Thesis online: The social, cultural and economic role of NCT nearly new sales

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My entire PhD thesis is available online so if you are interested you can take a look here: THE SOCIAL, CULTURAL AND ECONOMIC ROLE OF NCT NEARLY NEW SALES: Second-hand consumption and middle-class mothering

Many thanks to the participants and NCT branch volunteers who supported and contributed to the research. The project was funded by the ESRC’s Retail Industry Business Engagement Network and sponsored by NCT.

Happy reading!

Second-hand childrenswear at an NCT sale

Second-hand childrenswear at an NCT sale

Abstract: NCT nearly new sales are held across the UK as a service for local parents to buy and sell second-hand or used baby clothes, toys and equipment. This thesis investigates the social structures influencing participation, individual consumption practice at the sales (and of mothers at home) and the social role of the sales. With an emphasis on mothers as co-consumers, the study utilised a mixed-method approach of participant observation, interviewing and a quantitative survey across 13 sales/branches in the UK.

Findings suggest that the typical middle-class demographic participating in the sales are not financially or socially excluded from conventional first-cycle retail but rather attend the sales in order to get the best value for money and to buy extra, non-essential baby goods, as well as for social and moral reasons of reciprocity. The thesis explores the tensions and responsibilities of motherhood as enacted through consumption practice and structured by the themes of social class, thrift and co-consumption. As a diverse retail space, attendees with higher levels of social and cultural capital benefit most from the sales and are able to mobilise the sales for both material and social/cultural resources as a space of bonding and learning. Whilst not common, the sales can encourage further involvement with NCT as a parenting charity and in local parenting networks.

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Bored of Shopping? Christmas and Stuff

johnlewischristmas

Having now studied shopping for a few years, I think I’m finally well and truly bored of it – the act that is, not the research. It’s something that I’ve particularly noticed this year, as I wander round shops alone or with friends, my thought process is entirely different to how it was pre-PhD.

Although I’ve had an interest in ethical fashion for at least five years, ever since my undergraduate dissertation, it’s only in the last two years that I would say my shopping practices have radically changed. When I first started blogging about ethical fashion, I was still shopping quite a lot, buying the odd bit of fair trade fashion to supplement my normal clothing. It’s only in the last two years where I’ve delved deeper into the theory of consumption, the links to material culture and identity, the reasons behind why we shop, that I’ve been able to step back and look at my consumption decisions more subjectively. And it has taken the fun out of shopping.

I was lucky enough to win some John Lewis vouchers so I did much of my Christmas shopping there. It was a Thursday evening two weeks before Christmas, I had a list and wanted to get in and out pretty quickly. Back home, I put the shopping bags down in my living room, sat on the sofa and literally just stared at them for a while. I was trying to remember the last time I’d bought so much stuff. I’d also bought a couple of things for myself – new shoes and a duvet set from M&S. I felt like I had to make the most of being in a shopping mood and buy myself something whilst I had the chance.

Clothing wise, I don’t think I’ve bought anything more than a couple of t-shirts from ‘normal’ shops for myself this year. Oh, wait, I remember buying a dress from Monsoon! But I like Monsoon. I bought a couple of things online from People Tree, a couple of second-hand pieces on eBay, and a lot from charity shops. I’ve done really well with charity shops. The funny thing is I used to spend hundreds of pounds a year on clothes and this year without even trying, I clearly haven’t. I tried to buy myself a new dress for the Christmas parties but as I wandered the shops I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Everything I liked was £150+ and I’d rather spend that money on doing something fun (or a bread maker – perhaps it’s an age thing!), not on something I’ll only wear a few times if I’m lucky. The cheaper dresses, I just didn’t like them/don’t trust where they came from. All those sequins, how did they get there?

Every time I spot a new skirt I like in the shops, I just remember that in a couple of weeks’ time it will just be another skirt in my wardrobe. And in a couple of years’ time it will be just another skirt in the pile to go to the charity shop. I think about where it’s been made, where my money’s going and what I could spend that money on instead. I think about the branding and whether I want to give that company the satisfaction of buying into their brand. Essentially, I think far too much.

In conflict with this, I think shops are amazing places. So much goes on in the space of a shopping centre. Friendships are solidified or stretched, we learn a lot from our surroundings, we interact with others, we create or break down our desired image and display our identities through where we shop and what we buy. It’s because I know all this that part of the fun is taken away, but it doesn’t mean I’m exempt. Give me the choice of a Cath Kidston tablecloth or a floral one from Sainsbury’s and I’ll take the Kidston. I don’t even mind spending more money on it because whilst there are many clubs I don’t wish to belong to, the middle-class, British homely club is one I’ll happily be part of. So maybe, I’m not some kind of eco-warrior but actually just a snob?? I actually own no more than a keyring by Cath Kidston, but I’m just saying – if I had the choice.

I still like stuff; I just don’t like unnecessary consumption. This year my first port of call for shopping has been second-hand – this goes for anything from an on-trend tartan skirt (wool Aquascutum found in Winchester charity shop) to a glass chopping board (found in Horsham charity shop). It’s a politicised form of shopping, allowing me to meet my material needs without adding to my carbon footprint or to the profits of corporate companies who think they know me. It draws on cultural capital as much as financial capital – it’s alternative consumption, about being ‘in the know’. Christmas has been a good time to reflect on this, I still enjoy being given stuff and I enjoy giving gifts in return. I find material culture fascinating and I think I’ll be studying it for many years to come, although if I can’t quite put my finger on my own motivations I don’t know what hope I have of tracing other people’s.

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University of Southampton Clothing Swap Shop

A few months ago I was approached about getting involved in an exciting event – the University of Southampton‘s first official clothes swap! The event was spearheaded by Green Academy Programme Assistant Julia Kendal and a team of students who were already involved in the student’s union or environmental/ethical organisations. It was great that I could be involved too, as at the time we started planning I had just been thinking about ways to share consumer items on campus, like a campus-only arm of Freecycle, which I still think is a great idea but haven’t time to do. The Swap Shop was held on 14th March and was a great success. There was always the worry we wouldn’t have enough people through the door and enough clothes but 81 people donated items.

You can read more about the Swap Shop on the Oxfam Fashion Blog, but I just wanted to share some more pictures. We’ll be running it again!

Swap shopping!

Swap shopping!

I ran a powerpoint presentation in the background on ethical fashion

I ran a powerpoint presentation in the background on ethical fashion

Fitted with mirrors and changing rooms . . .

Fitted with mirrors and changing rooms . . .

and we had men's

and we had men’s

My lovely friend Tasha took a day off work to volunteer!

My lovely friend Tasha took a day off work to volunteer!

The Soton Swap Shop team

The Soton Swap Shop team

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Southampton University Clothes Swap #SotonSwap

I was really excited when I was asked to get involved with the very first campus –wide clothes swishing event at the University of Southampton. Following on from last year’s successful Soton Blackout comes the Soton Swap Shop, or #sotonswap, an initiative from the University of Southampton’s Green Academy team.

Swap Shop Stall

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how a clothes swap works, but involving all staff and students, this particular one is going to be BIG (we hope). It is being held in the Student Union on Thursday 14th March. People will be able to drop off their unwanted clothes and accessories (men’s, women’s, kid’s and fancy dress) during the morning in exchange for tokens, and come back in the afternoon to swap! The Swap Shop will be open for sales for the last hour, for those who want super cheap clothes but don’t have anything to swap.

Swap Shop Stand

As part of Ethics Week today we had a stall at the entrance to the SU with lots going on. Passers-by could:
• Sign up to receive email updates on the Swap Shop
• Calculate their slavery footprint (do it for yourself at http://slaveryfootprint.org/)
• Find out the background of how fashion favourites were made – my leather shoes, sequin skirt and distressed-effect jeans)
• Pick up a flyer for the Ethical Fashion Futures conference.

With thousands of students and staff on campus every day, it makes sense to run such an event to let us swap clothes in a free and sustainable way. Will it be a success? I’m sure it will, and if it is perhaps other Universities can roll out something similar across their institutions.

*Photos were taken on my phone so aren’t great quality

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A Second-Hand Christmas? The Etiquette of Giving Second-Hand Gifts

Where did you do most of your Christmas shopping? Online? In a department store? Out-of-town shopping centre? Whilst doing your weekly supermarket shop? . . . . You haven’t started? Well you’d better get to it!

The fact is there are many consumption avenues for buying your Christmas presents but how do you feel about buying second-hand presents? My PhD research is about second-hand things; second-hand baby and children’s clothes, toys and equipment to be precise. I am currently immersed in the data collection phase, carrying out interviews, and have spoken to a number of parents who happily buy second-hand toys for their kids for Christmas. The feeling is that you don’t need to spend a lot to keep children happy and furthermore, many children get plenty of expensive gifts from extended family and friends. I myself have bought second-hand things as gifts before. It got me thinking then, what is the etiquette of second-hand gift giving?

Virtually any resource can be turned into a gift, as we have seen with the rise of gift day experiences, gift subscriptions and give a child the gift of reading with a camel library (check it out). When I talk about second-hand gifts I don’t mean recycling gifts, that’s something your own conscience will have to wrestle with. I’m talking about finding something in a charity shop, a church bric-a-brac stall, or on eBay and gifting it to a recipient. The interesting thing is, doing this no doubt says much more about the giver than the receiver.

There is a body of academic work on gift giving in the social sciences, indeed gift giving is a fundamental social system. Every single gift is tied up with expectations; we are expected to give, to receive and to reciprocate. Gifts can reflect social roles, reinforce or weaken social bonds, and be heavily inscribed with a signifier. As suggested by Sherry et al. (1983:159) ‘We give, receive and reject gifts strategically, thereby symbolically predicating identity’.

We often hear that it is better to give than to receive and we can all relate to the warm fuzzy feeling you get inside from making others happy, but gift giving can equally generate feelings of anxiety for the giver. This sense of anxiety comes not just from the thought of traipsing around the shopping mall on a Saturday in December, but from the worry that the recipient won’t like our gift or that it won’t elicit the desired reaction (Wooten 2000). In a sense, giving something that you have sourced second-hand can heighten this risk and anxiety, and is probably something we would only do if we knew the recipient well (or planned to palm off the present as bought new).

So why might I give or not give someone a second-hand present? You could say that giving a second-hand gift requires more of a time commitment and more thought. Half the fun of second-hand shopping is that you never know exactly what you’ll find where, and you have to search to find the treasure. Some people will never appreciate being given something second-hand, however much thought that goes into it, and there’s the risk of being considered ‘cheap’ although, of course, vintage and antique things can easily be particularly expensive but that it not really what I’m describing here. I could give a second-hand gift as a political, moral statement, and thinking about it maybe, just maybe, that is what I have done before. “I will force you to accept this second-hand present because it is morally right and see how ethical I am to not buy you something from a mass-marketed corporate store”.

Interesting don’t you think? In a consumer era when it is increasingly common to worry what to get the person who has everything, a second-hand book, jewellery or ornament could really be the most thoughtful gift of all.

References
Sherry, J. F., Jr. (1983). “Gift Giving in Anthropological Perspective.” Journal of Consumer Research 10(2): 157-168.
Wooten, D. B. (2000). “Qualitative Steps toward an Expanded Model of Anxiety in Gift‐Giving.” Journal of Consumer Research 27(1): 84-95.

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Exchange and Shop for Pre-Loved Fashion at Bang Bang Clothing Exchange

Bang Bang Clothing Exchange in London has a simple but effective model. They buy clothing and accessories from people who no longer want them and sell them on to people who do. They have been trading for more than 12 years and have two shops – one on Goodge Street and one on Berwick Street. I discovered them on Goodge Street by chance a few years ago whilst hunting down a Nandos, and immediately fell in love with the place.

Bang Bang is like the best bits of a vintage store and charity shop combined. Because they deal with any good quality second-hand clothing they have everything from Topshop to vintage Chanel. I’ve bought a handful of items from them in the past, my favourite being a pair of navy velvet Twenty8Twelve knickerbockers!

The shop is crammed full of beautiful things at sensible prices. Every time I look in a place like this I wonder why I ever bother buying new at all, with so many lovely things waiting to be re-homed. If you have some pieces that you no longer wear, Bang Bang makes it super easy to sell them on. Just take your pre-loved clothes into one of their shops and the staff will decide there and then what they want to buy off you. Their cash offer is typically 25-30% of their selling price; otherwise you could take the exchange offer (typically 45-50% of the selling price). For more information check out their website http://bangbangclothingexchange.co.uk/

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