Too Many Charity Shops?

As is often the case, an article from a Wednesday issue of The Times prompted me to pen a post, this time about the nation’s need for charity shops. Wednesday is fashion day in The Times, and more often than not Fashion Editor Laura Craik voices her opinion on the contemporary issues of clothes shopping, which on Wednesday November 2nd 2011 included her article entitled “Charity shops may be ubiquitous but they are not the British high street’s biggest enemy”. Craik opens with a proclamation that she is “someone who feels short of breath if she spends too long in a shopping centre” – something that I am sue many of us can relate to.

Even in the depths of Winter one could frequent a British mall in nothing more than a pair of hot paints and a crop top such is the dizzying height of the temperature felt once hurried through the automatic doors and into a world of materialism. At least charity shops provide a cosy, more personal kind of materialism. Indeed, the sums of money exchanged – be it for a skirt or a set of cake forks – are often so small that without the fact that the money is going to a good cause the amounts would seem insignificant compared to the joy at finding the perfect item hidden away in a corner.

Another point that Laura makes is the issue of rows of empty shops on local high streets everywhere. The age of true high street shopping may be over – I won’t deny that I find Amazon a Godsend – but surely it is better to have these shop windows filled with rocking chairs and wedding dresses and cheerful volunteers than lying unused and neglected; lowering the appeal of an area. The friendly logos of Cancer Research and Save The Children (other charity shops are very much available) provide a refreshing break from the all-too-familiar rows of clothing chains, banks and independent jewellery shops that nobody ever goes in. If the alternative is yet another Poundland (RIP Woolies) then I’d much rather have a charity shop thank you very much.

Personally, I find the welcoming sign of a brightly lit Oxfam a comfort when exploring a new village/town/city. Not only do I know that I can be guaranteed to find a book/lp/hat/jumper that I can’t bear to be parted with and so consequently end up buying, but I can do it safe in the knowledge that the few pounds I have happily parted with aren’t fuelling fast fashion enterprises and are instead helping some of the poorest people in the world. The charity shopping process is one of give and take: the donating of unwanted clothes/furniture/household items gives communities an opportunity to assist one another as well as the cause of the charity, whilst the buying of donated goods keeps the charity going. The bi-products of this process are of course that we can all de-clutter our houses and when that’s done stock up on new-old items. It truly is a win-win-win situation.

An aspect of charity shopping which I fee is sometimes sidelined in these debates is the fact that for some, charity shops are the main source of clothing, shoes, books, music, furniture and other household items – whether out of necessity or lifestyle choice. I don’t pretend to be well-versed on the current economic situation, but surely the “climate” (as seems to be the word most often used to describe it) calls for sources of good quality and affordable goods for people to buy – both of which can be found in charity shops.

On a finishing note, I just want to reference one of the best lines I’ve ever heard on television. It was (predictably) from Ben Whishaw, playing Freddie Lyon in The Hour who said in justifying his hoarding of newspapers; “one day they’ll have their use”. I take the same approach. Clothes are the same, and though they may not be useful to us, surely they will be to someone else, which is why we should give them a second life instead of affirming the stereotype of the youth of today partaking in fast fashion consumerism. Let’s take the same approach as Freddie, and I challenge anyone to carry it off with quite so much panache.


6 thoughts on “Too Many Charity Shops?

  1. I completely adore charity shops, partly because you know that if you do find something it will be an amazing bargain, but also because the little money you spend will be helping someone in need. I always try and give my clothes that don’t fit anymore to charity shops, it is such a waste throwing them away. Like you say, it’s a win- win situation.
    Brilliant post!

  2. Charity shops are my main source for shopping. I gravitate towards them like a moth to a flame. We’re a large family and very eco-concious. Obviously, we’re not always going to find what we need in a charity shop all the time but it’s where we look first and often manage to find the best things. I would love even more to pop up in our area!

  3. I agree with every point you make – and I know that we share a passion for charity shopping. It’s ethical, it’s affordable, it’s a great way of recycling, it offeres unique and creative finds and MOST importantly, it generates funds for charity. The only aspect I am becoming rather saddened by is the homogenisation that seems to have occurred to many charity shops since the ‘Mary Queen of Shops’ series aired. This appears to have caused some of my favourite ones to be transformed into an approximation of a high street store – concentrating on high street style clothing. I miss the randomness of finding a seventies crochet dress next to a silk pyjama top (with the bottoms missing) or a fabulous 60s wool coat with tiny moth holes that frankly don’t bother me (so long as it’s then stuffed in the freezer for a while to deal with any remnant of moth).
    Great to see your recent posts too. I missed you!

  4. I completely agree….I love charity shops! Although I am saddened that they seem to take so much notice of ‘labels’ now…especially when the labels don’t necessarily mean better quality! They add an extra pound for something marked ‘atmosphere’ not realising where it is actually from. I always think of charity shops as a great place to get a bargain but now it is less so.

  5. I agree, I love charity shops, for all the reasons you give.

    However, to play devil’s advocate, I can also see that in some cases an over concentration of them can be a bad, or a not so great thing. Charity shops in Edinburgh tend to bunch together, and some of these areas are great. in those places the charity shops look great and are interspersed with little independent shops, and it’s a joy to visit. But in an area really near me, there are loads of charity shops, but that’s pretty much all there is. That and betting shops and cash generators. And it’s not an area I ever visit for a days shopping. There are too many shops, they don’t look nice, and their stock is rubbish. If there was two or three shops between them, they’d be great, but there’s 10 plus, and it just doesn’t work. If I was trying to regenerate that area (and locationwise, it’s really accessible) I’d try to get some nice commercial shops in there to make it more mixed. But i can also see that if i were to open a shop, there is no way I’d move it there. Charity shops are great, but they can’t be allowed to be all there is.

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