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Archive | Fair Trade and Labour Rights

Op shopping tips for the skeptical newbie

op shopping

Eleanor Robertson

Op shops are fantastic, there’s no two ways about it. They’re a great way to avoid purchasing new and prevent perfectly good cast-offs from going into landfill, plus you’re supporting charity at the same time.  Some of my earliest memories are of cruising op shops with my dad on Saturday afternoons; his poison was vintage sci-fi novels and comics, whereas I was more interested in toys and dress-ups.

However! For people who aren’t lifelong op shoppers, secondhand wonderlands can be confusing and intimidating. Plus there’s that weird op shop smell, like a cross between a primary school and a retirement home. But fear not, because to celebrate National Op Shop Week we’ve put together the ultimate guide to pre-loved purchasing  — and don’t worry, the op shop smell disappears completely after a thorough cycle in the washing machine.

  1. Know the lay of the land.

Choosing which op shops to hit up is crucial. If someone close to you is a regular at Vinnies and the Salvos, get them to take you to their favourite spots. Op shops vary hugely in size, price point, stock, store arrangement and many other factors. For the seasoned enthusiast this is all part of the fun, but if you’re more used to doing a casual swing through Target then the number and variety of op shops can be overwhelming. To find your closest op shops, check out Op Shop Listing, which has hundreds of op shops around the country.

As well as proximity, here are some general tips when deciding which stores to hit up:

  • The further you are from a major urban centre, the cheaper the items and the larger the variety. Regional op shops, and those in outer suburbs, are often enormous treasure troves of clothing, books and homewares priced significantly lower than those in trendier postcodes.
  • Check out church or parish op shops, which are tiny in size but frequently contain more than their fair share of unexpected finds.
  • Most op shops take delivery of new stock on specific days of the week, so it’s often worth it to phone ahead to your op shop of choice and ask them when they’ll get a new shipment in.

op shopping

  1. Be prepared.

Ideally, you want to set aside at least a whole morning or afternoon to go on an op shopping adventure. There are some basic preparations you’ll want to make to ensure you get the best out of the experience:

  • Bring reusable shopping bags for carrying your finds so that you don’t have to use disposable plastic bags.
  • Make sure you’ve got a reasonable wad of cash, because some op shops don’t have EFTPOS.
  • Go through your wardrobe or your kitchen cupboard and make a rough list of what you’re looking for so that you don’t end up wandering around aimlessly (can be a real problem in op shops.)
  • Bring a bottle of water. Op shopping is thirsty work.

op shopping

  1. When you’re inside

Because op shops are organised so differently to normal retail spaces, the techniques you need to navigate them are different too. Stock is often displayed in a way that would be considered cramped in other shops, and this means there are a lot more items per square inch than your shopping eyes are probably used to. This is a recipe for glazed-over wandering – don’t let the Op Shop Dawdle happen to you.

  • Manage your FOMO (fear of missing out). Only check each area once, and be strict. If you find yourself fingering through the same rack of jumpers three or four times, you might have to implement a time limit by setting an alarm on your phone.
  • When going through clothing, be picky. Is your item made of nice fabric? Is it a colour that will go with other things in your wardrobe? Does it fit properly? Are there any defects? Only take the plunge if it’s something you’ll actually wear!
  • Don’t get too caught up in gender-specific sections. Browse the men’s section if you’re a woman, and if you’re a man don’t reject that nice wintery coat just because the tag says it’s made by the Ladies’ Clothing Emporium for Women.

op shopping

Pro tips

  • Don’t buy something if it’s chipped, ripped, stained, too short, too long, or ‘for a friend’. If you’ve never sewn before you’re probably not going to start now, and that beautiful but too-long skirt will sit at the bottom of your wardrobe causing you guilt until you give it back to a different op shop six months later. Better to leave it for someone else to find.
  • Know what clothing in style this season. Fashion goes through cycles, and often by the time something ends up in an op shop it can be on the verge of a comeback.
  • Avoid single-use appliances unless you’re 100% sure you’ll use them. There are stacks of popcorn makers, doughnut irons, fairy floss machines, chocolate fountains and the like in op shops, which can seem exciting because they’re expensive at retail. But there’s a reason they end up here – most people don’t use them!
  • If you’re shopping for furniture, bring a tape measure, and the dimensions of the space you need to fill. There’s nothing worse than lashing a bargain vintage bed frame to the roof of your car and dragging it home, only to find it doesn’t fit in your bedroom.
  • Be very picky about accessories. Op shops are full of scarves, belts, hats, sunglasses and costume jewellery, and you can afford to put something back if you’re not completely in love with it.
 Photo credit
 Emily Orpin, A day in Hongdae (CC)
Eddy Milfort, 10 11 2013 (CC)
Ashton, Vintage Haight-Ashbury (CC)
Tracy B, Royal Albert Summer Solitude (CC)


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Three must-see sustainable jewellery sources

sustainable jewellery

Back in January, Otter investigated the ethical issues surrounding jewellery. From dirty gold mining to blood diamonds, it turns out shiny trinkets are as good at distracting from their questionable production processes as they are at diverting attention from a bad hair day.

One of the things we recommended was to look out for Fairtrade or recycled materials, to avoid the negative effects of dirty mining practices and ensure the beautiful ornaments you buy aren’t made by exploited workers. We’re always on the lookout for new places to buy sustainable jewellery, and here are three local Australian shops we’ve stumbled upon that don’t sacrifice quality or design when it comes to responsibly-sourced glittery goodies.

bombshell necklace

Oz Fair Trade Bombshell Jewellery

Qinnie Wang, founder of Oz Fair Trade, says:

During the Vietnam War, the United States dropped more than 270 million sub-munitions on Laos. It is estimated that more than 30% of these sub-munitions failed to explode, leaving Laos with 80 million undetonated bombs. Since 1973, there have been around 12,000 explosion-related accidents.

Cambodia’s notorious landmine problem is the product of a civil war that spanned three decades and claimed the lives of up to three million people, or one third of the entire population. Today, more than 40,000 people are amputees.

Despite the efforts of the relevant government bodies in both countries, millions of undetonated bombs remain. It is within this context that a new type of product was born: recycled bombshells.

Once detonated, the aluminium and brass in bombs can be melted and made into household objects. Local people started making spoons from bombshells after the war, and they now produce beautiful jewellery, too.

Recycled bombshell products are ethical in three main ways:

•             recycle existing material

•             provide extra income for land clearance

•             provide job opportunities for local people

You can view how bombshells are turned into jewellery in the Oz Fair Trade’s YouTube video, or view the bombshell collection here.

spindrift necklace


Spindrift is the creation of artist and jewellery designer Natasha Wakefield, who combs the Northern Beaches of Sydney for pieces of sea glass to use as gems in her collections. Sea glass is the result of tides and sand acting on shards of bottles, windows and parts from wrecked ships, transforming it from jagged and dangerous waste into smooth, frosted treasure.

The sea glass used in Spindrift jewellery is also known as mermaids’ tears, and this romantic provenance is echoed in the designs. The pieces are elegant, understated and slightly melancholy, with the pale, translucent blues of the sea glass complementing lustrous silver metal components. Other pieces use reclaimed wood and small shell fragements.

Spindrift uses recycled silver wherever possible, and is committed to sourcing Fairtrade and sustainable materials.

katrina freene

 Katrina Freene

Adelaide-based designer Katrina Freene makes limited edition earrings, brooches and necklaces from recycled tin trays. A little bit retro and a little bit Australiana, Freene says her design is heavily influenced by her passion for sustainable jewellery as well as memories of her childhood.

The tin trays she uses are an op shop staple, often passed over for being unbearably kitschy. On a large, tea-tray-sized scale this is often true, but the colourful motifs really shine as smaller bits of wearable art. Some pieces incorporate multiple textures, and some are single patterns, like a pair of studs with the detail of a pheasant’s plumage. Part of the charm of this jewellery is the invitation to imagine what the rest of the tray looked like, which makes her pieces both whimsical and engaging.

Posts and earring threads are made of sustainable materials, and Freene tries to avoid manufactured parts as much as possible, preferring to design them herself.

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Fair Fashion: Save Ethical Clothing Australia!


Ethical Clothing Australia has become a casualty of Federal budget cuts, with the government announcing it will axe ECA’s $1 million budget.

ECA is the only labour ethics compliance body in the Australian fashion industry, working to secure wages and conditions for Australia’s thousands of garment workers.

From the Sydney Morning Herald:

The joint industry-union group has conducted almost 3500 audits of Australian clothing factories in the past five years and met with more than 2500 home-based outworkers, known as the industry’s “hidden workforce”, who are vulnerable to exploitation.

Eighty Australian fashion labels and manufacturers – including Cue, Carla Zampatti, Puma, Rossi Boots, Hard Yakka and RM Williams – have been accredited under the voluntary scheme.The head of the de-funded organisation said the cuts would lead to more workers being underpaid and overworked, and act as a disincentive for the industry to operate ethically.

ECA’s certification is an essential source of consumer information, and stripping funding from the organisation’s accreditation program will decrease Australians’ ability to make more ethical choices when shopping for clothing and footwear. It is already far too difficult for the average shopper to access information on clothing supply chains and working conditions, and ECA labelling is one of few ways we can know we’re making a positive choice.
Take action by sending an email to Senator Eric Abetz here or see ECA’s list of other ways you can help here.
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Know any good yarns? Otter’s top 8 sewing bloggers do!


Sewing your own clothes isn’t just a fun and rewarding hobby. It helps to develop consciousness of the labour that goes into the things we wear and encourages us to appreciate quality rather than transient trendiness. It can also be good for the environment, especially if you’re careful with your fabric selection and make clothes to last.

Many of us have experienced the pangs of longing that lifestyle blogs tend to inspire. The tousle-haired children! The green smoothies! The photogenic pets! But I find the best of these blogs do one thing, and they do it well. Enter the sewing blogosphere, an amazing resource for anyone looking to get into the world of clothes-making. Back in the day access to this kind of knowledge was limited to those of us with patient grandmothers, but now anyone can dip in their toes.

For the curious wannabe, seasoned stitcher, or simple DIY voyeur, here are some of Otter’s favourite sewing blogs for you to peruse and enjoy.

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The lowdown on leather (part 2)

Suede shoe close up

Part one of this two part series discussed the environmental concerns around the production of leather. The impact of leather does not end here though: both humans and animals alike suffer as a result of consumer demand for leather goods. Ruth Hatten discusses these impacts and suggests ways we can navigate the issues when next shopping for leather.

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A busy person’s guide to better fashion choices

Colourful shirts on hangers

Kate Halliday

Like many people, when I heard about the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2013 and read about clashes in Cambodia between badly paid workers and security forces earlier this year, I became even more concerned about the impacts my fashion choices were having on the people making the clothes.

But like everyone, the time I can dedicate to researching every piece of clothing in my wardrobe is somewhat limited! So I started thinking about the most efficient way to find the relevant information and weigh up the issues that mattered to me.

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An ethical short circuit? Behind the Barcode opens up the electronics industry


Baptist World Aid has today released the Electronics Industry Trends Report and Ethical Electronics Guide as part of the Behind the Barcode series. This is the second Behind the Barcode report, following the release of the Australian Fashion Report and Ethical Fashion Guide in 2013.

The new guide empowers consumers to buy electronics ethically by grading 45 brands from 39 of the world’s biggest tech companies. The gradings assess the systems companies have in place to protect workers in the supply chain from exploitation, forced labour and child labour.

We talk to Gershon Nimbalker, Advocacy Manager at Baptist World Aid about the report and guide.

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Mica – is it in your cosmetics? Ask your brand – here’s how

Hi, I love your products and use them regularly, but I also care about child labour in mica mining. I want to know where the mica used in your cosmetics comes from, and whether you can confirm that no children are mining mica in the manufacture of your cosmetics? How do you ensure that child labour is not used in your supply chain? @otterchoices #mica

Simply post the above message on your favourite brand’s Facebook page to ask them whether they make your cosmetics using mica mined by children. For more ideas including a sample tweet, see below.
Mica - is it in your cosmetics

What is Mica and what’s the problem?

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Not all that glitters is good


Photo: lipstick (Flicrk/Monica H) Creative Commons License.

The sparkle in your cosmetics generally comes from mica, a mineral that may be sourced using child labour.

Mica is found in many everyday products, from automotive paint to computers. Commonly, you’ll find mica in make-up, with brands proudly claiming the glitter from their mica content as a reason to buy their foundation, face powder and lipstick.

In January 2014, Australian journalists found cases of children mining mica in India.  Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) reporters Sarah Whyte and Ben Doherty found evidence of children as young as 10 skipping school to earn around 83 Australian cents per day collecting and mining mica. This alarming report raises the question: was your make-up made using child labour?

Take action. Join our campaign

Ask your favourite cosmetic brand to tell you whether they use child labour in their supply chain.

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Otter’s tips for the Easter Bunny. Phew, there’s a handful!

Green eggs , not Easter eggs

Green Eggs (Flickr/Normanack) Copyright. Creative Commons License.

Easter is around the corner. A trip down the now colourful foil-filled aisles of the supermarket is all we need to remind ourselves that this holiday is now upon us. But with all these delicious offerings at our fingertips, how can we pick the eggs and Easter buns that will satisfy our tastebuds and our values, without the hassle? We’ve brought together the advice from a handful of guides to good eggs – many of of which can be found at your local store. Continue Reading →

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