Resale therapy: charities reinvent former Topshop to take on Depop and eBay
There’s a DJ playing funky tunes, colourful ice-creams and even more colourful outfits from animal print coats to a sequined jumpsuit at the latest opening in north London’s Brent Cross shopping centre.
The former Topshop store, empty since the chain closed down two years ago, has been filled not with another fast-fashion name but with secondhand fashions being sold to raise money for charities including Shelter, Barnardo’s, Cancer Research UK, Emmaus and Traid.
Ten charities have clubbed together to create the new concept: Charity.Super.Mkt is a preloved department store, tapping into the trend for vintage fashion and aiming to fight off well-funded commercial competition.
They have recycled the store fittings, the hangers and even some of the plastic bags left behind by Sir Philip Green’s former fashion empire when it went into administration in 2020, to create the vibrant pop-up.
The store, which will be open for at least a month, aims to help change the perception of charity shopping as the rise of trading sites such as Depop and Vinted inspires young people to look beyond fast fashion.
Interest in more sustainable ways of dressing and the rising cost of living have fuelled a boom in trade for charities and online sellers.
“This is a massive market and we are doing this because it is what we believe in,” says Wayne Hemingway, the former Red or Dead designer who has helped pull the project together.
“We believe in the circular economy and the good pound. If you spend here it won’t go to someone who will make a profit and take it offshore and pay no tax.”
Maria Chenoweth, the chief executive of Traid who co-founded the project, says: “It is the first time charities have come together at this level. It has to be a new way of doing business and … be a major competitor against people doing bad stuff.”
Chenoweth and Hemingway persuaded charities to work together to grab a bigger slice of the secondhand market, which is fuelling trading sites such as eBay and Depop (owned by the Etsy craft retail group) and being considered by mainstream retailers, from Primark and Asda.
In the UK, the apparel resale market grew by 149% between 2016 and 2022, and is forecast to rise by 67.5% from 2022 to 2026, with menswear the fastest-growing sector, according to analysts at GlobalData.
Charity shops experienced an 11% rise in sales in the three months to the end of September, according to the Charity Retail Association, while Oxfam said sales rocketed by 40% in the run-up to Christmas as shoppers turned to their local high street for sustainable presents.
A household name for many years now, eBay has stepped up its marketing recently with the sponsorship of the ITV reality show Love Island, a slot previously dominated by fast-fashion brands such as I Saw It First. The participants have been wearing secondhand outfits, chosen by celebrity stylists, and in the winter series they will be able to wear secondhand trainers authenticated by eBay. Next month the brand will sponsor an Oxfam catwalk show at London fashion week.
Kirsty Keoghan, the global head of fashion at eBay, says the partnership with Love Island has prompted a 1,600% rise in searches for preloved fashion on the site. “People are trying to make more conscious decisions about how they consume,” she says.
The trend has been driven by new ideas – such as trainer cleaning and brand verification services – and the cost of living crisis squeeze on disposable cash, Keoghan says, as people have realised they can get “great quality items at a great price”.
Local councils are often keen to push out charity shops from their high streets, says Hemingway, seeing them as a mark of failure. He added: “They are in cloud-cuckoo-land. They should want more of them as this is the right direction in how people are consuming.”
He says the rent-free spot in a large and well-known shopping centre such as Brent Cross could help “change hearts and minds” as it would bring new shoppers to the centre and give existing visitors something different to peruse.
The group have had interest from around the country, as landlords look for ways to fill large empty shops, and Hemingway says the group is considering whether they could open permanent outlets together or something more like a “rock tour” with big flashy pop-ups appearing in cities to create a big event.
Back at Brent Cross, as social media influencers scour the Charity.Super.Mkt rails, taking pics amid the throngs of opening-night visitors, Cancer Research UK’s Nick Mountain looks pleased. “Sustainability is the latest thing on the high street,” he says. “We are big on social media and we’ve watched it grow and grow, and the customers are getting younger and younger.”