Why shopping in charity shops is beneficial

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a piece for Oxfam Boutique’s blog about the benefits of shopping in charity shops. I thought, as buying second hand is a great form of sustainable fashion, I should also share the piece on here:

There are many reasons why shopping in charity shops can be beneficial. Everyone who buys second hand has their own motivations whether that be price, environmental reasons, a desire to help charity or a combination of all these. However, with the Welsh Government looking into proposals to reduce business rate relief for charity shops, I thought it would be a good idea to reiterate the benefits of shopping in charity shops and the reasons people do it.

Ethical reasons

The Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh earlier this year and the death of 1,132 garment workers revived the debate on the dubious conditions factory employees often have to work in, usually for a wage of £25 a month. Buying from fair trade and ethical brands may be a way to avoid this. However, this may not always be financially viable.

Therefore, although many charity shops may sell clothes which were originally produced by high street brands who engage in the fast fashion culture, buying second hand means the customer is one step removed from the company; they are not buying directly from the company and the company isn’t making a profit from their purchase.

Oxfam blog                                   Photo by LJM Photography

It helps the environment  

Buying from charity shops is a great form of recycling. It’s a way to re-use good quality items that one person may no longer want and may otherwise go to landfill. According to WRAP, approximately 1.4 million tonnes of textiles are thrown away every year in the UK alone. This can lead to an array of problems as certain products, such as synthetic materials, don’t decompose and others that do decompose, such as woollen items, produce methane which leads to global warming.

Further, by buying second hand clothes you can reduce the pressure on ‘virgin’ resources, which can lead to less clothes being produced and reduce the level of pollution in their manufacture and transportation.

It helps charity

By shopping in a charity shop, you are helping the charity that runs that shop. Therefore, the money you spend is going to a worthwhile cause. Oxfam focuses on an array of issues tackling the root causes of poverty including food, water, health, education and gender inequality. Further, they are running several campaigns at the moment, including their Love Syria campaign for which Oxfam Boutique held an awareness-raising Model March event, earlier this month (which you can read about here).  For every £1 donated to Oxfam: 43p goes to development work, 36p goes to emergency responses, 9p goes to support and running costs, 7p goes to fundraising and 5p goes to campaigning for change.

An entire outfit I bought from a charity shop for around £15

An entire outfit I bought from a charity shop for around £15

It saves money  

Clothes are cheaper when you buy them from charity shops and, in many cases, will still have the original labels on or are in such great condition, they are as good as new.  Not only can you find great bargains and unique vintage items in charity shops, there will always be an eclectic mix of items on offer. In Oxfam Boutique, as with many other charity shops, people often donate incredible designer and vintage items which are then sold at a fraction of their original price.

Although some high street stores and supermarket chains now sell cheap clothes which can compete with charity shop prices, buying second hand often means your items are more unique, better quality and helping charity – so you can buy them with a completely clear conscience.


Model March for Oxfam’s Love Syria Campaign

As some of you may know, I volunteer at Oxfam Boutique and on the first Saturday of August we hosted a great event which saw a parade of models take to the streets of Cardiff’s city centre to raise awareness for Oxfam’s Love Syria campaign.  Styled in beautiful designer clothes, including the likes of Alexander McQueen and Jimmy Choo, which had been donated to the Boutique, the models marched around the castle, Queen St and The Hayes with a ‘Follow us’ stake board, handing out flyers and encouraging the public to join them.

Back at the shop, professional make-up artist, Annalie Gunner, and volunteer stylists were on hand to offer style advice and pampering to customers. There was also music by Oxfam volunteer Ellie Makes Music, who is a regular on the Cardiff gig circuit and whose debut EP will be available to purchase on iTunes in September, and professional photography by Lisa-Jane Meates. Live models posed in the windows smiling and waving to passersby.

The models outside Cardiff Castle

The models outside Cardiff Castle

Our manager at the Boutique, Laura John, felt the day went fabulously and said, “It was a great day where we were able to showcase our talented volunteers and amazing clothes which we have in store. We managed to promote not only the shop but also our “Love Syria” campaign, which is an extremely important campaign to Oxfam at the moment. With over 100,000 deaths since the beginning of the war, and 6.8 million people in need of aid in Syria and surrounding countries, we hope that we have gained some supporters and made an impact on the people of Cardiff.”

The models in the town centre with music from Ellie Makes Music

The models in the town centre with music from Ellie Makes Music

The plight of the Syrian people at the moment really is tragic. The conflict in Syria has been escalating for over two years and is the worst humanitarian crisis in nearly 20 years. The conflict began with demonstrations, which were part of the larger Arab Spring Movement, and called for the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad, whose family has held the presidency since 1971. The Syrian army was deployed to suppress the protests and soldiers opened fire on demonstrators the length and breadth of the country, with the protests growing into an armed rebellion. Many Western governments, the European Union, the United Nations and the Arab League have condemned the use of violence against the protestors but debate still rages about whether some Western countries should stage a military intervention.

Oxfam’s Love Syria appeal is one of their biggest to date and they have helped more than 200,000 people in Syria and plan to help hundreds of thousands more.

After the success of the first Model March, we hope to host more events to raise awareness and funds for Oxfam’s appeals.

Oxfam Boutique’s Model March

This Saturday, Oxfam Boutique will be hosting a Model March in Cardiff city centre to help raise money for Syria.

From 11am, models styled in clothes from the shop, including some great designer gear from the likes of Alexander McQueen, Mulberry and Jimmy Choo, will parade the streets of Cardiff’s city centre, covering St Mary Street, Queen Street and The Hayes, with photographs being taken at landmarks across the city.

In store, there will be style consultants and hair and make-up stylists as well as entertainment and  photography by Lisa-Jane Meats.

Image: Oxfam Boutique

Image: Oxfam Boutique

So why don’t you pop along for a style consultation, a bit of pampering or a new outfit? The weather’s looking promising so hopefully see you there.

They’ll be live tweeting throughout the day, follow them at @oxfam_boutique.

Confessions of a sustainable fashion blogger

I blog about sustainable fashion and, as you would hope, feel strongly about wearing sustainable clothes and brands that use fabrics and manufacturing methods which have minimal impact on the environment and pay their staff fairly. I feel that big companies have a responsibility, not only to the environment and their employees, but to society at large.  I, therefore, admire brands like Toms, who donate a pair of  new shoes to children in need for every pair purchased. I hate the idea of high street giants making a fast buck off poor workers and I shiver at the damage some clothing production methods do to the environment.

Nonetheless, all that said, I don’t really tend to buy clothes, shoes and accessories from sustainable and ethical brands.

But, and this is a big but, this is not because I don’t like ethical and sustainable brands and the clothes they produce. On the contrary, I often find myself pouring over the People Tree website or enviously eyeing up a pair of my friend’s Toms but, for me, the barrier at the moment is price. While these brands aren’t extortionately expensive by any means, and you can feel rest assured that the extra money is worth the quality and peace of mind, for a recent graduate like me, buying from these brands is something of a luxury, or a treat, that I can ill-afford.

When I tell people I have a blog on sustainable fashion, many of them enthuse about how they want to dress in eco-friendly and ethical brands but are sometimes put off by the price. How sometimes the lure of the likes of Primark, and the temptation of two dresses for a tenner, can be too much. I’m no saint, and the last thing I want to be on this blog is preachy and worthy – I definitely give in to Primark sometimes too!

However, there is an alternative. You can still shop with a clear conscience and on a budget and, when I shop, I try and buy lots of clothes from charity and second-hand shops. I also rummage through jumble sales and vintage fairs and look for inspiration on how to update my already sprawling wardrobe (I am, admittedly, a bit of a clothes hoarder). Followers of this blog may have noticed that many of my posts lean towards promoting pre-loved clothes and this is down to my own experiences.

Hopefully, one day (soon), when I have a steady job and a disposable income, I will buy from ethical brands as a matter of course and they will be my “go to” websites and stores. However, until then, and even after then, there are other options too.

An outfit I bought at a charity shop for £12

An outfit I bought at a charity shop for £12

How to upcycle an old desk

After interviewing upcycler Lara Rose, a couple of months ago, I thought a step-by-step guide to upcycling an old desk/table shabby chic style may be useful. You can pick up old pieces of furniture very cheaply at boot sales or in second hand shops and can very easily inject a new lease of life into them.

This is the perfect weather to experiment with painting old furniture in the garden – so why not give it a go?

old desk before being upcycled

Wash with sugar soap

fill in with polyfiller

Turn desk upside down

paint desk

paint desk

desk after

An interview with… A thrifter

The recent Dhaka factory collapse in Bangladesh, host to a range of garment factories and shops has, once again, revived the debate on the dubious conditions factory employees often have to work in, usually for a wage of £25 a month. As the consumers, we can choose not to buy into this.

For some inspiration on how you can clothes shop in a more ethical manner, I interviewed thrifter Lea Studden who, after becoming aware of how clothes were produced and the use of sweat shops and slavery to manufacture them, decided to buy only second hand clothes.

Lea wearing an entirely second hand outfit

Lea wearing an entirely second hand outfit

How long have you been buying only second hand clothes and why did you start?

I have always loved offbeat fashion and never wanted to wear the same clothes as everyone else, so second hand is a good place to start. My conscience speaks quite loudly, so I’ve been aware of ethical trading issues for a while. But in June 2011, through a production by Riverside Performing Arts Company , I learnt more horrible statistics about the production of clothes (particularly mass high street stuff) and the brutal nature of sweat shop trading. It scared me somewhat to think that my hobby of shopping, collecting and assembling outfits was hurting somebody. In fact, clothes and accessories made up 80% of my slavery consumption (take the scary test) so I made an overnight decision to stop contributing to demand.

I couldn’t completely stop wearing mass produced clothes, although I have cut down on buying a lot, but now I just don’t buy anything unless I can tell where it’s come from, ie: it has been ethically sourced or is pre-owned. I figure, if a dress has already been made and paid for and someone has got rid of it, then wearing it means I’m recycling waste, not causing more demand.

A selection of clothes Lea has bought second hand

A selection of clothes Lea has bought second hand

Are you ever tempted by the high street? / Do you ever make any exceptions (when you need an outfit for a special occasion, for instance)?

Recently, I have been to a lot of weddings, and you can’t always find the right outfit in second hand shops so I ended up buying one new dress for this year, which I’ll accessorise with other thrifted, inherited or homemade stuff to make it different for each wedding. If I do buy new, it’s on several conditions:

1. I really need the item, not just want it (ie undies, shoes – I wear a 35 (2 ½) so it’s hard to find them!)

2. I’ve looked in all the charity shops and fair-trade cooperatives in my area, and can’t find what I need.

3. It’s reduced from the original price- because the ridiculous profit made by the organisation is reduced but the manufacturer has already been paid the normal amount.

Sure, it means sometimes I have to go without or wait a while, but when you think of what good you are doing, I believe it’s worth it. And nowadays there’s a lot of beautiful, fairly-traded stuff out there; you just have to look for it.

What is your favourite item of clothing/ accessory? Why? Where did you get it from?

Quite often, I will like the general look of an item or the pattern on it but it doesn’t fit, or it has an ugly collar, a hidden stain or something, so I’ll alter it. I wear a certain shirt all the time, it was a size 20 and I paid about £3 for it. I took chunks out of the sides, put darts in and made it into a dress, and that was about four years ago. The scraps cut off can then be made into brooches or hair flowers. But my absolute favourite is a shoulder bag my boyfriend gave me from Namaste, a fair-trade Indian company, and the dress it matches. They were both new but ethically sourced and therefore befitting my theory. I’m also quite proud of my snood, which is my first foray into proper knitting.

What has been your best buy?

Aaaaah, I get so excited about this… My favourite! This dress was an absolute steal, it’s Lipsy and should have been £49 but it was brand new, never been worn, tags still on and I got it for a tenner from the Salvation Army! (They originally said five but it just didn’t seem fair!)

Lea wearing the Lipsy dress, a cardigan from a swap party and a snood she knitted

Lea wearing the Lipsy dress, a cardigan from a swap party and a snood she knitted

The most kooky thing is probably a faux fur gilet, it’s so unique. I mean, are you going to pay £100 for a fancy label, or get the same one from Topshop that everyone else will buy? Nope, I’m going to deliberately refrain from contributing to the unfair trading practises of this country and many others, turn up with a killer item that definitely no-one else I know owns and rock a real thrift shop look… for £6! I kid you not. It was in the same place, about two weeks after the killer Lipsy dress. Charity shops also mean that the little money you are giving out is going to a good cause, so it’s smiles all round.

Where is the best place to get clothes?

Mostly I go to charity shops because the quality has been checked and you can donate while you spend. But there are also a few fair-trade companies like Namaste for clothes, Shared Earth for jewellery and of course Toms for shoes as well as independent shops and market stalls in many towns. Or you can hold a swap shop party with friends, just bring a bag of stuff you don’t wear and trade it for something you will, it makes for a great evening.

A dress Lea got a swap party

A dress Lea got at a swap party

Do you have any tips/ advice for other people wanting to buy only second hand clothes/ making their own clothes?

I would say, don’t be afraid to try something different. Just because it’s not “in” right now, doesn’t mean it won’t suit you. Start with something you like that is too big and take it in to fit your body. If you’re going to make clothes from scratch, all the usual tricks like “measure twice cut once” are SO true. Listen to your grandma, make do and mend!

Don’t forget to check the source of your fabric; a good haberdashery will be able to tell you at least the company that made it. Get acquainted with the staff in local charity shops, and just keep an eye out for special stuff… if you feel tempted by adverts on TV and in glossy mags just think about those making the clothes you want. There’s so much satisfaction in knowing nothing I am wearing has contributed to slave production. I’m not trying to attack the high street, just be at peace with my own conscience. I’ll keep campaigning for responsible trading, but until it’s a reality I’ll see you at the thrift shop…

An interview with… An upcycler

For my second ‘An interview with…’ feature, I decided to interview my friend, Lara Rose. Lara has recently started to upcycle furniture and, after spotting her wonderful creations on Facebook, I thought she would make an interesting interviewee, especially as upcycling is all the rage at the moment and is a great way to be sustainable and recycle old drab furniture.

Lara wants to start selling her pieces under the name 'Lara Rose Designs'

Lara wants to start selling her pieces under the name ‘Lara Rose Designs’

What made you decide to start upcycling furniture?

I moved into a new flat and needed a new chest of drawers so I bought a cheap second hand chest, which wasn’t in any way attractive, and decided to paint it and make it more “me”. One evening, on a day off, I set to work and it turned out really well; it brightened my room up so much that I decided to keep it. Doing it up was also pretty fun and relaxing.

Lara's first upcycled piece

Lara’s first upcycled piece

Where do you get your inspiration from?

I don’t really get it from anywhere… I like photography and have quite an arty way of thinking; I can just look at a piece of furniture in front of me and imagine what will look best. I like the “shabby chic” look so have gone with that for now.

I’ve also started upcycling some furniture for friends and to raise money for a trip to Slovakia in the summer. I set out to design something that would appeal to the person looking to snaz up their piece of furniture.

Lara hard at work

Lara hard at work

Do you have any background/previous experience in upcycling?

I’ve always been a bit creative and did GCSE Art. I enjoy making cards, taking photos and painting etc… but furniture is a new thing entirely!

What is your favourite thing you have done up so far?

I’ve upcycled about five pieces so far, ranging from a chest of drawers to coffee tables and bookshelves. I really love the first chest of drawers I painted and a table with dandelions on I have upcycled since.





Have you had any disasters/ mishaps along the way?

Nothing major has gone wrong so far really. I’ve had a slight design issue; on one of the coffee tables I painted a flower in a russet colour and decided it would look better in white so I just went over it in white.

Can you give us a step by step guide how to do up the furniture?

Step 1) Sand down your furniture until it is smooth and will absorb the paint well.

Step 2) Give it a good few base layers of paint (white first and then whatever colour you’d like your base to be)

Step 3) While this dries, make a stencil of whatever you desire to put on your piece

An example of a stencil Lara has made

An example of a stencil Lara has made

Step 4) You can use the stencil in one of two ways;  I normally draw a pencil outline of what I want and then paint it freehand but, if you don’t trust yourself to do that, you can use the stencil to apply the paint straight through it.

Step 5) Allow your paint to dry. You can finish it off with a gloss, which will also protect the table. However, personally, I prefer the matt look so haven’t used gloss myself.

Where do you get the furniture from?

There is a shop here [Lara is based in Aberystwyth] that sells second-hand pieces of furniture. There’s always something new and I get things that attract me, get my imagination going and are cheap. Charity shops are also a very good bet!

Can you give anyone hoping to upcycle some of their furniture any tips/advice?

Just go for it! Start off with a cheap/ unwanted piece and see what happens… don’t be afraid to give it a go and enjoy doing it!

Don’t forget to put down a sheet so your paint doesn’t go all over the floor.

You can make your stencils bigger by shining a light through them to change their size; just get someone to hold it for you as you draw your pattern.

A coffee table Lara has done up

A coffee table Lara has done up

What’s your next project?

I will be doing up a bedside table/chest of drawers for a friend.

Is there anything you would love to do up in the future?

I would really love to do a big wardrobe and maybe get into selling some pieces as they are unique and not found anywhere else; that’s the exciting thing about creating pieces yourself!!

*If you’d like to view more of Lara’s designs or would like her to upcycle some furniture for you, you can visit her Facebook page, Lara Rose Designs, and leave her a message.

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