Lancashire charity shops are no longer just a go-to destination for cheap and cheerful clothing for those on a tight budget.
Several charity outlets in Preston, Chorley and South Ribble have joined an ‘eco fashion’ revolution - helping to stop our clothes from flooding Britain’s landfills while attracting new, fashionable younger customers at the same time.
Some stores even offer items from designer names like Vivienne Westwood, Ted Baker and Karen Millen among their racks, at affordable prices - and they all help to bring in much-needed revenue to charity coffers.
St Catherine’s Hospice shop in Hope Terrace, Lostock Hall, is the latest in the area to undergo a makeover. Nicola Gallagher, the hospice’s donation centre manager, says the refurbishment has created a more professional look and additional browsing space.
She added: “Traditionally, it was a bit tired and dark. But now we offer phenomenal quality. There’s anything and everything, from Primark to designers, and some items still have their labels on.”
St Catherine’s hopes to follow in the footsteps of Derian House Children’s Hospice, which has been in Chorley retail premises for around 25 years. It was based in Chapel Street for 18 years before relocating to a bigger unit last year and re-branding itself as a stylish destination for younger and more affluent shoppers.
It now offers more contemporary and branded male and female clothing, according to Andrew Upton-Ford, the store’s retail manager.
And the re-brand, which includes a Designers at Derian section, has paid off. Since moving to Cleveland Street one year ago, the store has doubled its sales and tripled its profits.
“Standing in the menswear section, I can see Ted Baker, Hollister, Boss, Polo, and a Gant T-shirt. We also have items by Coast and Karen Millen. It’s a lottery but sometimes you’re really surprised about what comes out of a donation bag,” Andrew added, pointing to the Vivienne Westwood dress that he sold for just £55 - £200 cheaper than the recommended retail price.
The image revamp is, in part, an attempt to adapt to the rise in online shopping and the social media era, where trend-setters post pictures of themselves daily in favourite clothing.
However, while cut-price online retailers pump out speedy copies of celebrity outfits, often using lower quality materials, charity shops can pride themselves on their eco credentials. Re-selling pre-loved clothes helps divert them from landfill, and avoids the need for new materials being used or air-polluting delivery vans clogging the roads.
Katrina-Marie Howson, a 21-year-old Lostock Hall singer in a new girl band, said charity shops can be helpful to those on a tight budget.
She said: “I think there’s a lot of pressure today [to look good], with people wanting designer labels and mums sending their kids to school with the top trainers. I do find it quite difficult to always keep on top of trends because not everyone has got a lot of money to spend.”
Many high street clothing stores from BHS to Karen Millen, have closed their shutters for good in the last few years, with the growth in online competition and pressures from rents and business rates all stacking up.
The St Catherine’s shop tries to keep consumer needs in mind when filling its rails and window displays, while Age Concern in Leyland even sells wedding dresses from £100.
Nicola said: “We rotate stock around our stores to offer a diverse range and keep up with changing styles. Regulars want to see something different every time they come in, so we need to keep things fresh while catering for all ages.
“Everyone has tighter budgets today and have to be more money-conscious. But people can afford to buy something from charity shops every week because we keep things relatively cheap.”
And Andrew feels confident that the Derian store still has lots to look forward to, despite the doom and gloom elsewhere on the high street.
He said: “Charity shops are definitely on the rise and they are bucking the trend of the high street. They are up year on year and some of our figures are fantastic.”