Interview with Ms Vera Chute

Ms Vera Chute, Managing Director of Value City.

Ms Vera Chute, Managing Director of Value City.

Second hand or pre-loved clothing has become big business in Fiji as well as other Pacific island countries. This interview is with Ms Vera Chute, managing director of Value City, the biggest second hand business in Fiji.

1. Allowing our readers a glimpse into the inner cogs of Value City, please tell our readers about yourself and your business, how it all started, your vision and mission

 My name is Vera Chute and I am the Managing Director of Value City (SP) Pte Ltd – Quality Clothing Superstores. Value City (SP) Pte Ltd was founded in 1990 by my father, Mr Alick Patrick Chute. We are Fiji’s largest recycled clothing importers, wholesalers and retailers. I have led my company forward strategically since 1990. We now have 16 stores and 4 warehouses Fiji wide with 200 employees.

We also have franchises in Samoa, Tonga, Kiribati which are operated by women entrepreneurs.

 2. Where are these Second Hand or preloved clothes sourced from?

Our goods are sourced from Melbourne and Brisbane Australia.  We buy from suppliers who allow our trained staff to carry out quality control checks, sort what is more suited and practical for the Fiji climate and pack.  This ensures that recycled products imported into Fiji is minimized in our landfills. We also source some bric-a-brac and furniture from Auckland, New Zealand.

 3. Why would you say that shopping second hand is the more economical approach?

We are renowned for our high quality products which are affordable and durable. Buying recycled saves our customer a lot of money as they would pay only half or a fraction of the original price.  Shopping with us is a wonderful opportunity to buy brands, labels and designer wear at a bargain.

4. How does buying second hand help the environment?

Buying second hand (recycled) clothing, shoes, bags, books, toys etc reduces the processing of raw materials. Recycling reduces energy with fewer carbon emissions. By recycling we are saving water and reducing waste as all these items are not going through the manufacturing process. Furthermore, less manufacturing means less toxic waste into our atmosphere and our water systems – creeks, rivers and our ocean. So, reducing, reusing and recycling we help to tackle climate change.

We, together with our customers and supporters, are playing our role toward a green and blue economy not only in Fiji but out into the region also.

5. For every new stock, Value City has a “corporate night,” which has a more elite clientele, please tell us more about it?

Firstly I would to correct the misconception that Value City’s Corporate Nights “has a more elite clientele.” Our Corporate Nights have been designed to cater for our customers who are in employment and cannot attend New Stock opening during normal working hours. This allows them to shop out of normal business hours from 5pm to 7pm at a designated branch. The event is strictly for customers who are in employment. Entry into the hosting branch is by invitation only.

We feel that we need to give our busy working customers the same shopping opportunities as everyone else.

 6. Apart from second hand or pre-loved clothing being environmentally friendly, what other business practices make your business environmentally sustainable?

We try as much as possible to minimize what is sent to the landfill.

Paper and Cardboard: is separated and sent to the recycle paper factory.
Metals: Used to be separated for the scrap metal collectors.  But they do not do this any more.
Unsold Clothing: all cotton and semi-cotton garments are stripped into cotton rags or waste cloth.  We have machines imported from New Zealand which we use to remove all metals, buttons, zippers etc and cut these garments into cleaning cloth sizes.  These are bought by manufacturing industries, shipping companies, mechanical garages, mills, etc and also for domestic use.
Reconstructing Garments:  We employ seamstresses to reconstruct garments to make suitable for our market.  For example long pants/jeans are made into ¾ shorts.  Long sleeve tops into short sleeve tops.

This creates more employment also.

With the ban on single use plastics, we are in negotiations with partner groups from various communities, especially women’s groups, to make denim and cotton shopping or tote bags from remnants.

What cannot be up-cycled we put out into our CSR program.  These are clothing, books, toys and linen donations to charities, church groups, home for the aged, orphanages etc.

7. What are your views about the second hand clothing market in Fiji

The secondhand clothing market is ruthlessly competitive.  One just has to walk down the main street of any town or city to see the number of second hand clothing stores. That is indicative that the market has grown over the past 30 years. Competition is beneficial for our consumers and rightly so.  Competition is also healthy as this ensures that all dealers strive to stay on top of their game. The increased market also demonstrates that more consumers whether consciously or not are actually engaging in the 3Rs and contributing to the protection of our environment.

8. What are some of the challenges faced in your line of business and how do you strive to overcome these challenges?

One of the biggest challenges we faced 30 years ago was the stigma of shopping in a second hand store.  Back then many people would not (for hygienic reasons) or could not (lest they be frowned upon) be seen in a second hand shop. Over the years we have raised the standard of second hand shopping in Fiji and the region in terms of great quality control, hygiene, quality, presentation, affordability, durability and service. Now we refer to ourselves as ‘recycling’ traders. Today we are a household name and we see a good cross section of the community in our stores.

We have taught men – fathers, young adults, teenagers and boys how to shop for themselves.  We have seen the transition from where mothers, wives, sisters and grandmothers would shop for the whole family to men opting to shop for themselves.

Another challenge is theft and trickery.  Because we sell second hand some customers come in, remove price tags then wear or pack in their bags.  Then they claim that it is their own.  That is the reason why we have one 1 pair of the shoe displayed.  We used to find many worn out thongs (flip flops) left on our shoe racks.

9. How do you propose that the sustainability in the second hand clothing industry could be enhanced?

Educate and encourage more citizens to buy recycled.

Reduce import duty on recycled goods.

Granting Tax rebates to companies who import and sell 100% recycled goods. Many second hand dealers have now diversified into new product lines like pots, pans, shampoos, gels, bicycles, fabric, stationery and lots more.

10. Any final words or advice for our readers in terms of sustainability or protecting our environment?

We need to protect our environment for our children, grandchildren and their generations to come. Why not start with educating them early (ECE Level) on importance protecting our environment.  Teach them the fundamental 3R rule. In the same token the powers that be should seriously work on a proper garbage disposal plan for Fiji.  The simple separation of recycles (paper, glass, tin, plastic etc) and bio-degradable rubbish. Then to be disposed of accordingly.  This to be implemented everywhere – in homes, schools, offices, markets, bus stations rather than just at airports and hotels! Litter Laws are in place but who is monitoring or policing these?  Let us all have a proactive and holistic approach toward caring for and protecting our environment.

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Note: If you enjoyed reading this Exec Interview you may also enjoy reading our other previous interviews. You can find them here.