Mary Portas and Save the Children have opened their third charity shop and opted for a new look to ensure it is in keeping with its chi-chi surroundings.
Think charity shop and in the UK thoughts turn to seen-better-days shop fixtures (usually chromed, overfilled, circular display rails), which lend a worthy but unappealing sense to the enterprise. As such, the sector might be interesting, but would probably not normally be worthy of comment in Drapers. Like all such generalisations, however, there are exceptions and Mary Portas’s eponymous Mary’s Living and Giving Shop (MLAG) in star-studded Primrose Hill, north London, is a case in point.
Open since mid-December, the store is a collaboration between the visual merchandising queen and Save the Children, and while it is a charity shop, it does not bear the sector’s familiar hallmarks. There are three MLAG stores; the original was in Westbourne Grove in London’s Notting Hill and the second opened in 2009 in Edinburgh.
The Primrose Hill store is different from what has gone before, in part because of its location, but mainly because of the way in which the space has been treated. As in the other two branches, Portas has leveraged her contacts to ensure the store opened with a brace of branded names on the rails, but it is the almost domestic nature of what has been done in this store that sets it apart from its forerunners.
This neither looks nor feels like a charity shop and while it would certainly not work in every location, as it is dependent on the relatively well-heeled walking through the doors and snapping up the vintage deals, it still appears there is some way to go for the charity shop format in selective UK locations. The problem for Save the Children must be finding appropriate properties.
Key looks and merchandise mix
Any summary of a charity shop’s offer is bound to be a movable feast, as what’s on view is entirely dependent on what is brought in by way of donations. That said, shop manager Kate Sedgwick says that for the opening there was a fair amount of Ralph Lauren, Ted Baker and Kangol merchandise. Looking around the shop, some of it is left - a Ralph Lauren single-breasted raincoat at £100 is typical of the kind of item and price that might be expected. There will also be themed events in the store, says Sedgwick. Next month there is a Rigby & Peller event in which lingerie donated by the brand will be sold, with bra-fitters on site to provide the service for which the lingerie brand is known.
Primrose Hill is the perfect location for a shop of this kind, as while Portas and Save the Children may be able to muster donations from well-known brands on a sporadic basis, the quality of day-to-day donations will be dependent on the local demographic. For the moment, the stock impresses.
The best charity shops should feel less like charity shops and more like vintage stores. Achieving this is dependent on good stock, but the visual merchandising will also go a long way towards creating the appropriate ambience.
In the Primrose Hill shop this is realised to a large degree by the use of vintage props: simple really. Small open leather suitcases are used to display accessories and there are individual items hung strategically from fixtures and on the wall, seemingly at random, which help to create a domestic feel for this modestly sized interior.
Viewed from the outside, the matt grey paint and multi-panelled windows have more of the old curiosity shop about them than a red-in-tooth-and-claw retail store. The low-key nature of the exterior, tasteful but not loud, also serves to provoke interest and makes passers-by want to have a look inside, as all good windows should do.
The association with Portas does the world of good for this store when set against other Save the Children shops, where visual merchandising tends to play second fiddle to stock, more stock and yet more stock. It’s a relief to see in-store editing taking place.
As well as the shop manager, on the day of visiting there was a volunteer member of staff ensuring things ran smoothly and standards were maintained. Both were eager and friendly, which can be a little unusual in a store of this kind.
It is clear that much thought and work has gone into this interior. Consisting of two medium-sized rooms, connected by an arch with a smaller conservatory-like space at the rear, the immediate feeling is one of bohemian domesticity.
It is easy to see that at some point this could have been either a small shop or a home and much has been done to create the sense of a vintage interior.
The cash desk serves as a pointer to the store ethos with its make-do-and-mend construction that has meant pieces of vintage scrap wood have been put together to form a counter. The same is true of the store’s showstopper: a crystal chandelier. When it was sourced, it was formed from plain crystal, but coloured glass drops have been added, enhancing what was already there. Mention should also be made of the duck-egg blue bookcase at the front of the store - it is perfectly in keeping with the store’s frontage.
Would I buy?
Maybe. It’s hard in a shop like this to know whether you would or not as, presumably, it will be different every time you visit. That said, it is sufficiently differentiated from most other charity shops to make you feel that you could potentially be a charity store shopper.
Primrose Hill is normally associated with overpriced cafés and indie fashion retailers, so this must be a welcome addition. It is a good-looking shop that is sensitive to the streetscape of which it is a part.
Address 109 Regent’s Park Road, London NW1
Design Mary Portas and Save the Children
Other Mary’s Living and Giving Shops Edinburgh and Westbourne Grove, London
Standout features Vintage chandelier and the cash desk
Reason for visiting Interesting selection of branded clothing
Ambience Reach-me-down chic