So, January, eh? Only the biggest month EVER for charity shopping! The shelves are BENDING under the weight of not-quite-right Christmas presents, and the rails are rallying in protest at being crammed with gorgeous clothes as all the New Years Resolution Keepers declutter their wardrobes. (Are you one of them? I wish I was but minimalist is never going to be my bag.)
A few weeks ago I posted my own best Charity Shop Tips and today, as a thrifty treat for you lovelies I am going next level with six MORE tips from an industry insider and charity shop queen. Welcome, Missie Lizzie of the wonderful blog Me and My Shadow who is guest posting below. Not only is Liz a crafty and thifty wizard but she is also one of the nicest people you’ll ever come across, and here she reveals her strategy for nabbing great bargains for toddlers…
I love charity shops. Can’t get enough of them. Every time I go to a new town or visit a new place, I’ll pop in to their charity shops to see what they have on offer. To me you can’t beat the satisfaction of finding a vintage gem, a bargain hand-knit or a budget price designer piece.
In the UK, approximately 1.5 – 2 million tonnes of textile waste is generated each year and of this, around 1.2 million tonnes enter the household waste stream and end up in to landfill. Textiles present particular problems at landfill as synthetic fibres don’t decompose and although woollen garments do eventually rot down, they emit methane gases which contribute towards global warming.
Charity shopping is ethical, cheap and original.
Before I had my daughter, my job for 4 years was in this sector and I managed two charity shops – one the traditional shop selling clothes, books and bric-a-brac, the other selling second-hand furniture. I could tell you plenty of stories, but that’s perhaps for another time.
I’m going to share my top tips for getting a bargain. These are mainly aimed at purchasing kids clothes, but could equally apply to adult clothes or other bits and bobs. For some reason there always seems to be a shortage of kids clothes for the 2-4 age group, and I’ve never figured out why. You can get any number of sleepsuits for babies, or high-fashion outfits for 8 year old girls, but the toddler age group always seems to be thin on the ground. I still however manage to buy quite a few bits for my daughter, and intend to make the most of it before she gets to the ‘I wouldn’t be seen dead in second-hand clothes’ stage! Here are my tips:
Most shops have a ‘rotation’ policy – typically around 2 weeks. If an item hasn’t sold within that time it is taken off the shop floor and sent off to another store, usually a ‘sale’ store. You need to call in as often as you can or you’ll miss out on items. When I worked in charity retail, there were a hardcore of people who ‘did the circuit’ popping into every charity shop in town every day. No matter how well we thought we’d integrated fresh stock into the rails, they would seize on it! These people can spot a ‘new’ jumper or jacket at 50 paces. For this reason, the best items don’t hang around long, and if you only go into a charity shop once in a blue moon you are unlikely to find many real gems.
Most shops are staffed by volunteers who are giving their time freely (although many have a paid manager). Take the time to say hello or good morning. Not only is it nice to be nice, but if you build up a relationship with the staff, they will generally see you right. If there’s something specific you are looking for, then let them know. I often used to keep bits aside for regulars who I knew were looking for a particular item. We referred (privately of course!) to people whose name we didn’t know as ‘teapot lady’; ‘linen lady’; ‘gold lady’ or ‘toy car man’ depending on what their purchasing habits where. We also had a ‘stockings and bra man’ but I won’t go into that.
Dropping donations in is also a great way to build up a good relationships, so have a clearout and take some stuff in to your local shop. While we’re on the subject of being nice, you’ll find a packet of biscuits or a cake never goes amiss with volunteers!
Look outside of your size-range
Most charity shops now will have presentation standards which include size cubing on hangers. These generally go by the label in the clothes, but if there is no size inside the garment, it will be a pure guess. Go by eye – you know what size your child needs. Just like adult clothing where one manufacturer’s size 12 might be smaller than another’s size 10, the same applies with kids clothes. Also, you can often buy completely outside the usual size range. For example my daughter is 2 and a half, but she can happily wear a top for a 5 year old as a dress over jeans or leggings. I also recently found a beautiful needlecord floral print skirt that was for an 11 year old. I cut it in two horizontally, re-elasticated it and got 2 skirts for the price of 1. Easy, a moron can (and did) do it.
If you see something you like, buy it there and then if you can. Don’t assume it will still be there tomorrow. Of course, unlike regular shops, these items are one-offs – they don’t have an endless supply of similar items out the back! Going back to my earlier point, if you’ve built a relationship with the staff, you may be able to ask them to hold the item for a few days if you don’t have the money on you. My advice would be, if you like it, buy it! Check if the shop has a returns policy, so you can bring it back with a receipt if it’s not right.
Look out for hand-knits
Hand made jumpers look great on kids, however I’m pretty useless with knitting needles. Many shops have knitters who donate beautiful new jumpers, cardigans, hats and scarves etc. I often think they’d be horrified if they saw they were being sold for a couple of quid. Some shop managers have a personal dislike of hand-knitted items (goodness knows why!), so its worth asking if they have any ‘out the back’. And if you’re as naughty as me, once you find a gorgeous hand made Aran jumper, you’ll put in on your child and pass it off as all your own work.
Visit them all!
It is often said that charity shops in more affluent area have better quality of stock. I don’t necessarily agree with this, but they do generally have higher prices! A lot of the national charities’ shops are stocked centrally, with items coming from bag-drops (doorstep collections), and these are usually from outside the area. Only a small percentage of the items on sale within a shop will have come via local people donating directly to the store. Don’t be put off visiting a shop because of the area it is in.
Don’t be put off unduly by imperfections
You may think this controversial, but before an item reaches the shop floor, it will have been sorted and met certain standards. Most shops don’t have laundry facilities, so perfectly good quality clothes which are not clean will often end up being sold on to a rag merchant rather than being sold to customers (so if you’re donating, please please wash the clothes first!). For this reason, you will rarely find an item with a mark or stain on, or a missing button. But if you do, they are well worth considering. I have bought many items at knock down prices because they have pen marks or paint on. Most will come out in the wash or with a bit of stain removal – but it is a gamble so think carefully. Also, haggling in a charity shop is not de rigueur! The price on the ticket will probably already reflect any imperfection with the item.
Those are my ‘insider’ tips, hope you find some of them useful. If you have any of your own, please do share via the comments box, and I’d love to hear about your fab finds.