Clothes Rort

Reporter: Jackie Quist

It has to be seen to be believed -- a young shop assistant arrives to work at Kookai, one of Australia's leading designer stores. Dressed casually, she soon emerges in bra and skirt to search for an outfit.

Rifling through the clothing racks she selects a red dress, changes her mind, and wears a black version with matching shoes.

"There are no guarantees that when you walk into a high end label's store and you purchase full price for a garment, that it is first worn", said fashion insider Kristy Wettenhall.

Kristy has worked in retail fashion for 7 years and in that time she's made many friends in the industry who tell her this practise is rife. "I would never work for somebody that did it. But there are some very high names, high-end designer names that engage in this", Kristy added.

Back at Kookai, not only is the young assistant showcasing a designer outfit, her boss has swapped her own floral skirt and thongs for a black skirt and Kookai wedges.

While its accepted practise for shop assistants to showcase the store's wares, employees generally purchase their own garments with a staff discount, or select from a staff wardrobe. Rachel Wells, fashion editor of The Sunday Age, says, "I've spoken to a lot of fashion retailer assistants that themselves have admitted to the fact that they are wearing garments for up to eight hours a day that are then returned to the rack. They themselves admit that it's a bit dishonest and a little bit disgusting. I think you can imagine the sweat, grime and grot that accumulates on a garment in the course of an eight hour working day".

Day 2 at Kookai and the same assistant arrives again in her own clothes, then changes into the same black dress -- once again she checks the stock drawers and chooses a brand new scarf to compliment her look.

It's an unsavoury practise that seems widespread. Vogue's online forum comprising 24 pages are devoted to this very topic. Shoppers and shop assistants discussing which designers do and which don't allow sales assistants to wear floor stock, describing the practise as "unhygienic", "gross" or "unfair". One girl said a garment purchased had sweat patches, another bought stained shorts.

"Quite frankly I'm appalled. This is misleading and deceptive conduct of the worst kind and I think it literally gives new meaning to taking the shirt off someone else's back", said Minister for Fair Trading in NSW, Virginia Judge.

Online, some point the finger at Alannah Hill. There we found staff decked out in $400 dresses but the company vehemently denies those clothes are offered for sale, telling us it provides a staff wardrobe of new season's pieces. It also says its store managers receive a clothing allowance and staff are

given a discount.

Scanlan and Theodore were also named in the forum. In one store we found sales assistants wearing the latest $600 dresses, but head office denies staff wear off the rack, insisting they are provided a wardrobe comprising 2 - 3 seasonal pieces.

Kookai also states that staff are offered "very generous discounts to purchase its garments" but admitted that "on occasion, staff have the opportunity to wear garments from the retail floor" costing over a million dollars a year in clothing written off by Kookai. The company claims it won't allow damaged goods to be sold, but hasn't clarified whether clothing worn by staff is also written off.

"At the end of the day, you really need to check the condition of the garment before you purchase it", Rachel said.