From Rags to Riches – The Rise of the Charity Shop

I remember many hours as a child where I would trudge around the shops after my mother bored utterly silly.  I was never a huge fan of clothes shopping as a nipper (I had a bit of an odd podgy shape as a pre-teen), but shopping with my parents’ was worse than having my teeth pulled…  At least if I hit the high street with my friends I could lurk by the rails in New Look or TopShop looking wistfully at the clothes I’d never fit into – but my Mum was attracted to another type of shop entirely.  One that I just couldn’t understand:  The Charity Shop.

I remember how charity shops started to spread rash-like through the village as the smaller independent shops on the fairly disused high street collapsed under the weight of a new “Outlet Shopping Village” full of big name brands.  But I just couldn’t understand what my Mum’s fascination with “un-fashion” was.  To me everything from the charity shop looked as bland and as old as it smelled.  And nothing could reach through my cloud of sulking and feet dragging to tell me otherwise.

But, a decade on, my attitude has changed somewhat…

This weekend I found myself tasked with a plethora of charity shops to explore, but this time it was Mr D’s turn to follow on behind as a dashed excitedly from one to the other hunting for bargains.  I’m proud to say I came away with a skirt (£3.99) and a very nice LK Bennett blazer (£7.99).

Modelling my recent charity shop acquisitions

And that’s the thing – far from the disgust I felt as I teen now, I actually take pride in my finds.  When I wore my new outfit to the office today I couldn’t help but gloat – sharing with my colleagues, not just  it’s humble origin but also the price I paid.  I have to wonder what changed my mind so dramatically.

I don’t remember an eureka moment when suddenly charity shopping made sense, nor am I in such a tight financial pickle that I can’t afford to treat myself on the high street – the thing is I now actively enjoy the treasure hunt.

The smell may still be exactly as I remember it from my childhood, but today’s charity shops are functioning in a very different world then we were in a decade ago.  The economic slump is biting hard, but personally I think the rise in popularity of second hand goods also has a lot to do with the rise of the social web – or if not a direct correlation, it’s certainly been facilitated by it.

It might seem strange to associate the dowdy atmosphere of a charity shop with the fast paced online world, but over the last 10 years with the rise in popularity of sites like ebay and Amazon our homes have slowly been filling with second-hand goods without us really realising. How often did I buy a book off ebay at university for a few pence as it was much cheaper than buying it in the campus shop, or purchase a “nearly new” DVD from an Amazon seller?   Slowly the second-hand culture has seeped into the shiny dynamic world of the internet, and there it is flourishing.

Facebook groups are now popping up across the country specifically for people to list their unwanted items and there are dedicated sites such as Freecycle offering us recession-battlers a forum to find unwanted items for free.  There’s no need to advertise your old sofa in your local corner shop window – the nature of the internet and social networks to allow people to easily connect with strangers without even leaving the living room (and you’ll probably be reaching a lot more people than would have walked passed any shop window).  Second-hand shopping has become so much easier.

You can never wholly predict what you will find when you start rummaging through a charity shop’s stock, which is rather trying to predict online interactions and who you’ll meet online – so maybe it is this very nature that makes both quests exciting.

Or… all high-brow speculations aside, maybe I just got old enough to appreciate the value of a good bargain.

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What’s black, white and read about all over?

You can’t have failed to have noticed the arrival of two immigrants this week as they settle into their new home in Scotland; the little faces of Tian Tian and Yang Guang have been selling papers.

Yang Guang settles into his new home

Ever since the news broke that the two bears would be setting up home in Edinburgh Zoo the panda PR machine went into over drive.  Just since leaving China the two eight year olds have been in the hands of two separate PR agencies.  And they’ve been working them hard – this week the media has been fed with so many panda images you would be forgiven for thinking that your television was still a black and white set.

The FedEx Panda Express

Last year I was lucky enough to visit China, and having stayed in Chengdu, the home of the Chengdu Panda Breeding Centre, I can completely understand why the media is a-buzz with what the pair’s arrival could mean for Scottish tourism.  Chengdu is a city that is built around it’s relationship with pandas – even the traffic signs are in the shape of the fuzzy creatures – so it makes me wonder what Scotland could have in store.  The duo’s arrival on the “FedEx Panda Express” was just the beginning of the marketing  and PR opportunities that the giant pandas inhabitants of Edinburgh Zoo will offer Scotland over the next decade.

I love them, but I won’t forget that pandas are PR animals.

Me at the Chengdu Panda Breeding Centre, Chengdu, China

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