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The benefits of working with charities

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The charity retail sector is going through a metamorphosis, and fashion retailers can take advantage of new partnership opportunities to meet fashion’s rising sustainability agenda.

Tomorrow, US fashion and lifestyle brand Anthropologie will transform the gallery level of its King’s Road store in London into a temporary showcase for a new collaboration with clothing re-use charity Traid. The two-week pop-up is selling a selection of second-hand and vintage womenswear hand-picked from Traid’s warehouse in Wembley by the Anthropologie team.

Anthropologie has also introduced Traid donation banks in six of its stores in London and the south-east, and in September, a representative from the charity will run a fashion re-use workshop for some of the retailer’s customers.

Traid 27

“This is the first time Anthropologie has partnered with a charity to host a pop-up, and it’s a fantastic way to introduce our customers to Traid’s work to re-use clothes,” says Gill McCulloch, buying director at Anthropologie Europe. “There is space on the high street for everyone, and we celebrate the huge social and environmental value charity shops bring to local communities and beyond.”

The tie-up highlights changing attitudes towards the UK’s 11,500 charity shops. Once seen as a sign of a deteriorating high street, today second-hand clothing is very much in vogue.

As a result, the lines between commercial fashion retail, resale and charity shops are increasingly blurred. This is both paving the way for new partnerships, and driving a new level of competition for high street spend.

Growing importance

Property developer Argent recognised the increasingly important role charity shops play when planning premium fashion destination Coal Drops Yard in London’s King’s Cross, which opened to the public late last year. Argent asked homelessness charity Shelter to open one of its Boutique by Shelter concept stores at the heart of the site (pictured above).

Shelter began working with fashion designer Wayne Hemingway on the Boutique by Shelter concept in 2016. There are now 12 Boutique by Shelter stores, the latest of which opened in Highgate, north London, last month. Designed by Hemingway to a higher standard than traditional charity shops, they target affluent areas of London with second-hand designer labels.

“[Argent] saw one of our boutique shops and thought there might be some affinity with what they’re trying to do at Coal Drops Yard,” explains David Cryer, head of retail at Shelter.

The store, which opened in February, looks more like a contemporary fashion chain than a charity shop – it is spacious and neatly merchandised, and the shop fittings incorporate reclaimed materials from the Coal Drops Yard development, such as old railway sleepers. On the rails are donations of unsold stock from local fashion retailers. 

I think the fashion industry needs to realise that you can’t just throw away or dispose of stuff

Mark Chapman, Charity Retail Association

“More developers need to follow [Argent’s] lead, to realise that second-hand shopping can be aspirational and deserves its place in any shopping centre or high street,” said Hemingway at the store’s opening. 

Cryer argues that, rather than competing with each other for high street spend, the commercial fashion and charity retail sectors should collaborate to achieve their shared goals: “Neither of us are in business primarily for environmental concerns, but it’s a really important secondary purpose – we’ve got a lot of common ground.

“If fashion retailers have excess stock taking up space, and we need stock, and it stops it going to landfill, why not donate it to us? If we can promote our green agenda, which is the same agenda as the retailer’s, it’s a win-win situation.”

©strikingplaces traid

Mark Chapman, communications and digital manager at the Charity Retail Association, agrees: “I think the fashion industry needs to realise that you can’t just throw away or dispose of stuff. The public won’t accept that [any more]. Charity shops are on the right side of the curve to take advantage of that, and they will always need stock.”

In June, young fashion retailer Little Mistress launched a recycling scheme, which encourages customers to return their “pre-loved” clothing for donation to charity in exchange for a 30% discount code. The used items are donated to the UK shops of Norwood, a Jewish charity that supports families and children with learning disabilities. Little Mistress will send the shops some new stock each month.

Little Mistress CEO and founder Mark Ashton says the uptake has exceeded expectations: “We have received more that we predicted so far, and some people added notes inside saying what a good idea they thought it was. This whole area is such a huge talking point right now and we all need to do something, and quickly.

“The more brands that get involved the more acceptable it will become. We aren’t talking about a whole new distribution channel here – it’s little and often with older-season stock, [but] it will all help.”

Consumer reach

For Traid, it was important to bring retailers into the conversation as a way of reaching consumers. Anthropologie’s pop-up promotes Traid’s 23% campaign, which highlights the fact that, in London alone, 23% of clothes in people’s wardrobes go unworn – equivalent to 123 million garments. 

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“Fashion brands are starting to do a lot of work on sustainability, but they are not bringing the customers on board yet,” says Andrea Speranza, head of campaigns at Traid. “We are helping them do so in concrete ways, and with a positive and empowering message.”

She adds that charities offer an easy and practical way for fashion brands to improve their sustainability credentials: “Retailers are starting to understand the benefits of working with charities, not only in terms of the positive message that they are sending to more well-informed customers, but also in term of practicalities. Charities have the logistics in place to easily offer an efficient clothes recycling scheme.”

Charity shops will do what they can to minimise the amount of unsold stock that eventually ends up in landfill, says Chapman, including sending as much as possible to textile recycling companies. 

Another early supporter of the 23% campaign, organic and ethical clothing brand Beaumont Organic, will promote it on its website, social media channels and through email marketing. The brand is also looking into having a Traid recycling bin in its store in Manchester.

Ecommerce manager Helen Aye-Maung argues that, for Beaumont Organic, it is not so much about new customer acquisition as being seen to support the right causes: “Traid may reach customers that we haven’t withour own marketing, but for us it was more that we feel this is an important message to reinforce with our customers. Sustainability is at the heart of everything we do.”

Value exchange

Charities can also benefit from working more closely with fashion retailers, beyond increasing the volume of donations. Among other initiatives, the British Heart Foundation is considering ways to take advantage of the rise in online shopping, including a give-back scheme.

“We’re looking at launching a concept where, when you receive your new purchase [from an etailer], you donate the item it’s replacing,” says Mike Taylor, commercial director of the foundation. “We pay for the postage, so other than the slight hassle of sending it back, it’s convenient for the customer, and there’s no cost to the retailer.

“Wouldn’t it be great if, in five years’ time, if you receive new clothes, you automatically send off your old stuff to charity? We’re riding on the back of the logistics network already set up to service online shopping.”

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Taylor argues that, as more people become aware of the demand for second-hand fashion resale, charities should strive to offer retailers greater value than simply clearing unwanted stock: “It could be that a company benefits from the association with the British Heart Foundation, and reference us in their sustainability or CSR reporting.

“We also do a lot of CPR [first aid] training with our corporate partners, and we’ve just developed a health at work programme, where we go in and test blood pressure, BMI, and so on.

“There are more outlets for people to get rid of clothing now, so we need to work harder at the value exchange. It’s great if an organisation gives us stock because they don’t want it to go to waste, but it needs to be worth their while on lots of different levels – you can’t just expect one-way traffic.”

The rising popularity of second-hand clothing is pushing charity shops to up their game, bringing fresh thinking into the sector. For fashion retailers, this is creating new opportunities to partner with charities on a local and national level. The evolving relationship is helping both parties to meet their sustainability goals, but retailers and charities must be prepared to contribute.

Readers' comments (1)

  • Great article and so much opportunity for brands to help charities in an intelligent and sustainable way. Action for Children are also doing a really good pop-up concept with their 1869 concept (currently in Norwich) with fabulous support from landlords, brands and suppliers.

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