The Devil Wears SWOP

In a post-Marie-Kondo world, my partner decided to clear out her hefty wardrobe.  Some used to call it Spring Cleaning, though our Netflix host would have a new name for it I’m sure.  I wouldn’t know, I didn’t watch it. Instead I sat my lazy ass on the couch as Teish began unloading frocks by the armload.  I’d be lying if I said it didn’t inspire me.  I lifted myself off the couch and started to sort through my embarrassingly large collection of old t-shirts, paisley button ups and old trousers I never wear but leave in my wardrobe.  Usually we give our old clothing to charity, like any good 2019 human should.  But there was something about this collection that got me thinking, I could sell some of this.  That, and the fact that we have a wedding just over a month away and I’d really love a bit of extra play money. So, I took to the internet, wondering how to squeeze a little bit of money out of these once $80 shorts. 

I knew my options within a quick Google – there’s only so much I could do in Brisbane aside from standing on the street with a cardboard sign saying, ‘clothes 4 sale’.  I could go Gumtree, which is easy in theory but takes some time to get set up.  I’d have to individually price my shit, take photos, upload an ad, possibly a few depending on how I wanted to go about it.  It’s free, but costs time.  Time, I don’t have. Then there’s Facebook Marketplace, the lesser of the online garage sales.  There’s something cheap about it, it’s hard to put my finger on it, but from what I’ve seen there’s a lot of people selling actual shit.  I don’t want my potential profitable sale to be nestled online next to Little Lisa’s Year 8 Art Project.  Then there’s Depop, the online thrift store that doesn’t guarantee you a sale unless your store page looks like a fucking Gucci ad.  I don’t have the time to colour coordinate my fits, find a model and take semi-professional photos.  That’s worse than Gumtree. 

My saving grace, my ace up my sleeve, was SWOP in Brisbane.  SWOP, for those like me that needed a brief education, is a shop that sells vintage and worn clothing, and buys your clothes in exchange for a bit of cash, or store credit.  Think of it as the EB Games of clothing. I’d been in there a couple times before. If you were illiterate, you would be hard pressed to find a garment that didn’t look brand new.  There’s a level of polish at SWOP, and with that level of polish comes an ego and a pretentious attitude to match.  Those who have the buying power at SWOP make sure you know they have control.  They have the power of pricing your clothes. If you don’t like it, walk. SWOP was my easiest option, all I had to do was pick my best clothes, put them in one large bag and drop them off.  And SWOP stresses the ONE bag policy.  One big blue IKEA bag to be exact.  As if they won’t take the three Woolies bags of clothes I’ve just earnestly packed.  But I wanted everything to run smoothly.  I didn’t want to upset the high-priestesses of SWOP, I wanted to be in their good books upon first glance.  First impressions matter. I sourced a blue IKEA bag and repacked my best clothes, including a pair of $200 Aquela shoes I had worn three times.  I packed a Zara leather jacket. I packed Scotch and Soda shorts and shirts.  I packed a Rodd and Gunn duster’s jacket, amongst many others, as well as a handful of Teish’s clothes that were a sure sell.  I had a mixed bag of clothes, surely I’d make a bit of dough from here.  My goal, at least one-hundred and fifty.  Fingers crossed.  I had a fucking IKEA bag full of clothes for gods sake. 

I finished work and headed off, my trusty IKEA bag in tow, weighing my car down better than I ever could. Destination SWOP.  Abiding by their one bag policy, I was also in a rush to meet their strict buying times.  11am-5pm Monday to Fridays only.  At least, that’s at my most convenient SWOP in West End.  Their CBD shop buys on Saturdays, but who the fuck wants to walk around the CBD with a ten-kilo, big-blue-bag full of old clothes. I made good time and parked up the road, at least four-hundred metres away.  And in true Brisbane afternoon fashion, the heavens decided to open, drizzling a light shower atop of me as I parked.  I’d be lying if I said the bag wasn’t heavy.  I tried to mask the weight with my best nonchalant face as I lifted the metre-long bag up the stairs.  Droplets of rain nestled in my hair, a few drops on the bag. The shop was quiet, one casual browser shuffled through the packed racks of vintage jackets and tops.  Two young women locked eyes as I headed their direction, to the sorting counter. They could have only been twenty-one, maybe twenty-two. Dressed in trendy vintage attire and subtle 60s inspired makeup, think a subtly modern mix of Twiggy and Jane Birkin, the young ladies sized me up quick smart.  I dressed for the occasion, black Docs, black jeans and a faded tee to match.  A simple outfit, but it’s better than wearing my best stubbies and a singlet as I try to sell my wares.  First impressions matter. I might have looked the part, but they could see through my nonchalant demeanour as I waddled with my hefty bag.  As I threw the bag on the counter the two girls smirked and looked at each other.  A smirk that, if I read correctly, confirms my suspicions.  They looked at the bag and told me to come back in twenty minutes.  I abided and wandered around West End.

I returned as the light drizzle came to an end.  The shop was empty of customers and the SWOP ladies gave me a glance and continued with their conversations behind the counter.  “We’re not done yet” one of them said to me in between slight giggles to the other behind the counter.  Something funny was going on. I took a seat and waited.  Five minutes passed and a voice from behind the desk said, “Alright Nick, we’re done now.”  I walked to the counter and saw the girl holding a pile of my clothes.  In my mind I thought, that’s one of many piles she’s moving from one shelf to the next.  “This is what we’ll take.”  My mind stopped.  I’m confused as they handed me my big IKEA bag back.  This time barely a kilo lighter.  “Please sign here.  We’ll give you eighty dollars store credit or forty dollars cash.”  My mouth answered with the script I had in my head. “I’ll take cash thanks.”  My mind was still dumbfounded.  And didn’t stop my mouth from continuing the sale.  I took the cash and walked; my heavy bag continued to knock me around as I waddled out of SWOP.  My initial hope of walking out with a small wad of cash and a much lighter bag faded into an embarrassing dream.  I now know the joke the SWOP ladies were laughing at.   

Self-doubt filled me as I walked back to the car carrying the same weighty bag as I did upon entering.  Were my clothes not good enough? Why didn’t they take my this? What’s wrong with that? All this for six items? It’s only upon reflection that my emotions changed.  My suspicion of SWOP was correct. 

The aroma of pretentiousness fills the air in the small West End shop.  Those who wish to sell their wares openly surrender to the biased opinions of the SWOP staff.  The vagueness of their buying guides is easy to follow. Do you have vintage or high-quality current season/on trend clothing?  Yes. Are they in great, wearable condition? Yes. Have you checked that they aren’t Fast Fashion (H&M, Jay Jays, Uniqlo)? Yes. Are your items in good condition and freshly laundered? Yes.  The bias comes into play when discussing what’s on trend or current season items.  I might think that my pin striped Scotch and Soda pants are vintage and of a high quality, but the two girls picking through my clothing certainly did not.  It’s still sitting in my IKEA bag amongst others of the same ilk.  Their value scale is a biased choice too, unless it’s only made available for SWOP staff.  I might think my Zara leather jacket they took would be worth at least eighty dollars, making my take home profit twenty dollars.  Half of what I walked out with after getting rid of six items.  I understand that valuing changes from item to item, but if you’re want to consistently grade an item fairly, wouldn’t there be a scale or syllabus for all staff to follow.  And why is that not made available for customers who wish to sell their items?  That would avoid bias and ill-judgement made by what I can only assume are young fashion students who hold their power over you to an uncomfortably condescending level.  At the end of the day, I don’t give a fuck how much money I made.  What irks me is how dumb I was to not take my items back and sell them by myself.  I’m embarrassed, not by the quantity of clothing I walked back out with, but to the level of effort I went through to try and impress the SWOP staff so they could buy my wares.  I held the shop, and its staff, on a pedestal.  A pedestal built from word of mouth surrounding the shop, as well as the pretentious atmosphere that lingers inside.  In a split moment I second guessed myself, all over some fucking old clothes.

I do not understand how SWOP continues to function.  Or is it like a club? You need to have a similar mindset in order to shop there? People feed into the vicious circle of gratification the shop gives you when they buy some of your items.  As if you feel like your clothes, and yourself for that matter, are worthy of their shelves.  And in return, they offer fuck all in cash, or the opportunity to grace their racks and browse their library of other people’s self-worth.  It’s the EB Games of clothes, except EB Games take your old games no matter what (depending on damage) and don’t giggle condescendingly when you take up your old items to the counter.  My first experience selling at SWOP did not go as I envisioned. I’ll add that this article is based off one selling experience and a handful of times browsing their racks.  But I do not want to feed into the vicious circle created by the shop and those who work there.  I will not give them my business again. And I will also add, I’m not calling every employee pretentious or malicious, just those who worked there last Friday whose actions were belittling and condescending. Someone needs to tell them this isn’t The Devil Wears Prada.

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