Why pre-loved can be the best kind of fashion

Posted on 30 October 2020

Interview with Alex van Os of Op Shop to Runway

Sydney eco-stylist to the stars and op-shop devotee Alex van Os from Op Shop to Runway has a passion for pre-loved fashion. She’s worked on the style teams for popular Australian TV programs including The Bachelor, I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, Home and Away, and The Voice, and has a growing fan-base on Instagram.  

We talk to her about her love for vintage and pre-loved fashion, her tips for seeking out the best finds and why she’s on a mission to change the fashion industry, one of the biggest polluting industries in the world.

Tell us a little about Op Shop to Runway and your mission ethos

Op Shop to Runway is my styling business where I style and inspire others to shop sustainably and consciously.

I believe a sustainable wardrobe is one that is built mindfully with intentional pieces and quality items that reflects personal values and celebrates individual style. These are wardrobes that hold a greater awareness, demonstrate respect and understanding towards the origins of where our clothes come from, who they are produced by, what they’re made of and the impact they have on our people and planet. By approaching our wardrobe holistically, caring for those garments we already own and love wearing, and then consciously building upon those strong foundations, you will find that you create a deeper connection with your clothes and a confidence to own your personal style.

What got you passionate about pre-loved wares?

I was brought up op shopping! As a child I remember going to my local Red Cross shop after school, multiple times a week, because it was like a treasure trove - so many books and dress up clothes that I could buy with my pocket money! I continued to op shop as I got older because I would find clothes that no one else was wearing, brands that I couldn’t afford to buy new and unique vintage items made from incredible fabrics.

I still shop pre-loved for these reasons from a range of places - Op shops, designer consignment stores, flea markets and online through Instagram, Ebay, Facebook marketplace. However now these purchases are more of a conscious decision. I choose to buy secondhand as my first option because I also want to save clothing from going into landfill and be part of the circular economy.

Plus when you purchase from op shops you are providing much needed funds to help others get through tough times. It really is a win-win-win-win situation!

How do you properly ‘hunt’ for the best quality pieces in op shops - is there any rhyme or reason or is it just luck?

Most of the time it’s just luck because op shops get new donations every day. So, I find to give yourself the best chance in finding those gems you need to visit your local stores as often as you can. Also - some op shops have ‘Designer’ sections which can be great to check out regularly. Also ask if they have a costume/dress up section… that’s where you can find some incredible vintage! I laugh because what some people would consider as ‘dress ups’ I wear as normal everyday wear! My closet is filled with vintage ‘dress up section’ clothes!

How do you choose those Op Shops that do good for the planet?

You can research the different op shops and charities to find out what and who they support, their mission and how they spend their funds. I think most op shops work the same way in regard to selling quality donated items, but they could differ in what they do with their highly worn, unsellable items and how they keep them out of landfill.

Some charities also differ from store to store. For example, some stores have local programs set up to repair or upcycle items with an aligned group and others don’t.

I think it comes down to your personal values as to who you choose to support, but I believe keeping clothing out of landfill and in a circular economy is vital for the health and future of our planet!

What is preferable: sending pre-loved items to op shops which are inundated with garments or sending them to a recycling facility like Man Rags?

I prefer to donate good quality items to op shops because the funds they make from selling those pieces assist people who need it most - locally and abroad. I love donating in person to my local op shops because you create lovely connections with the volunteers and they are always so thankful.

You can also reap rewards by donating in store. The Red Cross Op Shops for example give you stamps on a loyalty card, and when you receive 10 stamps you get 25% off your next purchase!

Yes, op shops can get inundated with donations, but I don’t believe they are overwhelmed with top quality items, so I think if its good enough to give to a friend then its perfect to donate, but if its seen better days then send it off to Man Rags (now called Upparel).

What do you do with clothing items that cannot be donated or used second-hand? (E.g. socks and underwear that have holes/are used etc.)

I do 3 things:

  • I darn the holes in my socks to make them last longer.
  • I use my socks or old t-shirts (natural fibre garments) as cleaning cloths or rags which I keep in my laundry cupboard.
  • For the excess or unusable clothing/socks/underwear I have a bag in the garage where I slowly add the items. This stays in my garage until it is full after which I send it off to Man Rags (now Upparel) to be recycled. I find it’s useful to have a designated bag/section for those un-donatable old items because it stops you from throwing the one missing sock or the pair of well-worn underwear in the bin.

What’s your most favourite op shop find, and why?

This is always such a tough question because I would say 95% of my wardrobe is secondhand! Currently, it is my vintage Escada wool jumpsuit that I found in America! It’s an 80’s number with shoulder pads and the cut/fit is incredible! The quality of the garment- how it’s constructed and the fabric is absolutely amazing, and to think it is almost 40 years old! That’s why I love vintage and buying from op shops, because you can find some really unique and special pieces that will last a lifetime!

What would be your top 3 tips for sustainable fashionistas?  

  1. Stay true to your own personal style as then you won’t feel the need to wear what everyone else is wearing and having to keep up with the fast rotation of trends and new styles. This way you’ll wear your clothes for years, you’ll wear them more often and you’ll make less ‘shopping mistakes’.
  2. Always donate, ESPECIALLY if you are an op shopper! Op shops survive off donations and I believe you can’t just take (or in this case buy); you need to give back to them too. It’s like karma - what comes around (donate good quality items) goes around (you’ll find those treasures)!
  3. Think before you buy. Before you purchase a new (or new to you) item I highly recommend asking yourself some questions to stop yourself from over buying or making unconscious decisions:
  • “Could I recreate this trend or style with something I already own?”
  • “How many items of clothing from my wardrobe could I wear it with?”
  • “Will I wear it at least 30 times?”
  • “If I couldn’t take it home now, would I be willing to wait one month for it?”

If you are happy with your responses and know that you will give that item a good work-out then I think it’s a conscious and smart purchase.

Local op shops in our ‘hood:

  • Wayside Op Shop – Warners Ave, Bondi (and online)
  • Vinnies Bondi - Hall St Bondi
  • Vinnies Waverley – Bronte Rd, Charing Cross
  • Red Cross 448 Oxford St, Bondi Junction

Remember: secondhand doesn’t have to mean second best.

Watch Sustainable Fashion Webinar: You can also hear from Alex alongside Good on You's Sandra Capponi and the Social Outfit's Timothy Goh talking about practical solutions to a planet-friendly wardrobe. 

Thanks for making fashion reuse second nature!


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