Written By Sheryl Bolden
If you’d have asked me if there would have been appetite for a blog like this a few years ago, I’d have said it was unlikely, but a global pandemic and a cost-of-living crisis have altered the retail landscape, coupled with the continued negative environmental impact that the fashion industry creates, there has been a significant shift in people’s mindset towards pre-loved.
Here we are in 2023 and charity shops are more popular than ever with new iterations popping up all over the place. Data released last month by the Charity Retail Sector shows that income rose by 15% year on year for the first quarter of 2023, there are hundreds of businesses who would be grateful for those kinds of double-digit growth numbers.
I am long-time supporter, shopper and now volunteer and I buy most of my clothes from charity shops and often showcase these outfit on my IG (@makemywardrobework) I am forever being asked how I always manage to get such great pieces – affordably, so let me share my tips with all the fans of The Charity Shop Gift Card, enabling your gift card to go further.
The basic principles for shopping preloved are not all that different from shopping on the high street or from the comfort of your laptop – I dedicated a whole chapter in my book to explaining why the following golden rules are so fundamental in getting great value and wear from the clothes you invest in, so I’ll re share these here.
If the answer to these questions is yes then it’s probably a good buy, if any are a no (with perhaps that exception of point four, there are only so many ways to wear your gym kit or an evening dress!) I’d seriously rethink the purchase, regardless of the price.
But back to the charity shop shopping,
Go with an open mind.
If you go on the hunt for a green midi dress with pockets, the chances of coming across something so specific are slim (and in your size even less do!) so it’s important to be open minded about what you want, of course, if you are in need of a dress then walking away with a pair of jeans and two coats doesn’t solve your problem – so stay focussed!
Check it over!
Always check a garment thoroughly, look at the seams, the buttons, does the zip open and close correctly. In my experience volunteers do this well but errors happen and sometimes items with flaws make it to the shop floor, often these are highlighted and price accordingly. A missing button or a small hole are easily fixed but you need to be prepared to it otherwise it’s another item hanging unworn in your wardrobe!
If you have time try it on, see point 1 above! If it doesn’t fit, you won’t wear it, not all stores have a changing room and often we are in a rush or don’t have the right mindset, so check the refund policy usually you can return within 28 days with the receipt and of course the tags still on, take advantage of this. The stores would rather your buy and return than didn’t buy at all.
Get to know the stores.
Pop in regularly and get to know your local store – speak to the team, find out the days or the time of day they tend to put out fresh stock, let them know if you are looking for something in particular – most are happy to keep an eye out, especially if they know it’ll be money in the bank for the charity.
Charity shops in more affluent areas are renowned for having more premium donations and many have designer only sections. So, if it’s brands you are looking for this could be your first stop.
If like me you love visiting stores in new areas, then the above isn’t possible but I do like to check out social media for inspiration and tips from other charity shoppers in the area. For me browsing the store in an orderly way is important, always take your time to check all the relevant rails, it ensures you don’t miss any potential gems. Some stores like to merchandise by colour, others by product type and almost always it will be in size order.
The price isn’t always fixed.
It’s important to stress this isn’t a market for haggling but don’t be afraid to respectfully ask for a reduction if you think something isn’t offering good value, reasonable offers are usually considered. Especially on higher priced items, cash through the till is better than items on a rack. The longer it has been there the more likely you will get a discount, stores like to have a high turn over of good so that customers return regularly.
In my days as a wardrobe editor, I never worked with a single woman who didn’t have an item with the tags still on hanging – unloved and unworn in her wardrobe. Luckily for the sector these items are being donated. Coupled with the rise of cheap online fast fashion brands, many people don’t even bother to return items, instead dropping them at charity shops months after the return window has ended – so don’t be surprised when you see so many items with the tags still on. This is an opportunity to get a great deal. Expect to pay 30-50% for new with tags and 20-30% for preloved, depending on condition and brand.
Most of all enjoy the retail experience, chat to the staff, there is usually much more of a community feel and the endorphins run high when we shop for good.
About the author: For more than twenty years, responsible sourcing advocate Sheryl Bolden has held Buying, Sourcing and Product Development roles in the UK and Asia for some of the world’s leading retailers and small independent brands, she understands first-hand what goes into making the clothes we wear.
Becoming a parent changed her perspective on the industry, she became increasing concerned about the negative impact of fashion and her focus shifted towards working with those who want to create solutions. In 2013, frustrated by overconsumption and a disposable attitude towards fashion Sheryl founded a Hong Kong based wardrobe editing service, and has worked with many women, some of whom were frustrated and disillusioned by clothes shopping and the fashion industry in general, to bring responsible, practical, and sustainable solutions to their sartorial problems.
In 2020, Sheryl graduated from Hong Kong University with an Executive Certificate in Corporate Social Responsibility and for the last decade she has advocated for and worked with NGOs and charities that work to reduce fashions’ negative impact. She has written for various online publications and her own website www.makemywardrobework.com as well as being a regular contributor to podcasts and radio shows on the topics of sustainable consumption and wardrobe editing. Her debut book, Sustainably Stylish – A guide to a guilt-free wardrobe was published last year.