By ANNE BESTON
Charities are finding it increasingly hard going in the second-hand-clothes business, with some deciding to shut up shop or cut back on services.
"With increasing competition, big operators and more people in the market it's a bit tough," said Baptist Action spokesman Bruce Edwards.
He worries the agency's six second-hand opportunity shops are being used as "wholesalers" for commercial second-hand dealers, making it difficult for the charity to provide "quality second-hand clothes at a reasonable price".
"We basically operate at a loss," Mr Edwards said.
It was also much harder to recruit volunteers these days, he said.
Auckland City Mission head Diane Robertson said the drop in volunteers was also a problem along with rising rents, cheap imported clothing and "huge competition" for good-quality clothes.
"We are a disposable society. The quality of the clothes we get now is lower than it was 10 years ago," she said.
The mission is looking at closing at least one of its four New Beginnings shops.
Methodist Mission acting manager Angus Fletcher said storage and transport costs meant the charity would no longer provide second-hand furniture but would still provide clothing.
"It's a service that's very important to our clients," he said.
"There is just not enough money for clothing when people are struggling to survive."
But there is money in the second-hand-clothes business, with up-market shops stocking imported designer gear which is sold for about a third of its original price.
Maria Northin, who has run Play It Again in Browns Bay for the past eight years, said second-hand clothes were a business like any other.
"You have to know your market, although I think we've got cheaper, not dearer," she said.
The country's biggest operator is Tom Doonan of Textile Recycling, with 22 stores and a rags business.
He collects through the pink plastic Child Cancer Foundation bags and drop-off bins and also imports good sellers like second-hand Levis.
He also exports: used New Zealand clothes end up in Papua New Guinea and woolly jumpers become blankets in India.
"We take just about anything that can be recycled but we've still got quantities coming through the door," he said.
People were aware of the fact that clothes put into the Child Cancer Foundation bags did not just go to charity shops but were collected on their behalf for a percentage of the profits. That way, the charities made more money than trying to do it themselves, said Mr Doonan.
Child Cancer Foundation chief executive Jim Barclay said all the charity's fundraising activities were under review but the foundation was happy with its long-standing agreement with Textile Recycling.
Herald Series: Recycling
Herald Feature: Conservation and Environment
By ANNE BESTON