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.

What do you do with your old clothes?

Hands up who has a wardrobe overflowing with clothes they just don’t wear?

Coat hanger by Cara Photography

Image by Cara Photography

I know I do. There are even a few items of self-made clothing gathering dust at the bottom of my wardrobe. It’s a pretty shameful yet almost normal part of this culture of excess we’re living in.

Take this article by the Guardian, which while being from 2009, is still very much relevant today.

On average £470 per British woman was spent on items that were never worn and – as an extra sartorial slap in the face – one in 10 just chucked them in the bin, contributing to the estimated 900,000 tonnes of clothing currently thrown into landfill each year.

Whether or not this is the same today in 2011, I couldn’t tell you right now, but it’s pretty shocking, especially to me, as Cardiff women are named and shamed in the article as the worst offenders.

The fact is, whether we like it or not, as consumers of fast fashion we are flighty by nature. I’ll hold my hands up and admit I’ve complained I have nothing to wear when actually my wardrobe is bursting with clothes I’m actually just bored with.

This again boils down to this feeling of dissatisfaction Zoe spoke about when I interviewed her. How often have you seen a feature in a magazine criticising a high profile female celebrity for wearing the same outfit?

Advertising makes us feel as though we should wear something completely different every day because if (insert celebrity name here) can’t get away with it, then why should we be able to?

Rather than make a real commitment to a well constructed garment, we’ll happily fork out a fiver for something which will provide the quick fix satisfaction we crave. After wearing it once, it’ll probably end up in pieces in the bin a few months down the line.

Over the years I’ve filled charity bag after charity bag with clothing I no longer wear for whatever reason. While I won’t just throw something out after wearing it only the once, I can’t say hand on heart I haven’t thrown away clothes when they’ve worn out. Considering the amount of clothing I have owned over the years, this is worrying. This is without even taking any scrap fabric from sewing into account.

What I’d really like to learn more about is textile recycling. Textiles are one of those things which tend to be absent from the list of household recyclables. On top of this, I have to wonder what happens to the clothing high street retailers can’t shift.

Over to you. What do you do with your old clothes? By old, I don’t just mean those which are falling apart; I’m also talking about those impulse buys you were never able to take back, the clothes which don’t quite fit or even ones you just got bored with. I’d love to hear your thoughts!