There’s been a lot of talk in the recent years about the gentrification of charity shops via the use of the online fashion resale app, Depop. Gentrification effectively means that a more affluent group of people begin to invade a space of a lower income community because of its initial low cost-of-living and potential for regeneration. In doing so, their presence and influence begins to raise the retail and property prices of that area - to the point that the original community can no longer afford to live there. The hubbub surrounding the supposed gentrification of charity shops has been so much so, that I actually wrote my dissertation on it. I won’t bore you with the 12,000 words of it now, but I can summarise what I covered.
A brief introduction
It felt like both sides of the argument had it completely wrong. One side was arguing that when young, middle-class people (usually white) buy large quantities of clothing from charity shops to resell on Depop, it drives up in-store prices for the local, lower income customers. The other argued that too much was being thrown away by charity shops to care whether prices were being driven up or not - bulk buying was better for the greater good.
Having actually worked in charity shops myself, I can say that there is a middle ground between these two. While it is true that only between 10-30% of donations end up being sold on the shop floor, this is not a green light for over-consumption. In some areas, bulk buying might drive up prices, but as my research found, there is simply not enough data to determine whether this is a consistent trend or not. In reality, there are many other greater factors driving up charity shop prices, such as national inflation and weekly targets set by each shop’s head office.
So how do your consumption choices actually affect charity shops and the wider world?
1. Only buy what you need - or really want
‘Need’ and ‘want’ are very subjective terms. While one person might want one particular new winter coat because it matches their aesthetic, another might need twenty in order to resell and provide themselves with an income. Neither is really wrong or right - and when done mindfully, neither is unsustainable. As mentioned, there is a substantial surplus of clothing and other wears in charity shops. Bulk buying not only clears space on the shop floors to allow charities to accept more donations, but also raises money for the cause - win-win!
When not to buy? It’s simple really. Do not buy items that you can envisage yourself throwing away, or re-donating in a few weeks time. This is when things become really unsustainable. In landfill, the items are doing the most harm; you could have left that item to someone else who would have given it a ‘forever home’. Not to mention the environmental damage.
Re-donating is not ideal either. In re-donating, you are giving charity shops and their volunteers additional work at a reduced capacity, and this is what can drive a rise in prices. Furthermore, when charity shops are at max capacity, they may have no other option than to dispose of items, which undermines the whole purpose of the shops in the first place. Think, purchase and repurpose sensibly!
2. Judge less, consume less
There’s a lot of hostility within this debate. At the end of the day, purchasing from charity shops is always going to be more sustainable than buying first-hand from fast-fashion brands. Before you scathe another from buying 5 pairs of jeans from your local Oxfam, ask yourself ‘how can I better my own consumption?’ Try to think and act in a way that benefits everyone, and most importantly - avoid fast fashion!
Fast fashion, my dissertation determined, was the root cause of almost all problems that charity shops (and, by association, lower income customers) face. Depop is not your enemy. To some, like it once was to me, it can be a lifeline in times of financial uncertainty. If you are passionate about the work charity shops do, and keeping them affordable for all, I implore you to get involved. Volunteer. Share kind and mindful information about responsible second-hand consumption. Insert: ‘be the change you want to see’ quote. Most of all, be respectful.