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  • Charlie Sandles

The Emergence of Charity Shopping Popularity - Why Are Items So Expensive?

© Illustration by INJECTION - Alicia Lupieri

The rising issues of affordability when it comes to sustainability.

Yet again we talk about sustainability; the fashion and apparel industry is estimated to account for 10% of global carbon emissions, making the ‘to die for fashion’ ethos something not so unrealistic. It’s no secret that there has been an increasing sense of eco-consciousness amongst consumers, who are now diverting to brands who have a strong consciousness for ethics and sustainability in their business practices. Several fashion brands are committing to more sustainable practices, including the release of collections manufactured using eco-fabrics (H&M’s ‘Conscious’), more sustainable packaging (Finisterre) and a reduction in the number of collections annually (Gucci) in a bid to move towards slow fashion.

But shopping sustainably is something that can be, and is, very unachievable for many people; the likes of Stella McCartney, Cuyana and Reformation, whilst offering exceptional products constructed of sustainable materials, are simply too expensive for the majority to ever consider purchasing- especially when the style of clothing can be found (albeit at a cheaper quality) in a high-street store such as Zara. There is a reason why the fashion industry is so toxic- brands consistently endeavour to create cheap products that can be sold at a low price so as to make themselves accessible for a large portion of the market, despite the risk of their moral integrity being questioned. So, the dilemma arises that consumers are in search of sustainable fashion alternatives to fast fashion brands- but at an affordable price.

An alternative to buying sustainably, therefore, is to purchase second-hand clothing as a way to prevent the over-consumption of new fashion pieces. Individuals can buy clothes that are otherwise bound for landfill, and extend its life for many more years to come. Whilst there are several places and platforms for consumers to purchase second-hand clothing from, including car boot sales, re-commerce platforms such as The RealReal and Vestiaire Collective, and mobile apps such as Depop and Vinted- that provide ample opportunity for consumers to buy second-hand clothing, footwear and accessories- charity shops are arguably one of the most popular destinations for consumers.

© Mary’s Living and Giving, Chiswick, Photograph by INJECTION - Charlie Sandles

This surge in popularity of vintage and cheap second-hand clothing has resulted in many ‘savvy’ individuals purchasing items for resale purposes. Through re-commerce websites and applications such as the aforementioned Depop and Vinted, sellers are cashing in on the chance to sell items they’ve secured for a low price at charity shops and selling for an upscaled price- simply by tagging the item as ‘vintage’ or by profiting from popular fashion trends. Charity shops are guilty of this too- a simple sweater vest in the men’s section of a charity store has become inundated with Gen-Z individuals seeking the popular 90’s fashion resurgence, and as a result, they are exploiting this trend and marking up prices to meet the demand.

It isn’t just items in trending styles that charity shops are marking up, many stores also have separate sections for designer items which are marked at considerably high prices- it goes far beyond what you expect a charity shop to sell. These high-end clothing pieces almost seem out of place in stores and would much rather be suited to vintage boutiques… yet the business acumen of store managers isn’t naïve, and thus they realise the market for affordable luxury is thriving amongst Millennials and Gen-Z consumers who are quickly becoming their new target market.

© FARA, Turnham Green, Photograph by INJECTION - Charlie Sandles

Individuals buying clothes to repurpose is yet another activity increasing in popularity. It only takes one to scroll through TikTok to understand the surge in sewing and alteration of garments. The rise of the ‘Sew Bro’- defining the emergence of young men who use forms of sewing, crochet, knit and quilting as a means of self-expression and a new hobby during the peak of lockdown restrictions- emphasises the newfound pastime of sewing and repurposing. Many individuals purchase cheap garments from charity shops and completely alter the design to fit their aesthetic. Whilst serving as an ingenious way to tackle sustainability issues and provide entertainment for bored teenagers and young-adults, this trend has resulted in new emerging styles and a re-think for brands towards up-cycling old garments.

© TikTok via @kanellakikreations

Is all of this right though? Yes, charity shops are businesses and therefore whatever means they can carry out to increase profits, then so be it. Albeit an easy solution to clearing out your wardrobe, the clothes and accessories donated to these stores are there to be sold to gain profits for the charitable organisations eponymous to the shop, and so surely everyone is profiting? But for those who rely on charity shops as their only source of clothing and apparel, problems start to arise. The increase in prices to meet popular demand has left several low-income families wincing at new ticket prices- a plain white vest may be marked up to £10 because it has a V-neck and lace detailing that lends itself well to the 90’s aesthetic so popular at present. The obsession has stretched so far for some individuals that they will buy children’s clothing in ages 12-15 as a way to get cheaper garments not already nabbed by thrifty shoppers. The problem that lies there within, however, is that those who genuinely need to buy clothing from charity stores are left with little choice amongst the sea of expensive items.

In light of these occurrences, we asked three individuals for their opinion of charity shopping, and the rise in Gen-Z consumers exploiting the cheap garments for their own purposes (whether it be for re-commerce opportunities or garment alteration):

‘I agree with the fact that charity shops are a business and that they are collecting profit for charities, but the price tags of the majority of items are ridiculous. Coming from a low-income family, I use charity shops as a way to buy cheaper second-hand clothes- to act sustainably and to also save money- and to see basics such as plain t-shirts and work trousers priced above £5 seems a bit much. I could go to a high-street store such as Primark and buy a brand new top for a third of the price.’

- 24 years old, London.

‘Trends happen for a reason, and there has been such a spike in consumer consciousness towards sustainability and ethics that it is no surprise to see so many people turning to charity shops to buy garments. I think, however, that charity shops and sellers on re-commerce websites have almost become too cocky with what they are selling, and as a result are selling garments for ridiculous prices that quite clearly do not match the quality. For example, I was charity shopping the other day and picked up a lovely jumper with some floral detailing on- it was priced at £7 but was ridden with holes from moths! Equally, anyone scrolling through Depop would agree that people seem to be going to ridiculous lengths to make money. There are several sellers selling ‘Brownies’ tops, claiming they’re vintage and attaching a £15 price tag on it!’

- 22 years old, Gloucestershire.

‘As a man who doesn’t use charity shops regularly, and hasn’t ever bought anything from one, my exposure to them has dramatically increased as a result of charity shopping becoming significantly more popular in the last two years. I will often scroll through TikTok to see charity shop hauls pop up and so there has clearly been a surge in interest for second-hand garments. There seems to be an obsession amongst Gen-Z and Millennials to find the best bargain and I don’t agree with the fact that they are often buying garments that they don’t need and as a result, they are taking away the opportunity for low-income families/ individuals to buy clothes that they otherwise couldn’t afford to buy new.’

- 28 years old, Manchester.

What do you think about the new popularity of charity shopping? Do you agree with the shops increasing their prices to meet the demand? Let us know over on our Instagram.


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