What happened to charity shop bargains?

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Recently, I’ve read posts around the fashion blogosphere that are critical of prices in charity shops. As someone who has volunteered in different Oxfam shops over the past six years, I want to defend the pricing system. Since last May, I’ve volunteered at Oxfam Originals in the centre of Manchester. It’s a small shop but despite the diminutive size it’s one of the best vintage clothing shops in the city. My experience of volunteering in charity shops is limited to Oxfam, so of course I’m not writing on behalf of other charity shops, who I’m sure all have their own pricing systems
To people who believe that £14.99 for a beautiful vintage dress in excellent condition is expensive, I would like to point out that:

  • the price reflects the quality. In Oxfam Originals, every garment is checked by at least two different volunteers for quality. This means there’s no ripped or stained garments on sale. Also, our stock is from different decades, such as gorgeous 1950s handsewn dresses. Unlike a lot of ‘vintage’ shops, Originals isn’t crammed with naff polyester dresses from the 1980s that give you static shocks.
  • charity shops have overheads. Rent, utilities, shop supplies (from the clothes hangers to the tea and biscuits fuelling volunteers). All of these have to be covered financially before a charity shop is raising money for a good cause.
  • charity shops operate within a market. When pricing, we have to consider what a fair price is in comparison to competitors, whether that’s other vintage shops in the Northern Quarter or online retailers. Although Originals is more expensive than the average charity shop, it’s in a central retail location with excellent stock. Oxfam shops are very good at responding to their location. For example, the large Oxfam in Dalston, east London block prices stock.
  • Oxfam relies on donations from generous members of the public. Donors kindly give clothing and other goods for a variety of reasons: perhaps they’re moving home, they’ve grown out of it or it’s an unwanted present. But every donor does so in good faith, expecting that what they’ve given will be helping to raise money for charity. For Oxfam, that money has been used in over 70 countries worldwide to alleviate poverty and suffering.
  • Similarly, Oxfam relies on volunteers to staff shops. I donate my time and skills to Oxfam willingly. And my skills? Mad. I can spot a French seam from a distance, and talk you through the perfect jacket fit if needed.
  • Finally, Oxfam are a charity that I’m proud to support. They are transparent about their fundraising and use of money, so I feel confident that my time spent volunteering in Oxfam contributes to making the world a better place in a small way. There are lots of resources on Oxfam’s website explaining their development work.

If you’re in Manchester, come and visit Oxfam Originals. We’re on Oldham Street, next to Piccadilly Records (another of my favourite shops). Oxfam also have an online shop online here. And if you’re a Londoner, you lucky people can check out the Oxfam Curiosity Shop at Selfridges until 10 April.


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