Fashion, style, beauty, hair, health, fitness, life issues, lifestyle, home, garden and anything else that matters to the woman in her prime of life.

Mary makes charity shopping fun

In the final part of Mary Queen of Charity Shops, we found out whether Mary Portas could turn around Save the Children's failing Orpington shop.

Vintage chicI watched the final part of Mary Queen of Charity Shops last night and it was a delight. 

Love her or loathe her (and by the way, it's great to see a woman of nearly 50 looking quite so foxy), you can't deny Mary's efficiency. Her reforms in her local charity shop raised takings (which is near-enough to say profits) from £900 a week to £2,000. Even allowing for the refitting, which should pay for itself in 16 weeks, and the new manager's salary, that means an increase of about £36,000 in a single year - an increase to Save the Children of around 4.5 million smackers, if rolled out across the board and their other shops are equally dismal (not to say that they are, of course - one suspects they gave her the worst of the worst so that it would make better television). 

The changes were not without casualties, it must be said. Used to their own way of doing things, many of her volunteer helpers could not adapt to the new direction in which she was taking the shop and the influx of young people that they clearly thought were from another planet, and at least half a dozen quit.

I found this a little strange, actually - a busy day in a shop is exhausting, but in a good way. Having nothing to do is ghastly.  I well remember trying to sell summer clothes in February in a boutique in Kensington High Street where we fought over the customers just to have someone to talk to. And when you're at work, you're at work, even if it's voluntary work - you wouldn't be much use cleaning up the inner city if all you did was lean on your spade and eat biscuits all day.

The staff that remained were worth their weight - saucy old dears with a young heart.

Mary instituted a policy of collecting good cast-offs from large companies, and persuaded her fashion maties to dress up in what they charmingly called 'vintage' (how depressing it is when the clothes you wore in your teens are now vintage to a younger generation) - and very good they looked too. Peaches Geldof looked extremely cure in her flowery dress, while Erin O'Connor, always a charmer, sported a gorgeous brocade jacket I would have given my eye teeth for. 

All in all, her 'new' shop looked like an indoor market (much to the distress of one member of staff), though I myself prefer a shop that looks like a good vintage boutique and canny charity shop managers have been doing that for a long time. 

It was a wake-up call for me, though, to see how much British society has changed while I've been away. Here in rural France we have entirely missed the rampant consumerism that appears to gobbled up the British psyche in the past decade, where women buy themselves new clothes every week or virtually every day. French women, on the whole, buy high-end clothing, carefully and incrementally, and wear everything they own - they don't buy on impulse and never take the tags off.

Nor does the problem of such rubbishy donations arise to the same degree - there are collection points for good, used clothing at every supermarket so it is easy to make your donations.

I had no idea that charity shops had become synonymous with crap. When I was a student we LIVED in charity shops and second-hand markets, teaming our simple chain-store staples with cheap but gorgeous finds, mostly because we were full of ideas but had absolutely no money. This photo from 1983 shows me with friends Ann, Pam and Graham - every one of us in vintage, mostly because it was the cheapest way we could find something original to wear. Wish I had that green dress now...


Don't miss Mary

The woman who turned around Harvey Nicks has got her teeth into Save the Children

Mary PortasUK girls - don't forget to watch Mary Queen of Charity Shops tonight at 9.00 UK time.

Watching retail guru Mary Portas tear her hair out in frustration last week was very entertaining. She's easy to parody, but she's right - charity shops are a business and they exist to make money, not to work as a social club for the staff or a dumping ground for lazy bastards who can't be bothered to take their old crap to the tlp.

One woman at the local Mind shop put her finger on it when she complained that the skip she was forced to hire each week to get rid of the 75 per cent of donated goods that were total rubbish cost as much as a part-time therapist. 

Last week Mary was also clearly beside herself at the absolute disrespect the 'givers' were showing with their donated goods. Soiled underwear, used needles, tampons, condoms... you name it, it was in those black bags, and her genteel 70 and 80-something volunteers were doing their best to sort through it (without gloves, as one of them complained - seemingly five minutes later, Mary had got them gloves, along with a proper table to work on). 

By the end of last week's programme, she'd rejigged the shop, got the staff a decent back room to work in, installed shelving and hangers to use the vertical space, upset nearly everybody (clearly no-one likes change, least of all the utterly incompetent regional manager) and picked out the one member of staff who had a bit of grey matter between the ears to be 'acting manager'.

Sadly, it was a man, surrounded by clucking old biddies, but there ye go, just when you'd like people not to behave like stereotypes, they go and disappoint you.

Anyway, I await episode 2 with bated breath.

Mary Queen of Charity Shops, BBC 2, 9.00pm.


British women take to hoarding clothes

UK charity shops are running out of stock as British women buy, but won't give

Zilkha coatBritish women are now hanging onto their clothes rather than giving them to charity, The Guardian reported recently.

Charity shops are being hit doubly hard as they are also selling out of stock quickly as the recession continues to bite and women turn to charity shops to get their shopping fix. 

"When people are worried and money is tight, people tend to hoard," says David Moir, head of policy at the Association of Charity Shops.

So strapped are the shops for stock that they are launching campaigns to encourage clothing donations. Cancer Research UK, which has 550 shops across Britain, has already launched its "detox your wardrobe" campaign fronted by TV presenter Lorraine Kelly, while the British Heart Foundation is planning a stock donation campaign for March.

Oxfam, however, has largely managed to buck the trend, thanks partly to a deal it did with Marks and Spencer a year ago - drop off a piece of M&S clothing in good condition and you get a voucher for the store. However, even Oxfam says its stocks are now beginning to run low.

Cancer Research says its top sellers are accessories, including handbags, shoes, jewellery and scarves - a statistic that hints to me, at least, that it's the younger generation that is being bitten by the charity shop bug this time around. Accessories feel a tad less personal - it takes a die-hard charity shop wallah to contemplate wearing someone else's jeans for instance - and you don't have to worry about sizing or trying on in the shop. 

Best news of all from this article, though, is that you can now buy Oxfam's second-hand clothing online, which I must admit I did not know. A quick peruse shows that prices are pretty high (the Ronit Zilkha coat at top left is £80), but it does at least enable you to pick up a designer label on the cheap. 




No documents found.