Refurbished Store Launch for Octavia Foundation Charity Boutique


I’ve spent quite a lot of time researching London’s best charity shops. There are loads of great ones; you just need to know where to look. Yes prices are inflated in the capital, but there’s a much higher concentration of designer pieces and fabulous vintage finds so I was delighted to get invited to the launch night of the newly refurbished boutique style charity shop by Octavia Foundation.

If you don’t live or work in London you’re unlikely to have heard of Octavia Foundation but they are a fantastic charity that work across London to improve people’s lives. Some of their work includes:

• Facilitating assistance and friendship for older and vulnerable people through Garden Guardians, a handyman service, lunch clubs and day centres, and outreach and befriending.
• Working with young people and children through youth centres, arts and sports programmes.
• Helping local people with jobs and training through Westminster Works, Future Foundations and apprenticeships.
• Providing advice on money management, welfare benefits and debt.

Octavia Foundation have around twenty charity shops across the capital. The Fulham Road store that I visited last Thursday is small but packed full of amazing finds. It has a boutique vibe with exposed brick walls, a spacious changing room and thoughtful displays. On the event launch night they had 130 guests through the door, who in total spent £2500. The money raised will be used to help local people during times of difficulty or crisis.

After having a good rummage around the store I bought a Moschino Cheap & Chic printed silk circle skirt and my friend bought a gorgeous floor length corset dress. They had a Burberry cream trench coat, perfect condition, for just over £300 – a great buy for somebody but sadly my budget didn’t stretch that far! They also had Jimmy Choos, Manolo Blahnik stilettos and a Marc Jacobs handbag. This is a real destination shop; I will certainly be visiting again!

Clothes on offer at Octavia Foundation

Clothes on offer at Octavia Foundation

Bumped into fellow Oxfam blogger Ron from Dresses on a Clothes Line!

Bumped into fellow Oxfam blogger Ron from Dresses on a Clothes Line!

I very nearly bought these red shoes . . .

I very nearly bought these red shoes . . .

But instead I bought this skirt

But instead I bought this skirt

Moschino Cheap & Chic silk skirt, charity shop £36. Jacket, Topshop

Moschino Cheap & Chic silk skirt, charity shop £36.
Jacket, Topshop

My friend Sandeep's corset dress

My friend Sandeep’s corset dress

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Second-hand Retail for the Green Economy

Last week I presented my research and ideas on second-hand retail at the Annual Green Economics Conference in Oxford. I have always looked at second-hand consumption from a sustainability perspective, but until Ben Armstrong-Haworth suggested I speak at the conference, I had not thought about my research on the wider scale of green economics.

Throughout history, reusing and making-do has been the primary way of life. Second-hand trade was the primary form of trade for material things, and much of what was consumed in the home was also produced in the home. It was at the time of the Industrial Revolution that a binary way of thinking emerged between production and consumption; suddenly mass production allowed society to move into a material culture and ‘new’ things became the norm.

As consumers we receive many conflicting messages – spend money and consume to help us out of the recession, consume ethically and recycle for the good of the planet. Recycling has been pushed forward as one of the ways towards a sustainable economy, but the argument I made during my talk was that direct reuse should be prioritised as the primary form of consumption. Although recycling is beneficial, direct reuse sees more benefits gleaned as the process of recycling requires further input of energy and materials, whilst direct reuse, apart from the transportation footprint, does not. Reuse should be the primary consumption method for a greener economy with the aim of minimizing the number of transformations, reducing the speed of resource flow through the economy. Of course trade of second-hand products may or may not involve exchange of money, but in the case of charity shops, eBay, car boot sales and nearly new sales it does involve exchange of money and is therefore adding to our economy.

For optimum reuse value, consumers need to prioritise quality over quantity, and manufacturers need to make things to last. There is growing awareness of the built in obsolescence of products, a manufacturing trait which is simply unacceptable. We all know the scenario – cheaper to buy new than to replace small parts. Understandably, companies want to make money, and due to such strong competition on the market, they need to make money. The only way to change things is either enforced regulation from government, or increased consumer pressure – I would suggest both.

With this in mind, these are some of my recommendations and key arguments, based on the literature.
• Reuse should be prioritised over recycle
• Manufacturers must be more responsible regarding long-life product design. Enforced regulation (difficult on global scale)
• Encourage loan rather than purchase of large electrical items
• Encourage continuation of fashion for vintage and antique pieces
• Regulate advertising that depicts pleasure gained from consumer culture (like that enforced for UK alcohol advertising)

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A Very Vintage Day in London

Yesterday I went up to London for a bit of Vintage Shop scouting. Following on from my London’s Best Charity Shops article for Ms Wandas Wardrobe, I had been asked to write a similar piece on London’s Best Vintage Shops. You will have to wait for the final blog to be published on Ms Wandas for my top picks but here are some of the highlights from my afternoon.

London is fantastic for both charity and vintage shops; the only downside is their spatial distribution (to use geography speak). My feet still hurt now as I write and I lost count of how many tubes I jumped on to find the very best of the best. There’s a massive difference between what you will find in Camden town and what you’ll find in Notting Hill. I can proudly say I displayed full self-discipline and didn’t buy a single thing, mind fully focused on the job at hand of course.

I ended the day at the special evening opening of the Gathering Goddess, a beautiful vintage boutique in Notting Hill. Founded by Wilma Mae in 1992, the Gathering Goddess has spent many a year selling online before opening this store just a couple of months ago on Westbourne Park Road. They stock the very best vintage pieces and designer labels, making life easier for the discerning client. Wilma is a joy to speak to, hugely knowledgeable on fashion history and designers. In-house skilled seamstress Adrianna ensures that each piece realizes its full potential, as well as offering an alterations and restorations service. A must visit.

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Donating Clothes to Charity has never been Easier

It has literally never been easier to donate unwanted clothes and accessories to charity. As well as the parade of charity shops on our local high street, there are donation banks at the supermarket, car parks and workplaces and well-known names are starting to take donations into their stores too.

This year’s ‘Give Up Clothes for Good’ campaign for example ran from 1st-30th April 2012 and asked people to drop off their unwanted quality clothing, accessories and homeware at their local TK Maxx store. All the stock was then sold in Cancer Research UK shops, raising an incredible total of £3.1 million for research into children’s cancers. Since 2004 the TKMaxx/Cancer Research partnership has raised over £13 million.

H&M did something similar stateside, but the story to gain most recent press attention is that of shwopping at M&S. M&S have put a huge amount of resources into a TV and print campaign with Joanna Lumley to advertise their shwopping scheme which is described on a press release as follows:

“All M&S clothing stores will now accept unwanted clothing of any brand, all year round. It’s a new, free service for customers aimed at creating a new ‘buy one, give one’ culture on the UK high street. Through Oxfam, the clothes will be resold, reused or recycled and the money raised will go to help people living in poverty. Not a single item will go to landfill and the ultimate aim for M&S is to recycle as many clothes as it sells – 350 million a year.”

I have no doubt that this is great PR for Oxfam, and for M&S for that matter, but I see publicity as the main outcome of this scheme. Who is going to traipse around town with a bag of unwanted clothing to drop off at M&S (which is big and busy and will probably require queuing) when the nearest charity shop is at the end of the street? And will M&S employees have a clue what to do with the items when they receive them? Perhaps TKMaxx is a good example that they will and I am being far too sceptical.

Any encouragement to develop a more robust second-hand culture where it is the norm to donate and reuse rather than throw away is clearly beneficial.

So how do customers shwop?

In stores, M&S customers will be invited to leave their old or unwanted clothes in specially designed ‘Shwop Drops’ (cardboard recycling boxes). There will be over 1,200 Shwop Drops across the UK (at least two per store) alongside till points. If customers would like to register their shwop they can follow the instructions on the box to text and enter into a monthly prize draw.

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What motivates you to shop second hand?

To buy and sell second hand counters many labels that mark out a consumer society – consumerism, materialism and the desire for something new. There are many outlets for purchasing second hand items – charity shops, car boot sales, Ebay, vintage/antique shops, local classified ads etc, with of course saving money as a key motivator. That said, cost is not the only motivator, particularly when it comes to vintage fashions or antique furniture which are desirable for their authenticity and uniqueness (making them often more expensive than purchasing new).

Research on the subject of second hand consumption is sparse (cue moi) but a French consumer study by Guiot and Roux (2010) did attempt to list the motivational factors, which are as follows,

1. Search for fair price
2. Gratificative role of price
3. Distance from the system
4. Ethics and ecology
5. Originality
6. Nostalgic pleasure
7. Treasure hunting
8. Social contact

As you can see, price and the pleasure gained for capturing a bargain comes first. Indeed it has been suggested by other researchers that ‘getting a bargain’ is more important than the actual item bought. How often have you heard someone say, ‘I got a great bargain!’ before they even say what they have bought. In terms of buying second hand, this is not such a bad thing, but purchasing new items just because they are a bargain (as so many of us do) is more worrying.

‘Distance from the system’ is the idea that by buying second hand you are shunning mass materialism and brand advertising and going against the grain. Consumers who shop second hand primarily for this reason will go out of their way not to line the pockets of multi national corporations. It links to the concept of recycling and reusing for the sake of the environment, indeed if you can get it second hand why add to the waste in the world by buying new?

Then there is the satisfaction of ‘treasure hunting’. This might be pleasure gained from simply rooting out a bargain, or it might be hours/weeks/years spent looking for a collector’s item. The rise of the vintage fashion store means that it is now fashionable to wear garments from the past, and why not when new garments in store are simply reinventing the fashions of previous decades. Real vintage pieces are authentic, unique and have an inbuilt biography. This is where social contact can provide more than could ever be gained from a first cycle exchange. At car boot sales for example, buyers and sellers can discuss previous histories and find a common bond over goods. Although this history can work both ways, with a key reason given by shoppers for not going into vintage or charity shops being that they don’t know where an item has been before and who has owned it. And this is seen by many as an inherently ‘risky’ activity.

Guiot, D. and Roux, D., 2010. A Second-hand Shoppers’ Motivation Scale: Antecedents, Consequences, and Implications for Retailers. Journal of Retailing, 86(4), pp. 355-371

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