Saturday, August 22, 2009

Opping on

Damon Young alerted me to this article by Helen Razer suggesting that "comfortable parents" can all tut-tut about Cotton On because as a brand it's a bit cheap and nasty, but that a "crass t-shirt is no less offensive than a tot in head-to-toe Prada".

(Although, funnily enough, I think Cotton On had earned itself a bit of cred lately -- at least, before this saga shot it down in flames. It's a weirdly nuanced thing the way these kinds of "High Street" brands (as the Brits call 'em) can redeem themselves from time to time.)

Anyway, as I said in my comment, I agree with Razer that parading babies around as billboards or status symbols of any kind is pretty off -- and that, yes, we're all prone to this kind of consumer hypocrisy to lesser or greater degrees. Though a pretty minuscule percentage of parents (even those in the comfortable category) could afford to dress their kids in Prada, even if they wanted to.

But this brought us to the issue of op-shops, Damon linking us to this story by sociologist and blogger Ruth Quibell, who reminds us to look beyond our bargain-hunting instincts and remember why and how op shops exist.

When it comes to the very fraught ethical questions of how, where and why to shop nowadays, op-shops have long been my get out of jail free card, or so I thought. (Though I've never bought fur, even second-hand, and never bartered either, I promise.)

I was just talking to someone last night about how you now have to expect to pay pretty much the same amount at oppies as you would for new gear -- but that you're hopefully paying for better quality stuff, especially when it come to kids (well, mine anyway) who seem to trash their clothes faster than I can stuff the little would-be nudists into them, as well as buying a bit more ethically, just by the nature of the wares being second-hand, and hopefully putting your money somewhere useful.

That said -- though (as Ruth points out) I know people who shop at op shops aren't just the very poor (there are even those running op shop tours now!) -- I would struggle to dress my kids in similar quality clothes bought new. The choice would be op-shop or the likes of Target, where I do admittedly shop from time to time, but always means wrestling with that ethical problem of whether to buy cheap imports made in China that fall apart in the wash and were probably made by a kid about the same age as your own.

The other issue is the way op-shops now get trawled through by some funky vintage outfit across the road who then on-sells for three times as much -- for profit, not charity. Where does everyone sit on that one? All part of keeping the whole thing ticking along, or just ripping off the everyone involved -- the charities, the poor, and the bargain-hunters alike?

... Oh dear...

Sorry, this post was started half an hour ago but was interrupted by my daughter stepping into the study looking like she'd spent too long on a horse. Yep, pooed her pants. Sorry, I know, that's a bit gross, but in the interests of truth and honesty about this parenting caper... Phew -- lucky the pants weren't Prada!


cristy said...

mmm food for thought. I never quite know what to think of the trendy vintage store resale of op shop finds. On the one hand I find it a bit off, but on the other hand I do like the fact that it 'mainstreams' secondhand stuff, which is a good thing in the context of "our buy it new, buy it cheap and then chuck it into landfill" consumer culture.

Re: Razer's article, your link just goes to the Age mainpage and I couldn't find it through a search. I'd be interested to read it though. Still, I'm not sure how one group of brand-obsessed parents can let Cotton On off the hook for printing "They Shake Me" on a baby t-shirt...

I'm in sympathy with you re: the poo in pants. We've had a bit of that around here lately.

Damon Young said...

Cristy, the Razer oped is here.

Funny, as always.

Kate Moore said...

Ah op shops. OK, so this is my thing. So much so I am writing about them in my 4am (I wish) sans dependent adult moments. Yes, all you mumas of younguns catching writing time at 4am, it still has to be 4am when they're dependent adults. By this time, however, you're so tired to get up at 4am and snatch quiet time is impossible.
Anyhoot, I wander.
I have bookmarked all the links to read properly, but could go on and on about the green, sustainable, yadda, yadda, give back to charity, reasons for op shopping. In fact, I am at work wearing new op shopped dress and old op shopped boots. Both are old, just new and old to me. See?
The baby thing is disturbing though, especially as a lead story on today reported on parents taking thier toddlers "raving" at inner-city Sydney dance clubs. And here was I thinking those cages full of balls were about as much fun as a toddler could have with colour, heat, a small crowded space and mysterious body fluids.
As for the op shops, don't go kiddin' yourselves. Those crafty (not crafty/knitting, more crafty/scheming) nanas manning the register are on to you Ebay resellers. In fact, they've logged on and are getting the good stuff. Damn them.

Kate Moore said...

OMG. Did you read the 69 comments on the ABC blog post by Ruth Quibell?
Gee sus. I am scared and take that comment about nanas back.

Damon Young said...

Sometimes it's best not to read the comments.

(Not this comment, obviously.)

Kate Moore said...

Too damn right. I am keeping mum on the orchids and all things op shop 'til this blows over. Shhhhh.

Shannon Garson said...

I know parents have a lot to do these days but every so often I try to make the girls some clothes. In the same way as vegetable gardening I feel that it is really good for kids to see where things come from. It also helps that world/mother-guilt-little chinese-children-sewing thing.

Ruth Quibell said...

I know the danger of being seduced by the bright lights and cheap kids stuff at Target! I go in to buy socks and undies, and have to resist like hell not to buy anything else.

But I stick to the op shops for most things, even if their stuff can be as expensive as places like KMart and Target.

Aside from the significant 'factory-green-travel miles-made in china' issues, I like the fact that the whatever money is made by 'my little op shop' does to something important. And I appreciate the friendliness and honesty of the people who work there. The big chainstores might occasionally be cheaper, but on the other criteria they can't compete.

I agree that the vintage shops denuding the op-shops is a bit suspect, but then it has the benefit of making second-hand acceptable and even desirable to a broader range of people. I don't begrudge the big charities being a bit entrepreneurial and cashing in on the vintage market.

Perhaps we can change our aesthetic a bit - not to see the rest of the stuff in the op-shops as 'leftovers'.

You've reminded me, though, not engage in the same shelf-clearing behaviour; not buy up everything there just because I have a spare $10.

P.S. Thanks for the link to my article - I had meant to send my thanks sooner but I'm finding it hard to get to the computer at the moment (unless it's work-related).