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.