Charity shops and thrift stores are good for the planet

Charity shops do a lot of good – not only do they fundraise for important causes, provide low-cost but high-quality goods and offer valuable volunteering experience, but they’re great for the planet too.

Charity shops give a second life to clothes, furniture and books which would otherwise be thrown into landfill or burned. This saves items that are still in a very usable condition, and when charity shops can’t reuse donated items, they recycle them. According to the Charity Retail Association, only 5% of materials donated to UK charity shops end up in landfill sites and over 327K tonnes of textiles were sent on for reuse and recycling by charity shops in 2017/18.

Thrift store rack

These shops also help to slow down fast fashion, which has received criticism for its social and environmental toll. By buying pre-owned clothes rather than getting something new, consumers can avoid supporting unethical fashion brands and shop guilt-free. Ethical clothing brands can be out of budget for a lot of people, so pre-owned fashion (as provided by charity shops or thrift stores) is a more affordable option.

Why the rise of conscious consumerism is good news for charity retail

The increasing concerns over environmental and ethical costs of the consumer goods industry means that sustainable shoppers’ interest in second-hand goods has grown considerably in recent years. During 2018, sales in UK second-hand stores saw a 9.2 percent rise in value, a significant increase on the past two years. One of the impacts of this is that the stigma which has traditionally existed around pre-owned and charity retail has dropped – there has even been a rise in people buying used wedding dresses!

Charity shops should take advantage of this shift in consumer behaviour. In addition to marketing towards bargain-hunters, they should make their stores appealing to conscious buyers who want to become part of the circular economy – many of whom are younger consumers. Read on to find out how!

How to improve the second-hand retail experience and increase sales

Retail experience is crucial to shoppers – Oxfam revamped 35 of its stores in recent years and found that through improved access, thoughtful product placement and revamped visual merchandising, sales have improved by 10-20 percent.

Creative charity shop window

Tips to make your charity shop or thrift store more appealing:

  • Create eye-catching window displays and update them as much as possible. Try to keep them from looking cluttered and stay up-to-date with trends and holidays for inspiration.
  • Create a social media presence which allows you to engage with more customers, including young, social media savvy shoppers. Encourage customers to tag your store with their charity shop finds, retweet photos of them with their new items and keep your followers up-to-date with shop news.
  • Furbish your shop with good-quality retail fixtures and decor – you can find free fixtures donated by major retailers on Globechain
  • Develop a brand personality and curate items to give your shop a specific, recognisable style
  • Make sure that your store is well-lit with plenty of space for shoppers to look at merchandise, and avoid any risk of the musty ‘thrift store smell’ with air diffusers
  • Boost your eco-friendly credentials by making receipts and bags optional and consider charging for a reusable bag with your branding. Make reuse part of your store’s ethos by using pre-owned fittings and fixtures and let customers know about your commitment to environmental issues.
  • Change products on the shop floor regularly (check out Globechain for free decor and furniture to resell) and let social media followers know when there is new stock

The charity shops that are leading the way

We’ve recently seen more charity shop ’boutiques’ open which offer more curated, high-end products in stylishly designed shops, attracting clientele who might not generally consider shopping at a charity shop. There has also been a rise in specialist shops, such as bridal and vintage, and charity ‘superstores’ on the edge of town or in industrial estates, similar to thrift stores in USA which are often large warehouses offering thousands of goods.

Here are a few examples of charity shops that are leading the way:

Boutique by Shelter, Coal Drops Yard, King’s Cross

Boutique by Shelter charity shop

Boutique boasts a handpicked range of unique donations made up of designer, vintage and quality high-street clothing as well as contemporary interior design. This makes it stand out from other charity shops and a Shelter spokesperson has said that the boutique stores bring in more money on average than the charity’s regular shops.

Traid, Brixton

Traid targets a young, fashion-forward demographic with eclectic style from across the decades and an active social media presence. As part of its fight against the negative environmental impacts of the clothing industry, it has a partnership which allows people who use this ecological dry cleaning company to get free collection for clothes they donate.

FARA, various locations

Fara has shops dedicated specifically to childrenswear, homeware and retro clothes all over London. The children’s store is an especially important part of the reuse movement given how quickly kids grow out of clothes!

Shop from Crisis, Finsbury Park

Shop from Crisis charity shop

Crisis’s charity shop doesn’t just offer great clothes and handmade furniture – it also hosts a coffee shop and community arts hub. This has made it a popular destination with locals, and has even won it a Time Out Love London award!


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