second-hand shop

Trawling ‘op’ shops is a popular pastime in New Zealand. Image: Adobe Stock

Get thrifty in New Zealand: The land where ‘op’ shops rule

Embraced by all, ‘op’ shopping is an affordable way for visiting South Africans to enjoy worry-free foreign-exchange buying in New Zealand.

second-hand shop

Trawling ‘op’ shops is a popular pastime in New Zealand. Image: Adobe Stock

It seems op shopping runs a close second to rugby as a national sport in New Zealand. Visit any home here and chances are pretty good an admiring remark about a piece of furniture, carpet or clothing will launch a beaming smile and the words: “Yeah, got that at an op shop”.

This simple statement can open a new world for the visitor that adds some purpose (if you are male) to one of the most enduring mysteries of travel. It’s a woman’s fantastic ability regardless of the new, exotic climes they visit to locate the local malls within a day of arriving.

New Zealand op shops bend retail trend

The good news is that the discovery of op shopping can upset the trend of spending time in foreign malls. The shops are usually located away from these hour-sucking retail palaces. They are scattered through towns and close to amenities so you get to see places and enjoy the local cuisine (you can generally count on excellent fish and chips, and bunny chows) while other family members hunt for bargains.

But, if you are a snuffler and an inveterate shopper, op shops (opportunity shops, to give them their full name) are the place to visit. The difference is that, instead of having shoppers drooling over items with tags that would gladden the heart of credit card issuers, op shops sell second-hand goods. 

Here in South Africa they would be called charity shops or second-hand shops, where you would go if you want to find that missing piece of Noritake china that went out of production years ago or a cheap tennis racket.

All shops here seem to have metres of dusty shelves packed randomly with items that have seen better days. (But, again, if you have one of the world’s few remaining collections of beta videotapes and need a machine, the place could be paradise).

Making money for good causes

In New Zealand (at least the parts we visited) canny charities and associations have realised that living on two islands where a decent bed or piece of furniture can cost as much as a medium-sized car means that there is money to be made for good causes.

Hence, the move from charity shops to opportunity shops is more than just clever marketing semantics.  They are places where locals (no matter how well-heeled it seems) don’t mind being seen.

Forex bargains in New Zealand

For visiting South Africans, ever conscious of the low exchange rate,the advantages of op shopping are immense. There will be bargains to be had whether the op shop is a temporary affair housed in a re-purposed shipping container or a full-on retail store on the main road.

Designer op shops are particularly well patronised. Who wouldn’t stick their nose inside when genuine designer duds and vintage “pre-loved” clothing are available at $5 to $10 a shot? That’s about R54 to R108 at today’s rate. 

When it comes to buying used clothes, where many like me would shudder thinking about the origin of clothing, thoughts like that don’t seem to occur in New Zealand. It’s probably because the items are in most cases professionally cleaned and displayed to their best advantage.

‘Op’ shops rule

Just how big an industry opp shopping is under the long white cloud becomes apparent when you realise that SaveMart, the country’s largest retailer of second-hand clothing, has 29 stores and supports the Child Cancer Foundation and other non-profit organisations. 

For South African women who rush past stores at home that sell the equivalent clothing and steadfastly resist sneaking a peek lest they be tested (and credit cards irreparably destroyed) it’s paradise. 

New Zealand leading from the front

New Zealand politician Marama Davidson, centre, has a mainly thrifted wardrobe. With her are Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, left, and Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy. Image: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

What makes op shopping a social phenomenon is the relaxed, down-to-earth attitude of New Zealanders who generally seem unimpressed by public displays of status. Witness a local story about MPs from Aotearoa WTMB (Wherever That May Be) who are “notorious for their love of op shopping” and go as far as offering their US counterparts advice on buying second-hand clobber.

The article in the November 2020 issue of The Guardian quotes Marama Davidson, co-leader of the Green Party and a government minister as saying:

“I have always loved supporting sustainability and local businesses with what I wear. The vast majority of my wardrobe is second-hand, op-shopped or locally sourced. During the campaign, I had a team of amazing women from my local neighbourhood who scoured op shops to find new clothes for the election trail. It completely transformed my wardrobe.”

The way that New Zealanders brag about their opp shopping wins is evident in remarks by MP Louise Upton, who proclaimed: “I had a colleague the other day say, ‘Oh, I love your jacket, it’s amazing!’. And I said ‘Oh, thanks, I bought it from an op shop’.”

South African politicians take note.


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