Feature / retail

The rise of fashionable charity shops

A recent report by Demos, the independent think tank, stated that charity shops are boosting the UK high streets. Cardiff charity shops have revamped their image, bringing fashion to the high street


The interior of the Oxfam Boutique Cardiff. Image credit: Anna Fearon

You’re walking down Queen St in Cardiff wandering in and out of various high street retailers trying to find that perfect party dress for a Christmas party. But there’s only one glitch – you have a budget of £30 and you find that the high street’s cheapest showstopping dress retails at £45, for many the extra £15 is a quarter of a week’s food shop.

You wander aimlessly down the street feeling like you’ll have to do a Geri Halliwell and drag out that eye-catching union flag dress from your wardrobe that you’re well remembered for.

geri halliwell

Geri Halliwell wearing her famous union jack dress. Image credit: wikipedia. Image design: Anna Fearon

Suddenly your phone buzzes to notify you of a news update, it reads – ‘charity shops boost UK high street’. After reading the article you are convinced that charity shops contain fashion items and will supply you with your Christmas party dress.

“Many people now shop in charity shops that wouldn’t have previously”

Ten years ago you would never have thought of popping into a charity shop to pick up a fashion item. However within the last few years charity shops have majorly stepped up their game, putting fashionable items on display and using social media to show a younger audience their fashionable stock.

Matthew Williams, Retail General Manager of Tŷ Hafan which have charity shops across Cardiff says, “The historical image that charity shops had – not being the most pleasant of places and not having the best stock (jumpers with holes in!) – has truly disappeared. Many people now shop in charity shops that wouldn’t have previously”.

Cardiff charity shops have had a 16% growth in physical units over the last 12 months, meaning that more charity shops are taking over unoccupied spaces on Cardiff high streets. Matthew Hopkinson, Director of The Local Data Company, the UK’s leader for retail data thinks that that there is a great potential for charity shops on the Cardiff high streets because of Wales’ largest shopping centre – St David’s being so close to all the main streets.

Matthew Hopkinson, Director of The Local Data Company, the UK’s leader in retail location data gives his views on the current state of charity shops:

The Oxfam Boutique in St Mary’s St and Scope in Churchill Way are Cardiff city centre’s top charity shop offerings. However the key charity shop street is arguably Albany Road in Roath, north-east Cardiff where there are a staggering number of charity shops.

One source stated that there are a lot of shoppers who do a ‘charity shop crawl’ down Albany Road every Saturday, with the main purpose to find a thrifty fashion piece for nearly a third of the price of something you would find in high street retailers.

One of the popular ‘fashion’ charity shops on Albany Road is PreFab Clothing – YMCA. Simon Turner the manager of PreFab on Albany Road explains that it is successful because there is a huge student population in Cardiff who don’t have the money to shop in high street retailers so come to the shop to get the latest fashions at affordable prices.


A pair of women’s jeans in PreFab Clothing, Roath, Cardiff. Image credit: Anna Fearon


A faux fur women’s gilet in PreFab Clothing, Roath, Cardiff. Image credit: Anna Fearon

PreFab Clothing have also worked hard to ensure that their shop always looks presentable to customers. Simon said, “We keep the shop upmarket and clean. All the clothing donations are cleaned in the warehouse in Cardiff Bay.”

Tŷ Hafan also has a charity shop on Albany Road which attracts a young population after their fashion fix. Matthew Williams explains how that particular Tŷ Hafan shop has a ‘Cabinet of Curiosity’ which is popular with students because it contains quirky one-off items which is perfect for girls after something original to wear. Tŷ Hafan is doing well out of the booming charity shop scene in Cardiff as they have just set up their first boutique in Cowbridge.

Slap bang in the city centre of Cardiff is the Oxfam Boutique on St Mary’s St. This is an example of a charity shop that is doing particularly well in the city centre. The boutique is in prime position, just over 300 metres away from Cardiff Central train station. Manager of the boutique Claire Samuels says, “Charity shops have taken over empty units and have kept streets alive.”


The Oxfam Boutique’s exterior. Image credit: Anna Fearon

While its location helps to sell clothes, the layout of the shop is like a dolls house from the doorknobs in the shape of bows to the racks of vibrant clothes. Claire explains how due to the increased amount of charity shops in Cardiff there has been a real need for charity shops to stock high quality products.

“So many young celebrities now openly wear second hand and vintage clothing.”

Charity shop customers have certainly found high quality products in store. Fashion blogger Nokuthula Nyoni, 22 says, “About three months ago I bought a genuine Moschino Love Bag (from Scope in Cardiff) which has a RRP (recommended retail price) of around £120. But I bought it for just £5. Total bargain.”

Sales Assistant Meg Lewis, 24 also sees charity shops in a positive way as she thinks that Cardiff charity shops have become more modernised and are using good business sense to revamp their shops to attract younger customers.

Robyn Coles, milliner and former fashion buyer says, “Charity shops have been given a new lease of life, mainly due to the good PR brought to them from the likes of “thrift chic”. So many young celebrities openly wear second hand and vintage clothing, thus it has become trendy for not just students but those not so well off to shop at charity shops.”

Read the Demos report “Measuring the social value of charity shops…” www.demos.co.uk/publications/givingsomethingback

Tweet @chictostreet about the bargains you’ve bought at charity shops using the hashtag #thriftychic


5 thoughts on “The rise of fashionable charity shops

  1. I love charity shops! But the ones in my area are mainly aimed at more senior members of society, so it’s a bit hard to find stuff that fits/looks good on younger people. But I will keep looking! 🙂

  2. Great article! I’m all for charity shopping, it’s also a great way of recycling… you could join our campaign to not buy any new clothes for 12 months! Look up Say No To New on FB! I’ll definitely be following your blog!

  3. Hi Victoria, Thanks for the comment! Yes it is indeed, sustainable fashion is the way forward. It’s great to hear that you’re encouraging people not to buy new clothes for 12 months. As a student I can no longer afford to buy new clothes all the time, so your campaign resonates with me and many other students (I’m sure)! I’ve just found your campaign on Facebook. Do you have a blog as well?

  4. Pingback: January wardrobe clear out | Chic to Street

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