INTERVIEW: Tilly Walnes (Tilly and the Buttons)

If somehow you haven’t heard of Tilly, you’re in for a treat. Since she began sewing and blogging at Tilly and the Buttons, she’s been recommended in the Colette Patterns book, become a guru for sewing beginners and recently ran the first successful sewing social on Twitter.

Tilly kindly agreed to answer some questions for me via email, so without further ado, I’ll hand you over to the lady herself…

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Cardiff charity shops are already doing what Mary Portas wants

charity shop oxfam boutique

The Portas Review was released this week, outlining Mary “Queen of Shops” Portas’s recommendations to brighten up the UK’s failing high streets.

What Portas wants for the British high street is a vibrant sense of community – but I’ve noticed a couple of charity shops here in Cardiff are already working towards this.

Just a load of second-hand junk?

It’s difficult to find a British high street without at least one charity shop. In fact, it was rumoured Portas would recommend a cap on charity shops, something which wasn’t taken well by the Charity Retail Association.

In the end, Portas hasn’t recommended this cap, but it was clear she saw an abundance of charity shops as one sign of a high street in decline. She said:

“When a high street has too much of one thing it tips the balance of the location and inevitably puts off potential retailers and investors. Too many charity shops on one high street are an obvious example of this. Funnily enough, too many fried chicken shops have the same effect.”
Despite having her own line of charity shops, Portas pretty much puts them in the same category as the kind of eateries on Chippy Lane. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Caroline Street in Cardiff – it ain’t classy.

Does she have a point?

You obviously know how much I love charity shops, but what did my Twitter followers think?

https://twitter.com/#!/sprinklecone/status/147007511734657024

https://twitter.com/#!/sarahditum/status/146922893677309952

https://twitter.com/#!/mirshad/status/147012881089699840

You can read the other responses in this Storify!

Overall, their attitudes are pretty positive, yet there is still this overriding perception of charity shops being full of other people’s unwanted items.

How are charity shops doing compared to the rest of the high street?

what do you do with your old clothes?

Research suggests British charity shops are having as tough a time as everyone else on the high street. When I asked you what happens to your old clothes, 64 per cent of you said you donated them to charity, yet some shops are struggling to keep up with demand.

The Charity Retail Association conducts their own research into donation trends and have seen how the recession has affected both sales and donations. After all, if people are buying less clothes in general, then they may not be donating as much.

According to the Charity Retail Assocation’s Projects and Policy Officer, Isabelle Adam, some of the larger charities have had a few problems in this department due to the recession. She said:

“Over the last quarter (July-Sept) the larger charities we surveyed have reported problems with getting sufficient stock. Donations are affected by peoples’ spending habits; if they are not buying in new they are often not prompted to donate, and if they cannot afford to move this also means there is no prompt for a clear-out.”

Charity shops with a difference

It seems then charity shops have double the problem to deal with! But here in Cardiff, there are two clear examples of charity shops who are using innovation and a touch of the crafting spirit to shake off this negative perception.

Best of all? The kind of projects they’re engaging in are the kind Portas wants to see for the entire high street.

Oxfam Boutique in CardiffCase study number one comes in the form of Oxfam Boutique, situated in the heart of Cardiff city centre. One of a new breed of charity shops, Oxfam Boutique concentrates on high-end charitable donations.

I spoke to Deputy Manager Alec Boyne about the shop, its partnership with Marks and Spencers and their weekly Stitch ‘n Bitch group.

Prefab Clothing on Albany Road, CardiffThen we have PreFab Clothing, a retro style charity shop a little outside of Cardiff on Albany Road. When I chatted to David Morris, who works in the store, he emphasised how the shop didn’t fit the traditional mould of a charity shop.

All of PreFab Clothing’s proceeds go directly to the local YMCA project. In fact, David told me he’d gone from having no job and no house seven months ago to a steady job and a home today, all through PreFab Clothing.

Images courtesy of PreFab Clothing’s Facebook page

There’s one other key aspect to these shops, one which Portas entirely ignores in her report. The fact is, they are playing a vital role in ensuring old clothing doesn’t just end up in South Wales’s swelling landfills.


Recycling at PreFab Clothing

Oxfam Boutique’s partnership with M&S ensures a lot of clothing from a busy department store do not go to waste. PreFab Clothing aim to use everything they receive – whether it’s turning old superhero t-shirts into bags or making pumpkin decorations from unwanted materials.

It’s pretty clear charity shops don’t have to be the kind of places which arrive on a high street when no other retailer can take up some empty space. Oxfam Boutique and PreFab Clothing are more than just placeholders – they’re vibrant parts of the community which do more than just take care of our old tat.

What about the rest of you? Is there a really unique charity shop in your area? If you’d like to write a profile of a stand-out charity shop in your area, email me or comment below.

So Zo… What Do You Know? Interview with Zoe Edwards

I was lucky enough to have the chance to interview one of my favourite bloggers, Zoe Edwards. Zoe has been blogging about sewing at So, Zo… What do you know? for a few years, and currently works with TRAIDremade, the textile recycling branch of the charity TRAID.

The online sewing community is brimming with talent. Whether you’re posting your projects on BurdaStyle or taking part in the vintage sewing movement on Sew Retro, the internet is full of sewing inspiration.

Zoe Edwards Colette Patterns leopard print macaron

I’ve been reading Zoe’s blog for some years now –  she was a Brit living in Barcelona, at the same time as I was a language assistant in Germany. Her projects always blew me away, and I’d always pop back to So Zo… for a catchup on her sewing adventures.

Yet Zoe’s blog isn’t just about sewing. At the heart of So Zo… is the challenge to live sustainably, free from fast fashion. It’s been about five years since Zoe discovered the Wardrobe Refashion pledge, a project she says changed her life.

Anyone who has taken the Wardrobe Refashion pledge in the past or who have just started with the Seamless pledge will know how difficult it can be starting out! Living in Spain brought an extra challenge for Zoe, where charity shops are rarer and dearer.

After challenging herself to go a month wearing nothing but clothes she had made herself, Zoe decided to throw open the challenge to her readers with Me-Made-May. 80 participants signed up to the first challenge, and 2010’s Self Stitched September (which I took part in!) attracted over 160 pledgers!  The Me-Maders and Self-Stitchers kept an eye on each other’s progress through Flickr and Facebook, as well as posting daily outfit updates on their blogs.

On top of this, you’ll often find some really thought provoking posts on So Zo… which really get to the heart of the problems with fast fashion. 

Now working for TRAIDremade, Zoe continues to fight the sustainable cause. Thankfully, making sewing her job hasn’t detracted from her enthusiasm for self-stitching!

What began as a decision to avoid fast fashion has turned into a complete overhaul of shopping habits; Zoe’s said goodbye to buying new fabric and new shoes, and she’s always looking for ways to take her sustainable lifestyle to the next level.

The Seamless Pledge is all about challenging yourself – my life would be so much easier if I could just pop into a clothes shop to buy myself a dress if I fancied it, but where’s the fun in making things easy for yourself? Whenever I worry about being able to pull this off, Zoe’s blog is one of the first places I click for inspiration and is one I think any Seamless pledger  should add to their reading lists.

Big thanks to Zoe for letting me interview her! As for you guys, what do you think? Has she inspired you to shake up your shopping habits?