt


Sue Carmichael rifles through a rack of skirts at her local op shop in Goulburn, New South Wales.

The long-time thrifter doesn’t have to look at the brands to tell which ones are from “one of those chains”.

She pulls out one to demonstrate.

“The elastic is coming down and it’s sitting alright, but your eye can just tell,” she says.

The 58-year-old buys almost exclusively second-hand.

Today, she’s on the hunt for a pair of white shoes for a function in Brisbane, but she says it’s getting harder and more expensive to find those good-quality items in op shops.

The rise of fast fashion has disrupted the traditional life cycle of clothing with fewer garments designed with the thought of second or third owners in mind.

A woman pins fabric to a mannequin.
Laura Washington encourages her students to source second-hand clothes.(Supplied: Laura Washington)

Head teacher at The Fashion Design Studio at TAFE NSW Laura Washington says fast fashion is the antithesis of heirloom garments prized by thrifters.

“The lifespan of these clothes is greatly reduced — things like the grainline (the weave of the fabric) falls out of the correct alignment after one or two washes, the clothes dismantle much more easily, because it’s the construction and sometimes the poor workmanship or the quick workmanship,” she says.

But amid reports that the golden age of thrifting is over, long-time op shoppers say there are still treasures to be found if you’re prepared to wade through the glut of fast fashion on the racks.

Ms. Washington describes herself as an avid thrift shopper and encourages her students to source second-hand garments to rework.

“I can still find those little treasures,” she says.

Demand for change

An Australian Fashion Council (AFC) report released this week found Australians bought 14.8 kilograms of clothing every year, or 56 new items, at an average cost of $6.50 each.

Much of it ends up in landfill — 10kg worth per person are thrown out each year.


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