Yorkshire charity shops and Swap for Smart Works Leeds celebrate a Secondhand September of brilliant pre-loved fashion
There’s gold in them there charity shops. Maybe not gold, but Gucci, and Prada, and Burberry, maybe some Stella McCartney, some Paul Smith, a little Dolce & Gabbana. For those prepared to look, there are designer brands galore, as well as high street fashion labels, all in excellent pre-loved condition, at bargain pieces, and causing the least harm possible to the planet and its peoples.
Launched in 2019, Secondhand September is a campaign that urges us all to buy only secondhand items for the month, helping to keep clothes out of landfill while updating wardrobes and, in many instances, contributing to charity. What’s not to love?
“Hopefully, it will give us more footfall because people will think, for 30 days, I am not going to buy anything new. They will maybe not have shopped secondhand before, so they will come in and have a look, and realise how fantastic it is,” says Lynn Gough, manager of a Saint Michael’s Hospice Shop in Harrogate.
The charity sells high-quality pre-loved clothes, books and homewares to help fund its work caring for people living with terminal illness and bereavement. Of the £7m it needs each year, more than £1.4 million is generated by secondhand donations sold through its 11 shops in Harrogate, Ripon, Knaresborough and Boroughbridge.
One of Lynn’s favourite recent donations was a Fely Campo evening gown. “It would retail for about £900; it sold for £150 at the shop,” she says.
Ignore label sizes and try everything on is her top tip. “If you see a suit, you might not like all of it, but think, would you wear the jacket with jeans and maybe the dress with a little cardi? You can change the buttons, customise it, so think outside the box. If you buy high-end, it’s going to last you.
“You’ve got the living costs now, with the energy crisis. Everything we sell here, we check. We don’t put anything out that is not good quality.”
Being a local charity helps. “They want to help St Michael’s, as they are all touched in some way. If they can buy here, rather than the high street, and it looks every bit as good, if not better, then they will.”
Meanwhile, Swap for Smart Works is a new campaign that encourages people to hold their own clothes-swapping events to raise money for the charity that helps unemployed women back into work through interview coaching and clothing.
“We believe in the positive power of clothes,” says Smart Works. There are more than 40 volunteers at the Smart Works Leeds branch, at Mabgate Mills in the city. Trustee and volunteer interview coach Tracy Fletcher, who is managing director of finanical and banking recruitment company Campbell & Fletcher in Leeds and Manchester, is planning her own Swap for Smart Works Leeds to take in October (date and venue to be confirmed).
"I have sourced most of my clothes over the years from a dress agency and I love the idea of sustainability,” Tracy says. “In the last last few years, my body shape has changed, meaning I need to refresh my wardrobe more than ever. I have some beautiful clothes that I will never wear again. A good example is a beautiful leather Jaeger dress that would have cost £800 new. I have worn it twice and I would now need to have two ribs removed for it to fit.”
If September doesn’t work for you, no problem, as you can organise a Swap for Smart Works event any time of the year. There is a pack on the charity’s website to help get started. Guests could buy a ticket as a donation or the host could set up a JustGiving page via the Smart Works website.”
Toni Carver, a Wakefield-based style and colour consultant, will be holding a swapping (or swishing) event with her Colour me Beautiful colleagues.
“We’ll all be donating items from our own wardrobes and the proceeds raised from the sales (and any items left) will be donated to Cancer Research UK,” she says.
“Plus, I’ll be checking out the charity shops to see what I can find that fits with the latest autumn/winter trends for my next seasonal ‘what to wear’ workshop.
Choose quality over quantity, says Toni. “If you buy well, you buy once. Look for good quality material and well made clothes.”
Explore pre-loved and vintage platforms such as Vinted and eBay as well as charity shops. “It’s a great way of clearing your own clutter and making a little money, too,” she says.
“Upcycle your existing pieces to bring them up to date. “You could change the shape of a collar or neckline. Add some braiding, edging or the sleeve or skirt length to make it feel like a new item of clothing.”
Actor Felicity Jones has posed in pre-loved fashion for Oxfam’s Secondhand September campaign, and will feature in posters in the windows of more than 500 Oxfam shops nationwide wearing second-hand clothes chosen by fashion advisor Bay Garnett,
“It’s just such a joy buying second-hand; it’s a way of coming across the unexpected. You never know quite what you’re going to find which is a delight.
I love shopping at Oxfam; the shops are a treasure trove. I’ve often found myself stumbling upon something special which has a history to it, like my velvet bag which has two little cat footprints on the back. I love knowing that someone else has owned it and that’s imbued in the item.”
St Michael’s Hospice is looking for new retail volunteers, encouraging local people to have fun and make a difference by creating window displays, finding hidden treasures and interacting with their community. Visit a shop or saintmichaelshospice.org to find out more.Swap for Smart Works smartworks.org.uk/support-us/swap/ and on social media using #SwapforSmartWorks and by tagging @smartworkscharityToni Carver is a style and colour consultant at www.tlcstyleandcolour.co.ukOxfam's #SecondHandSeptember initiative details are at oxfam.org.uk/30daychallenge