Charity Shops and Conscious Consumerism

It’s dubbed “conscious consumerism.” Instead of donating money to a worthy cause, you buy ‘gifts that give back’. Then you go about your shopping safe in the knowledge that you’ve done a little bit of good. With more and more people considering the ethical and environmental impact of their purchases, conscious consumerism is sure to be the way forward.

Of course, there are already plenty of ‘giving’ schemes. Tesco do it with children’s school uniforms in their ‘You Buy One, We Give One’ range, donating a complete school uniform to children in Sri Lanka, Kenya and Bangladesh. TOMs, the footwear brand known mainly for their espadrilles, operates a ONE for ONE giving program where every pair of shoes bought is matched by one given to communities around the world. Over in the states Blanket America gives a donation for every blanket bought. And, oftentimes, you’ll buy tickets to an event and there’ll be a clause saying “x per cent of ticket sales goes to such and such a charity”.

But we mustn’t forget there has long been another way of “conscious consumerism” and one that has traditionally given back directly to local communities: charity shops. The earliest example of one allegedly popped up in Wolverhampton in 1899, but the charity shop really took hold during the Second World War when the Red Cross opened several hundred “gift” shops as they were known. Fast forward to the present day and charity shops are still thriving. According to the Daily Mail, there has been a 30% increase in the number of shops since the financial crash in 2008.

Despite accusations that charity shops cause “High Street decline”, research conducted by think tank Demos has reported that they benefit the high street in numerous ways, boosting local business, combatting unemployment and even tackling social isolation. By recycling items they are also hugely green businesses, lowering emissions by an amount “roughly equivalent to the entire carbon footprint of Iceland.” Furthermore, charity shops are clearly answering a need; and not just one for cheap stuff. Demos found that 80% of volunteers at charity shops were working there to gain retail experience as a path to paid employment. The majority of volunteers also cited socialising and improved physical and mental health as an added benefit of the work.

This is something that Mustard Tree can attest to. While our shops are a way to make the charity more self-sufficient, they are moreover a gateway into our community and a platform for many of our volunteers and clients to gain valuable life skills. At our headquarters in Ancoats and at our Eccles & Little Hulton shops, you can see first-hand the impact that the shop has and how the sale of donated clothing, furniture and other items helps fund our cause. When you’re thinking about giving to charity, we know that what puts a lot of people off is how difficult it is to see the impact of your donations. At Mustard Tree it is much easier to see where the money goes. Just come in and see for yourself!

But our guess is not that many of you know about Mustard Tree’s shops? While those who frequent the Northern Quarter will have no doubt popped into second-hand shops such as Pop or charity shops like Oxfam Originals, they might not have ventured that little bit further. Yet head up Oldham Street and onto Oldham Road and you’ll find a new addition to your bargain-hunting, ethical-consuming ways. Getting lost? The shop’s entrance is opposite the Pagoda-like structure of Wing Yip’s building. For those in the Salford area, the Eccles & Little Hulton shops were set up for those clients who struggle to make it into Ancoats.

There’s a huge range of items on offer across the shops: we take furniture and have three vans that collect large items such as sofas, beds and wardrobes; we have a wide variety of clothing (not currently in Little Hulton) from the practical to the stylish; and we stock household goods and electrical items. All electrical equipment is PAT tested and checked to ensure it is functioning correctly before sale. We also offer a 25% discount to anyone in receipt of housing, employment or incapacity benefits.

But (here comes the moral of the story!) for this cycle to continue, we need you to donate your unwanted items. People are looking for cheap, warm clothing. So what can you do? Take a little time out of your day to sort through your stuff and see what you could part with. Look back over the year: have you got a hoard of jumpers that haven’t seen the light of day in ages? Is there a Slow Cooker gathering dust in a cupboard? Maybe you’ve upgraded some furniture recently? Don’t cart it all off to the tip or dump it in a bin as happens all too often. Come see us instead.

You don’t have to donate in order to help, however. After all, that’s what this post has been getting at: buying is helping. You can visit our shops and potentially find the perfect gift for friends and family this festive season. Or you can pop in for a browse and inquire about all the projects we have going on. Either way, we hope to see you soon.

Written by Jamie Faulkner, FireCask.