By Jessica Clark
Recently, the environmentally unfriendly effects of fast fashion have entered public consciousness, causing pause for thought amongst those of us wishing to implement sustainable ethics into our lifestyles. Knowing that the fashion industry produces 10 per cent of the world’s carbon emissions and that to manufacture a single pair of jeans uses 2,000 gallons of water (1) – enough to provide a person with eight glasses to drink a day for a decade – makes it harder to frequent high street shops with a clear conscience. But there is good news for the shop-a-holics (myself included) whose sense of delight in acquiring new garments is hard-wired: charity shops. Camden and its surrounding zones offer some stellar options which, as well as reducing clothes waste, let the profits of your spree go towards some valuable organisations and projects. Here is my selection, aided with contributions by Friends of the Earth Camden group:
TRAID, at 154 Camden High Street, sports a particularly colourful array of stock, with the shop’s proximity to the ASOS HQ causing merch from this well-known brand to end up on its shelves. TRAID is driven by the vision of “a world in which the clothes we produce, consume and wear do not harm people or planet” (2), and strives to create this reality through the many branches of its work, ranging from educational campaigns for businesses and the public about the socio-environmental impact of clothes to support projects for those working in the textile industry, including stopping child labour. As well as having a spree at their Camden branch, you can get involved with TRAID by handing in your own pre-loved clothes to one of their banks (four of which are in NW1), or joining in their #Secondhandfirst Pledge, committing to sourcing a chosen percentage of your wardrobe second-hand.
Boutique by Shelter, in the new arcade complex of Coal Drop’s Yard in King’s Cross, offers an upmarket alternative to buying clothes “new”. Its stock tends to be from more luxurious brands, and at the pricier end of the charity shopping spectrum, it offers premium quality with many items donated still with tags on. With its aim to end homelessness and poor housing, Shelter gives a voice to those affected by these issues and provides advice via helplines and online forums. Their work, which saw 33,000 households improve their housing situation in 2018/19, could not be more commendable or necessary. Drop by at 1st floor Coal Drops Yard, Stable Street, N1C 4DQ and if you’re passing through on a weekend, grab a cup of steaming fresh chai at Canopy Market a stone’s throw away – as if woolly jumpers weren’t enough to fend off the cold! More branches of Boutique by Shelter can be found on Finchley Road (173 Finchley Road, NW3 6LB) and by Hampstead Heath (57 South End Road, NW3 2QB).
Also offering items from the higher-end category is FARA in Belsize Park. This charity works with vulnerable Romanian children and young adults, a pertinent endeavour given that Romania has the highest share of children living in poverty in the EU. They also have a store for children’s gear, FARA Kids Charity Shop, in Primrose Hill. Further along Regent’s Park Road, you’ll find Mary’s Living & Giving Shop for Save the Children, whose brand selection is diverse and often harbours beautiful vintage dresses. Other shops from this chain of “charity shops with a difference” are located in Hampstead, Highgate Village and Islington. Their creator, fashion queen Mary Portas, outlines the establishment as “a place for people to collaborate, share, and commune with energy, kindness and love.” (3) Fostering a sense of connection and community, her project both responds to and prompts “thinking about how we live and how we give back”; the shops’ ethos, ambience and hip vibe are as heartening as their stock.
West End Lane (nearest tube West Hampstead) presents a string of affordable charity shops: with All Aboard, Cancer Research UK and Scope all within arms’ reach of each other, it’s almost a mall for sustainable retail options. If it’s homeware rather than personal wear that you’re after, British Heart Foundation Furniture and Electrical at 83 Seven Sisters Road is worth a visit. While in the Islington area, we recommend popping into the Angel branch of Royal Trinity Hospice, where the assortment tends towards sleek and chic. Their branch on Portobello Road also flaunts a satisfying mixture of recognisable high-street brands with quirkier pieces, alongside jewellery and knick-knacks. These are similarly well-priced. Though further afield, Shop from Crisis in Hackney Central merits a mention if you’re out eastwards; I stumbled upon the shop last summer and was impressed by the selection of reasonable, well-kept and genuinely wearable items that it boasted.
At its best, the purchasing of pre-owned clothes can be a creative and exhilarating process: sifting through a myriad of garments to find your Goldilocks fit, each shirt and skirt ripe with a sense of its unique history. Yet it is not a venture without pitfalls, namely convincing yourself to jump on bargains that don’t necessarily fit your style (or your body, for that matter) with the justification that you’re doing a good deed, only to end up with a selection of suspiciously stained, oversized cardigans at the back of your wardrobe that sit around collecting dust for a few years before passing – having never seen daylight – back to the same ether of charity shop railing from whence they came. Risks such as these make it important to find clothes which compliment your style and feel like a treat to wear, not a compromise. I hope that this selection provides some assistance and inspiration on that front, though these are just a fraction of the many great charity shops present across London’s high streets.
As the days grow longer and lighter, and Spring (though still defiantly absent) peeks tenderly around the corner, we welcome in a year in which we can rally together with more motivation and passion than ever before to help our Earth and those who inhabit it. Sporting a sustainable wardrobe to match this intention will benefit some worthwhile charitable causes and aid reduction of the 22,000 tonnes of clothing that goes to landfill each year. It’s also great for your wallet!
Do you have photos of your own charity shop finds that you’d like to share? If so, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org or Instagram with the tag @camden_friends_of_the_earth for the chance to appear on our blog!