With news that charity shops are on the decline, Ellina Webb highlights why losing these little gems will be a huge knock for sustainable shopping, especially at Christmas time.

Living sustainably can mean a number of things to many different people with many different lifestyles and budgets. For me, living sustainably is recycling, upcycling and buying preloved items like furniture and whatever else I come across in my vintage and charity shop ventures.

Charity shops can be coves for well-priced, high quality items and for those of you who watch TV shows like Antiques Roadshow, some people are even lucky enough to discover a treasure worth millions (unfortunately this hasn’t happened to me yet!).

In 2016 The Guardian reported on 5 amazing charity shop finds ranging from handwritten Radiohead lyrics, to Mozart music sheets and even an original copy of The US Declaration of Independence.

But what are the more common riches you’re likely to come across if you pop inside and could charity shop thrifting be the key to a budget-friendly Christmas?

1. Clothing

In April 2017 The Guardian reported on a survey taken by Sainsbury’s which found that three-quarters of consumers admitted to binning their discarded garments in landfills because they did not realise that worn-out or dirty clothing could be recycled and donated to charities or charity shops.

This meant that a predicted 235 million items of unwanted clothing were expected to be dumped into landfill sites unnecessarily in Spring 17 (aka spring cleaning season). While I don’t have figures to compare in 2018, in a recent BBC documentary called ‘Fashion’s Dirty Secrets’, Stacey Dooley discovered that 300,000 tons of clothing are dumped in landfill every year. This, along with the news that charity shops are declining each year, highlights that the second-hand clothing industry is in trouble, possibly due to a continued lack in donations or due to changing customer buying habits.

Is there still a stigma when it comes to shopping in charity shops? Or are we just buying less in general?

Ellina Webb Ellina Webb Senior Marketing Executive

Furthermore, a huge emphasis on recycling unwanted clothes has lead brands like H&M to offer discounts when clothing is donated in stores. This could also have an effect on the charity shop sector as consumers look to become thriftier in the items they do decide to part with. Why donate an item to charity when H&M will give you 10% off in return?

Anyway, for those of you who are fans of delving into the local charity shops, the opportunity to find a bargain in the clothing department is huge; so I encourage everyone to opt for that route. From vintage tailored suits to brand new items with tags on. If its second hand you could be paying pennies for items with a retail value of £500 or more. Trust me, I’ve found them before!

Of course a second hand item of clothing at Christmas might not be top of everyone’s wish list, so the point to take away from this is take if you do receive an item of clothing, new or not, and you don’t want it - donate it!

2. Football shirts

Football shirts are more than just an item of clothing; hence I’ve given them their own paragraph. Vintage football memorabilia has grown beyond just a niche market over the past 10 years as the retail value of these classic items is booming.

This was evident in Summer 2018 when a ‘Classic Football Shirt’ pop up shop appeared in Shoreditch gaining both media attention and a long line of fans queuing up to get their hands on some vintage shirt. It was chaotic and with the surprising success of England in this year’s World Cup, the popularity of football has soared as we all continue to insist that it really is coming home.

So where’s the best place to find a vintage piece for a good price? A charity shop of course.

From a 1987 Tottenham Hotspur away shirt to a Maradonna 10 Boca Juniors 1989 shirt, the chances of finding a bargain like this are pretty high; these 2 were actually found in my local charity shop for under £5. Obviously the sentimental value of a football shirt is unique to you and the clubs or players that you support – which is what makes finding a rare one extra special.

If you do come across a classic shirt that a friend or family would love, what a great Christmas present that would make, and a sustainable one too!

3. Records

Vinyl is back. And charity shops have stacks of them. If you look hard enough and have the time to flip through them all there really are some hidden gems to be found.

In 2017 4.1 million vinyl records were sold in the UK, and that probably doesn’t include those sold through charity shops. In fact vinyl now accounts for around 3% of all music consumed and it would probably be higher if the cost was more on par with that of the digital download.

Due to the often higher price point, vinyl records can be seen as items of special significance, or a luxury because unlike the digital copy, they require care and storage (and of course a turntable). However, if you purchase your vinyl from a charity shop, the price point is considerably lower, usually around the £1 - £3 amount so the investment made in growing your collection is affordable.

The most likely records you’ll find in your local charity shop could range from the Carpenters, to Simon and Garfunkel and Diana Ross, but if you’re lucky enough you might even stumble across a rare copy of The Freewheelin, or another valuable rarity from this list.

But even if you aren’t a Carpenters fan, someone else you know might be and they might appreciate a copy of ‘Gold’ wrapped up under the tree. I know I would!

4. Books

Donated booked are such a big commodity for charity shops that some even have their own ‘book only’ branches, like Oxfam. Second-hand books are also one of the most popular used items to purchase, mainly because the average person reads about 4 books a year, making the turnover pretty high. Purchasing a book second-hand is a low cost way to branch out into genres you haven’t explored before and charity shops are a great place to seek out a vintage copy.

Some lucky thifters have even stumbled across first edition copies, for example in Gloucester in 2018 a Harry Potter fan purchased 3 first-edition Harry Potter books for £3 at her local charity shop.

Books are also one of the easiest and most popular gifts to give and receive at Christmas time; this is because there literally is a book suitable for everyone. What’s more is that they are affordable, easy to wrap and are often thoughtful and meaningful. My go to gift to give at Christmas time has always been a book, especially if its second hand and looks like a vintage gem with more than just a story inside. The more worn it is the better it looks and even more so if there are notes inside.

Some of the best second-hand books I have purchased as gifts over the years include a limited edition print of the history of my local town (which I discovered in a second-hand book store in Hampstead Heath), a copy of Mary Poppins which was published in the 1970s (in Oxfam) and a copy of ‘Oh The Places You Will Go’ by Dr Seuss (From Cancer Research) that my niece adores.

Final thoughts

For now, charity shops remain as a staple of the high street, a place for local and sustainable shopping where you really are likely to find something worth buying. However, as the high street starts to die with the growth in online shopping, we shouldn’t be discouraged from recycling the personal and household items which are still of value to someone else.

Many charities still provide collection bags through the letter box and sometimes if you speak to the right person in the company you work for they will point you towards a colleague who is collecting for a charitable cause – especially after the Christmas period.

Either way, I don’t want to see my local charity shops disappear so if you’re stuck for gift ideas make sure you plan a visit or if you receive anything for Christmas that you don’t want, donate it.

Ellina Webb is a Senior Marketing Executive at Mitsubishi Electric.