Avoiding the global conglomerates and opting for a charity shop edition can be argued to be one of the core elements of sustainable living. Kez and Mils discuss the individual action they've taken in the form of their favourite books and clothes.
by Kezia Rice and Milly Keir
'there is one genre of shop I will be welcoming back like a long lost friend who I didn’t realise quite how much I loved until they were a forbidden entity'
Kezia: I am writing this on the 15th of June, a day which marks a gradual end of lockdown through the reopening of non-essential shops - images of towns and cities alike show queues stretching far down pavements as shoppers revel in their new found freedom. Whilst I haven’t yet ventured into this foray, there is one genre of shop I will be welcoming back like a long lost friend who I didn’t realise quite how much I loved until they were a forbidden entity. As you may have already established from the title of this article, it is the excitement of a charity shop trip that will be motivating me to return to the streets of Lancaster town centre!
The Charity Retail Association has calculated that charity shops lost the equivalent of £3.4m every day they were closed during lockdown; this loss of income means several charities are on the brink of collapse. Not only is charity shopping a more sustainable way to purchase clothes, but it is vital in keeping charities afloat, and they need our support now more than ever. All this aside, me and one of my best friends Milly have talked during lockdown about how much we miss the charity shops, and how desperate we are to return. Read on for a discussion of our favourite shops, our best ever finds and what it is that makes charity shopping so special.
Kezia: Milly! I miss the charity shops...have you missed them during lockdown? I have!
Milly: I’ve missed them so much! Charity shopping brings me so much joy - I’ve missed setting aside days for charity shop expeditions and also just popping into one when I’m close by.
Kezia: What are you wearing right now?! Any charity shop finds?
Milly: I’m actually wearing my favourite pair of jeans which are one of my best finds: they’re vintage Versace from a charity shop in the west end of Morecambe!
'I too have been mourning the tactility involved in charity shopping'
Kezia: Woah what a find! I’m wearing Depop trousers so not quite bringing it on the charity shop front today - Depop is great but I miss going into shops and touching clothes. In fact, my best charity shop find was with you! We went to the Cancer Research shop in Lancaster, and I bought three men's tops for a total of £9. I love all three of them, especially the oversized white polo neck!
Milly: I remember that day! I too have been mourning the tactility involved in charity shopping; I found myself seeking out new (old) clothes on platforms such as Depop and eBay but it’s definitely more of a gamble. Plus, buying second hand online isn’t as charitable. I'm all for supporting smaller businesses & individual sellers of course but it’s just not the same.
Kezia: Yes - when I make a charity shop purchase and it doesn't work out, I always think, ‘oh well, the money’s gone to charity so it doesn’t matter’. Also no postage involved which makes it extra sustainable. Which is your favourite charity shop or stretch of charity shops?
Milly: For me it’s definitely a real close tie between Morecambe’s West End charity shops, Kendal’s charity shops as a collective, the Cancer Research on Market Street in Lancaster (all items are £3 and under!) and The Magpie’s Nest in Govan, Glasgow. What are yours Kez?
'I think on reflection that my best finds have been from charity shops which appear to be less curated and more jumbled'
Kezia: Ahh what a brilliant collection of shops! I love the Cancer Research, after you introduced me to its wonders, and I have to give Bristol’s Gloucester Road a shout out as there are some great ones there.
Milly: Ooh you’ll have to take me sometime! I think on reflection that my best finds have been from charity shops which appear to be less curated and more jumbled - I think what you find has a lot to do with how staff have chosen items to suit a particular shop aesthetic, or not at all. I love a real random selection.
Kezia: I love your eclectic taste, I feel like you’d find treasures in any kind of shop! I agree - too curated can feel a bit fake sometimes. In Bristol some of the shops that seem to be appealing to ‘edgier’ students (some vintage as well as charity shops) just have whole sections of one kind of clothing. I like a mixture, not just rows and rows of patterned shirts or carbon copy Levis!
Milly: I live in Hillhead in Glasgow and I hadn’t experienced a ‘boutique’ charity shop until I moved up here. The premise of a few shops near me is to sell mostly designer items, which I’m not personally interested in, but I think that it’s a great alternative for those who can afford labels/high quality clothing which has been specifically selected. I love noseying through what they have, despite it being totally out of my budget!
Kezia: It’s mad how charity shops can be so expensive sometimes when they’re those curated overly aesthetic ones! What about books and homeware? Any particular shops or finds stand out?
Milly: In terms of homeware, charity shops have been an absolute goldmine - I now own two Le Creuset pans. Both were under a fiver and in great nick! Brand new, my griddle pan would have been about £140. Most of my cutlery is also lovely old silver/silver nickel which I certainly wouldn’t be able to afford brand new! I also have a gorgeous handmade bowl from a charity shop that is my favourite thing ever.
'the shop smells gorgeous as it’s full of old books, and navigating through the twists and turns of the place only adds to the experience'
When it comes to books, I am absolutely besotted with The Old Pier Bookshop on Morecambe prom and love to top off a good day of charity shopping with a wander through its labyrinth of bookshelves! I’ve had some real good art/history book finds in that shop - I could spend houuuurs in there. The shop smells gorgeous as it’s full of old books, and navigating through the twists and turns of the place only adds to the experience.
Kezia: Yes - I too love this shop! It’s a second hand rather than charity shop but definitely deserves a shout out as second hand bookshops massively struggle these days because so many people buy books off Amazon (a.k.a the devil!). I can’t believe we haven’t talked about this shop before! I’ve only been once - weirdly I went on New Year's Day this year when I was massively hanging and I needed to practise my driving, so I drove to Morecambe in my friend's car and we went to this bookshop. It’s amazing! Such an eclectic place. I’ll also shout out the Oxfam bookshop in Kendal which I went to a few months ago; it has such a brilliant selection of really recent books - I’m pretty sure I saw a copy of Sally Rooney’s Conversations With Friends in there, which I imagine got snapped up really quickly. I bought TS Eliot poetry (a beautiful sea green edition) and a David Nicholls book.
Milly: I should have mentioned the Kendal Oxfam Book Shop too! Two summers ago I found 4 huuuuge hardback picture books on historical/contemporary jewellery (I study silversmithing and jewellery design), including one of my favourite books Riches of the Earth which was a magical find - I’m so inspired by the contents of historical books, all of which have been charity shop finds!
Kezia: It’s so good you’re reading for your course but not just set texts - finding random secondhand books as well. The pottery book I gave you for Christmas came from the Assembly Rooms in Lancaster - so another second hand shop! I also bought my dad a great jumper from a Bristol charity shop (one in the Cotham area) a few years ago. Have you given any good charity shop gifts?
'I love when you find vintage pieces as clothes were made with such a high quality in the past which has deteriorated a bit with throwaway fast fashion that’s made these days'
Milly: My favourite book! That was one of my favourite presents ever, let alone one from a second hand shop! My other favourite charity shop piece would be a great pair of thick, cobalt blue dungarees which were gifted to me by my friend Anna. It’s hard to find good quality workwear without paying a lot, so they were a real godsend and are hardy enough to work in! They’re also one of my favourite colours.
Kezia: Yeah, I love when you find vintage pieces as clothes were made with such a high quality in the past which has deteriorated a bit with throwaway fast fashion that’s made these days. This is also why it’s so important (when you can) to invest in quality pieces rather than cheap clothes that are made to wear out. Having said this, I feel less guilty buying fast/high street fashion from charity shops as I’m giving clothes a second life. So, charity shops should be opening soon - where will you go first? Is there anything you’re looking for in particular?
'I think a seminal part of charity shop rummaging has to be allowing yourself freedom in what you’re hoping to find'
Milly: Aaaah I’m so excited! I think I’ll let the re-opening buzz simmer down first, so I’m not adding to the crowds at this time, but I know that next week I’ll be hitting every single charity shop on Byres Road (near my flat), face mask on of course. I’m not looking for anything in particular - I think a seminal part of charity shop rummaging has to be allowing yourself freedom in what you’re hoping to find. I feel like charity shops can be fortuitous at times, but the best finds are the ones you didn’t know you were looking for! What about you Kez?
Kezia: Yes - I need to remember this! I am a bit militant when it comes to shopping sometimes because I’m quite minimalist in what clothes I like to own, so struggle to make impulse purchases. But those three men's tops from Cancer Research really changed my mindset - I had no idea I was going to buy them and I love them all! Having said that, there is one thing I’m on the lookout for - some white cotton/linen material with which to make a wrap skirt. I’ve got really into sewing during lockdown, and particularly love adapting clothes, but am fast running out of projects without the charity shops open! I’d love a really summery and lightweight skirt, and think a wrap skirt would be quite easy to make. I’m hoping some old curtains or something similar would do the trick!
'the mystery of charity shopping is the whole fun of it, and I am desperate to be back amongst the second hand clothes hunting for treasure'
Milly: I know that there is a sign-less charity shop in the West End of Morecambe - on the same street as the Cats Protection - that has usually got a load of fabrics upstairs. The shop says ‘BARGAIN STORE’ above the door, which I think is an old sign, so I’ve never actually known which charity I’m supporting! My two best finds are from there; a few years back I bought a genuine Yves Saint Laurent 80s polo neck jumper and some 90s Calvin Klein high waisted jeans (a real good thick denim, too) - both were £1 each. But then again, be prepared to find nothing, too. The mystery is part of the fun.
Kezia: Woah… my heart stopped as you typed that! £1! That’s crazy - I can’t wait to go. You’ve summed it up perfectly there Mils… the mystery of charity shopping is the whole fun of it, and I am desperate to be back amongst the second hand clothes hunting for treasure. Hopefully we’ll go together soon!
Milly: Yes a distanced charity shop run? Masks and all!
Kezia: Yes definitely. I hope everyone reading has got some inspiration to give their local charity shops a go as well! Me and Milly highly recommend!
Milly Keir is a maker of metal things. She studies silversmithing & jewellery design at the Glasgow School of Art and has a penchant for charity shop endeavours, wild swimming, skip diving and beach combing. View her work on Instagram - @mildredkeir_jewellery.
Kezia Rice is the Founder and Editor-in-chief of imprint mag.zine. As well as running imprint, she makes a podcast @kezsbookshelf, and can often be found taking scissors and a sewing needle to her clothes or having a refreshing dip in one of Lancashire's rivers.