Lack of opportunity shop

March 2, 2023
Society is besieged by chain store ‘charity’ shops, where hipsters shop to find the latest retro fashion. Image: Green Left

In capitalism’s fever to monetise everything, even the humble opportunity shop has not escaped the clutches of the system.

Long gone are the days of the true op shop — the local charity shop that accepted donations from community members and genuinely offered an opportunity to the poor, or those suffering hardship, to be able to purchase items they required. It was a place where those in need could buy a pair of jeans or shoes for $1.

Now, society is besieged by chain store charity shops, like Savers or Salvos Stores, where hipsters shop to find the latest retro fashion: prices reflect this new consumer and changed demographic.

There are discount vouchers when you enter and leave, to encourage return visits — profit is the goal of the day.

Every now and again there’s an article in corporate media about finding your retro look from the local second-hand store, a sure indicator that these shops are no longer focused on helping the needy, but are instead cash cows for whomever owns and operates them.

The chart-topping song Thrift Shop highlighted and, no doubt contributed to, the rise in popularity and prices as the retro-fashion hunting middle class took over the aisles.

The new way of capitalising on those in need has also meant that volunteers are not needed — depriving people of a way to give back and to be connected to their communities.

The giant recycling bins for clothes in supermarket car parks and other places are installed by companies which have a variety of ways to make a profit from second-hand clothing.

These bins are just for clothes, not other second-hand goods, as true op shops are: just the commodity with the most money to be made with the least amount of effort.

These companies offer programs to schools where they pay the school a miserly 10 cents a kilogram of clothing collected at the school, and call it a fundraiser.

Then, to get their money and more straight back, they offer to run half-day classroom incursions on sustainability for $650, plus GST, for schools in Victoria and $1995 for schools in other states.

These companies also have sorting facilities overseas, where labour is cheap and more profit can be made on old clothing.

Perhaps the charities who own the new style op shops think they are doing good work with the profits, but at whose expense?

Capitalism means that if someone is gaining, someone else is losing. The closure of the traditional op shop means the losers are people who can least afford it.

Perhaps that is why these new shops are not called opportunity shops anymore, because that is something they are not offering the community.

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