By Guest Blogger: Faye Delanty
I always felt that second hand fashion can have an long-lasting positive impact on the individual, the community and the environment – it’s my passion to show people just that, and through my time working with Salvos stores, the deeper meaning and purpose of pre-loved clothing has really hit home for me. Op shopping is so much more than finding a cute outfit, it’s an incredibly powerful tool for transformation. I have been so fortunate to have witnessed some remarkable stories which have drastically changed the way I see op shop garments and the stores which house them. To me, they are fashion change agents with a healing hand weaved into their very fabric – Sartorial ‘Shape shifters’.
I’d like to share two stories that highlight the power of transformation and show that empowerment can come in many guises to allow women to embrace their authentic selves and thrive.
STORY ONE: BREAKING FREE
Through my work in Salvos Stores, I met Mel. All she had known in life was domestic violence starting within her family, from which she fled only to fall into the same situation again with her first boyfriend. The control and frightening behaviour became so bad that she wouldn’t even raise her eyes from the ground anymore for fear that her perpetrator would accuse her of looking at other men, which quite often would result in a side hook (which sadly he had no issue with doing in public). As her babies grew, their beautiful innocent beings finally bestowed Mel with the strength to run away. She knew she didn’t want them to repeat her mistakes. It was the Salvos who saved them. They gave the girls a place to live, food, help with medical bills, clothing and counselling. The Salvos covered all bases with kindness, empathy and non-judgement, allowing her to find the courage and the belief that she could break the cycle. Forever grateful, she swore that when she was back on her feet she would give back to the charity responsible for her rescue.
Mel has been working with the Salvos now for over a decade and has just been promoted to store manager. She has reclaimed her independence, both daughters are flourishing and whilst it still hurts at times, she is dedicated to her healing now walking with her head and eyes held high. Not only has she learnt to love and defend herself, she is an incredible influence and support for other women in her community who have lost their voice by talking publicly about her experience to educate and empower others in her position.
When you shop at a thrift store, this is where your money goes. To the greater good and helping women like Mel to break the cycle of a domestic violence life sentence. Her inner warrior woman continues to inspire me and I’m honoured to call Mel and her beautiful daughters my friends. And for me shopping elsewhere doesn’t really warrant a discussion.
STORY TWO: IN THEIR SHOES
I’m sure we’ve all been in a situation where we automatically judge another. We’ve make a decision based purely on assumption, and I am also guilty! I was in store and noticed a customer I thought was shop lifting. As the woman approached the counter you could sense her inner turmoil. She was jumpy and suspicious. I wasn’t sure which way the situation would play out so I followed the lead of Store Manager Dale. He recounts the moment we witnessed the ‘shape shifting’ that he so beautifully created…
‘This is what I call a moment of truth. It’s a point where stars align and you have an opportunity to make a difference to someones day or life! Sure it appeared she was considering leaving without paying, but we also don’t know her story or situation. We simply said hello and asked if she needed any help and let it unfold. She started explaining that she needs some things but is just deciding what to put back because she only had $10. She explained she had some trouble at home, her TV had been smashed and she has five great kids. My colleague Milka just gave her a gentle stroke on the arm and told her we would like to help her. That’s the point where she got teary and broke down revealing a very sad and soft hearted lady under her rough exterior. Maybe a caring touch and soft reassuring words are not normally present in her life.
I saw this as an amazing opportunity to also restore her dignity. There was a bag and a pair of shoes that she’d cast aside because she couldn’t afford them with her $10. I told her they would look great on her and that I’d really like her to have them. The cost wasn’t important but giving back to someone is more than just the bare necessities as the ‘wants’ are so often overlooked for the ‘needs’ in normal welfare procedures.
She kept thanking us through tears and explained that she was too embarrassed about her situation to ask for help. I asked her if there is anything that her kids may need or like in store and that I’d really like her to take the bag and go and get some things for her kids also. She was very moved by this. I think this was a moment of truth for her also. After finding some more items for her kids she found me and walked towards me with her arms open and gave me a hug, thanked me and told me that I have no idea what this means to her. I asked her to come back if there is anything else we can help with.
Being open to diffuse a negative or even dangerous situation into something positive, is something I always try to demonstrate to staff I work with. I’ve had some staff members a little perplexed in the past as I seek out our finest pair of Reebok cross fit trainers for a homeless man with holes in his own shoes, our best white goods for a mother that has just escaped a domestic violence situation or a television for a man who has just gotten clean and living in a room above a pub – sure, welfare helped with his food and covered some bills, but who’s really human again until they can sit back and watch some tv?! It’s these things that make all the difference between surviving and thriving. And I am 100% sure that most donors would be happy for me to give away their donated items under these circumstances, rather than me selling them”.
Dale was amazing. He didn’t just shift that lady in needs perception but also completely shifted mine! I saw the power of love in action and for that I’m forever grateful. Sure a charity store is a retail destination but in actual fact it’s not really about the clothes. The garments are actually a sartorial catalyst for incredible change – not just for the ones who are truly in need. Sometimes it is us who needs to change!
As Wayne Dyer said: ‘When we change the way we look at things…The things we look at change’ and on this, International Women’s Day 2019, let’s all look at how we can achieve #balanceforbetter for ourselves and the women around us.
Love Faye x
Photography: @photo_bryan_marden/ Styling & words: @fayedelanty/ Clothing and mirror: Salvos Stores