Would you include a trip to the local Oxfam in your weekend shopping itinerary? Many of us are happy to donate unwanted bits to a charity shop, but wouldn’t dream of trawling its rails for a bargain. Alongside an irrational phobia of second-hand clothes, the most common complaints are that the shops are too jumbled and it takes too long to find anything worth having. They’re okay for students, but for people with real jobs, it simply isn’t practical, goes the thinking.
Oxfam wants to change this perception. Its latest campaign, Sustain Me, supported by celebrities as diverse as Jourdan Dunn, Jaime Winstone, Cat Deeley and Honor Blackman, all posing here in Oxfam finery, is all about persuading us that charity shopping is cool, not merely for fashion students, stylists and creative types, who have long used them for inspiration, but for everybody.
The organisation has been busy reinventing charity shopping for the modern era. It has revamped many of its key stores, editing the stock, creating a boutique-like feel and focusing on prized vintage pieces, alongside fashionable Fairtrade items. Oxfam also has plans to appeal to the cash-rich, time-poor brigade, who previously shunned charity shops, by expanding its online second-hand business with flash sales of handbags, evening dresses and end-of-line designer consignments. Sarah Farquhar runs Oxfam’s retail operation, which generates £20m annually, a figure she wants to double. She believes that the time is right for charity shopping to come into its own. “A lot of us are looking for ways to consume ethically, and now that we are in recession, people are also looking for value for money,” says Farquhar. “These two things make charity shops very relevant to today’s consumer.”
Jane Shepherdson, the high-street guru, CEO of Whistles and a voluntary creative adviser to the charity, agrees: “It’s all about sustainable shopping. You can go to Oxfam and buy Fairtrade items, or if you buy the second-hand things, you are reusing and recycling. You simply can’t buy anything there that’s bad. It’s all good.”
It’s not only the feelgood factor that will revolutionise charity shopping: it’s the look-good factor. “Charity shopping is great — it’s ethical, it’s cheap, it’s original,” says Dunn, the Style covergirl. “You can wear a gorgeous little top and coat that cost next to nothing, with a pair of designer jeans and this season’s shoes and bag, and the look works. It’s modern living.” So there’s no excuse. Charity shops are no longer a dumping ground for smelly old fashion disasters, but a treasure trove of chic, inexpensive finds. Get rummaging.
How to charity shop
– It can be daunting when you go in. Keep an open mind and ask yourself: “Is that a beautiful piece?” If so, the chances are you will be able to do something with it.
– To update a charity-shop dress, cut it short. This makes everything look more modern.
– Look out for jeans, especially old Levi’s. You can roll them at the ankle for the boyfriend look, make them into shorts or even into a skirt. It’s easy to do.
– Look for 1980s and 1990s linen-mix jackets. They work well if you roll up the sleeves and wear them with something smarter. Also look for printed summer dresses.
– Go to a charity shop in quite a wealthy area because you get better quality clothes there. Also remember that every store is different. If you don’t like the stuff in one shop, try another. It might take a while to find one that matches your personal style, but once you do, you will be onto a gold mine