Quality Second-hand Children’s Clothes at Matilda & George

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If there is one thing it makes perfect sense to acquire second-hand, it’s kid’s clothes. Children grow so quickly that many clothes are hardly worn before they’re not needed anymore. A lot of us will have grown up with hand-me-downs (not me so much because I was the eldest), but certainly the trafficking of children’s wear, as one academic puts it, is a common part of provisioning as a mother. When there is no one to pass things on to there are many other ways to make sure kid’s clothes are reused. Increasingly, parents are choosing to make a bit of money by selling on their good quality children’s clothes and equally, saving money by buying second-hand.

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Matilda & George in Winchester can help parents do just that. Julia, who runs the store on Stockbridge Road, can act as an agent for your nearly-new kid’s clothes and toys by selling them onto thrift savvy parents. Julia’s love of eBay and children’s clothes led to her running a weekly stall in the local church hall where she sold nearly-new children’s clothes. The weekly stall was so well received that at the beginning of this year she opened her shop, spurred on by the desire to see perfectly good clothing reused. I popped in to see what she had in store and was amazed by the choice! Matilda & George specialises in maternity and nursing wear, as well as baby and children’s clothes and accessories up to 8 years. Everything is organised according to age making it easy to find what you’re looking for. The shop was packed full of brands – Mini Boden, Ralph Lauren and Paul Smith Junior to name just some. Some items were brand new with tags, perfect for presents. They had a good selection of the ever-popular baby sleeping bags and lots of colourful coats to keep little ones warm and dry as winter creeps upon us.

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When I popped in, Julia’s friend Lisa was busy doing the new window display. Lisa is responsible for the visual merchandising in the window and I caught her finishing off her ‘Back to School’ display, complete with shiny apples and school paraphernalia. All of the clothes in store look well cared for and are just as good as things you’d find elsewhere on the high street. In fact, Matilda & George offers more to the customer than chain stores ever could. Julia meets countless parents and you just have to look at the shop’s Facebook page to see that she is very much part of the local community. Customers are encouraged to browse and rummage through the stock, whilst children can play on the toy table. Everything about the store is child-friendly.

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Matilda and George is open Tue: 14:00 – 16:00 and Wed – Sat: 10:00 – 16:00. Perhaps you have something similar in your local town? It could be well worthwhile finding out.

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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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The Importance of a Holiday: New Ideas, New Semester

In the last couple of years I’ve come to understand what my dad meant when he correlated holiday days to a specific loss of income. He’s self-employed and works 7 days a week (my work ethic looks positively lax next to him), so to him, time off costs. This feeling has been passed onto me since I’ve started doing freelance work and initiates a sense of panic if I foresee more than a couple of days when I won’t be able to blog. Last September was the last time I took a full week off and it was beautiful although I forgot how amazing it actually was until last week when I also took time off and went away. I’ll put my hands up, I still did a couple of blogs and tended to emails once or twice, but from my PhD at least, I took time off and had a whole 11 days out of the office.

I went home to Sussex for a couple of days, travelled up to Norfolk to see family for five days, came back down to London to rave at South West Four over the bank holiday weekend and took a day trip to Ipswich on Tuesday. Apart from the fact that I bought an Anthology of Human Geography in Norwich’s Oxfam bookshop, I didn’t think about PhD work at all. I did however think about fashion stuff a lot. My Norfolk reading, travelling up in the back of a 1987 camper van, was the September issue of Elle so I had much time to consider my perennial dilemma of fashion and ethics and I reformulated plans in my head for new projects – how I think we should be shopping. I found a great second-hand clothes shop specialising in kid’s clothes in Sheringham on the North Norfolk coast called Once Upon a Time. Interestingly they made a point about marketing with the slogan ‘choose to recycle’. A little chat with them all fed into my plans . . .

Anyway, I have a PhD to do first! The weeks prior to my holiday were if not stressful, then at least busy; writing my final proposal and trying to get my ethics cleared before people went on holiday in August so that I can start the field work. I’m now 14 months into the PhD and on track for data collection in second year, analysis and write up in third year. Literature review is written up, methodology chapter is coming along nicely; I’m where I want to be. Now I’m back it feels like the start of a new year and everyone is indeed gearing up for the new semester with the new intake of PhD candidates arriving in three weeks’ time. My data collection should start next month, if my ethics is cleared in time. September to January will involve ethnographic observation and interviewing – finally I can get out and start talking to people.

For the new academic year, I want to work consistently and efficiently (who doesn’t). Looking back to last winter there were many days when I just didn’t stop, and my eyes ached for days on end. Eye-whitening drops became my friend. I don’t want to work at weekends, you need that time to switch off. I’m blogging half as much now as I was six months ago, so I should be able to do it in the evenings and still not disrupt PhD time. This is the plan.

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Fashion Books and Second-hand Kids Clothes

Here are my two latest Oxfam Fashion blog posts.

http://www.oxfam.org.uk/fashion-blog/2012/07/like-a-kid-in-a-charity-shop
http://www.oxfam.org.uk/fashion-blog/2012/08/hunting-for-fashion-and-textiles-books?cid=ScM_TW_Shop

I was inspired to write about second-hand fashion and textile books after finding St CYR Vintage in Camden Stables Market when hunting for London’s best vintage shops. Alongside a beautiful range of vintage clothes they have hundreds of second-hand fashion and textiles books, well worth a look. It was also an opportunity to show off my scrummy 1930s needlecraft book. Take a look at the blog post here.

My July post was closely related to my PhD topic – the sale of second-hand baby clothes, toys and equipment. For the Oxfam post I didn’t go too deeply into the things that I am exploring for the PhD but I will be looking at mother’s emotional attachment to baby things and how the material harbours identities of women as mothers, allowing them to strengthen their role as nurturer and provider. Does consumption aid women’s transition to motherhood? The NCT nearly new sales that I am using as a case study provide a great opportunity to buy and sell second-hand baby things. There will be autumn/winter sales running across the country during October and November.

My sister, nephew and niece feature in this post! Like a kid in a charity shop.

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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 Does 2012 Hold for Ethical and Sustainable Fashion?

Fashion is a fast moving industry and no part of it is changing quicker than ethical fashion. Yes its still niche, but real momentum is there and change is starting to happen. Most of the major high street and supermarket brands have played with organic cotton and recycling, they’ve hired CSR professionals and put codes of conduct on their websites. More niche ethical brands have cropped up, founded by inspiring individuals that want to erase the dirty side of fashion, and longstanding companies have grown, most notably People Tree, and Ascension who I was delighted to hear announce a profit this Christmas. In 2011, Estethica, the ethical section at London Fashion Week, celebrated its 5th year, proving that sustainability can of course be stylish, innovative and desirable.

People are talking about ethical and sustainable fashion and there are many fantastic blogs on the subject. Two fabulous books were published in 2011. One was To Die For: Is fashion wearing out the world? by Lucy Siegle, and the other is Naked Fashion: The new sustainable fashion revolution, by People Tree founder Safia Minney. I have been asked to review Naked Fashion for my next Oxfam post so look out for that, but I would recommend both books to everyone interested in finding out more about sustainability in the fashion world. In fact, I defy you not to take an interest once you’ve read them.

2011 has seen increased cooperation across the fashion supply chain. Transparency within supply chains and the way in which this is communicated at point of sale was the focus of my MPhil work, and a huge amount changed during that 18 months. We now have retailers using RFID tags and QR codes, some small brands even let you track the provenance of your garment online using a code. There is still a lack of a universal sustainability labelling system, and in this way fashion is behind other industries such as food and timber, but retailers have become more conscious of the information they pass to consumers, in some instances.

The financial situation we have find ourselves in on entering 2012 could be seen as far from ideal in encouraging more ethical practices. Retailers are struggling and need to make profit; this hasn’t traditionally occurred by putting planet and producers first. This is why customers are vital in changing the industry, if you make a fuss and change your shopping habits, retailers will have to listen. However, ethical fashion supply chain consultancy Made By have this to say, “the economic volatility adds greater complexity to developing workable CSR. However, with the increase in the costs of raw materials driving up production costs due to scarcity, long-term investment strategies in green technologies and closed business models (greater recycling and re-usage of materials rather than virgin materials) will very likely make financial sense.”

Water scarcity is one issue that companies are currently focusing on. Greenpeace launched their successful Detox campaign in 2011, which received a lot of media attention and led to long-term sustainability commitments to the goals outlined by Greenpeace. Pepe Jeans are launching their Tru-Blu denim range this year, following in Levi’s footsteps who last year launched their WaterLess jeans. The Tru-Blu collection will avoid chemicals and have a lower water footprint, but crucially still cost the same as any other Pepe Jeans denim.

The trend towards vintage is great for ethical fashion. The taboo of buying second-hand has decreased thanks to the trend for customisation and crafts, the work of bloggers and magazines, and the image produced by charities such as Oxfam (see my interview with the Oxfam fashion team). I asked Ceri Heathcote, ethical fashion blogger, marketer and founder of the Ethical Fashion Bloggers network what her predictions were for 2012. “For 2012, I can see ethical fashion becoming more affordable and accessible to the masses” Ceri told me, “There are already plenty of exciting new ethical brands appearing and I think this will continue into 2012. I think these companies are definitely going to be giving the conventional online and high street retailers a run for their money. I also see ethical retailers becoming more creative and innovative with their marketing and using the internet as a cost effective way of gaining credibility and showcasing their products. I also see there being new solutions of accreditation and labeling pioneered within the ethical fashion industry and as a result of this I expect the conventional retailers will launch more ethical collections and introduce more transparency in their supply chains.”

On second-hand fashion, Ceri said “I think people are valuing charity shop pieces more than they have in the past, perhaps because of the influence of fashion and street style blogs, marketing by charities like Oxfam and also because of economic and environmental factors. Charity shops offer a wealth of interesting and quality pieces and the challenge of combining them into an interesting outfit.”

I hope that we see a trend moving away from fast fashion. Everyone is talking about ‘buy less and buy better’ but how many people are actually doing it? Spending the same amount of money, but on higher quality pieces will help both the economy and the sustainability of the environment, plus it’s sure to be far more satisfying if you make the right choices.

Nicola Cupples, personal styling expert and founder of My Style Companion, agrees with me. She said, “The trend for cheap fashion needs to go! I’m seeing far too many women wearing cheap, unflattering fabrics that are making them look ‘cheap’ and usually a size bigger. Also the trend for buying quantity over quality needs to stop as I’m seeing more and more wardrobes stuffed full of clothes, but containing no real outfits. The recession hasn’t meant that people have stopped buying clothes – they’ve just started buying more CHEAP clothes because ‘it’s only a tenner’. In reality they end up spending more and wearing less. Plus they rarely feel good about themselves in the things they buy.”

Fast fashion rose to reign extremely quickly, and has already caused a lot of harm across the world. I hope that for 2012 we continue to see increased awareness by businesses and consumers, but I certainly can’t see fast fashion disappearing as quickly as it sprang up. Much beyond 2012 I wouldn’t want to make any predictions; all that we can really do is take responsibility for our own actions.

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