LONDON--The Big Smoke put on a sunny smile just in time for the grand opening of Mary Portas' Living and Giving shop this past Saturday morning.
Portas, a retail guru and brand consultant--well-known in the UK as the Queen of Shops--teamed up with international children’s rights foundation Save the Children to overhaul the charity shop concept. By appealing to designers and hot brands for donations (think past-season samples), her team has created a thrifting experience that’s less Primark and more Prada…just the way we like it.
Despite considerable pre-opening buzz, the scene in Westbourne Grove still came as a surprise. The shop was the only place on the street boasting a line of people waiting to enter, and volunteers kept the atmosphere festive by distributing cupcakes and Vita Coco to those queued up.
Inside, a quick browse turned up a purple Antonio Berardi cruise dress for £300 ($372), a £195 ($240) Bottega Veneta purse, and one pitch-perfect midnight navy chiffon dress with sequin underlay by Betty Jackson for £70 ($87). Sunglasses by Stella McCartney, Dior and Chanel jostled with V&A teapots, and plenty of Prada shoes (too small, alas), filled the remaining shelf space.
Committed bargain hunters arrived early—the first woman through the door waited outside from 8:00 am, snapping up a new Mulberry Alexa bag in dusky pink leather with snakeskin trim for £300 ($372). That purchase buoyed the takings to £2,500 ($3,100) in the first hour, halfway to the opening day goal of £5,000 ($6,200). Volunteers quickly converted the staff bathroom into a second fitting room to keep up with the pace of shopping.
But there were still gems an hour in—a nearly full Chanel cabinet attested to that.
“Yeah, we’re really considering buying one,” said Vicki Sizer, 25, then laughed. More seriously, she said that she and her friends aren’t thrifters, but that she’d definitely make the trip from South London to shop again.
Portas, famed for her intuitive sense of what a brand needs and sensible advice to shoppers (never shop on a Saturday, preview the goods online, etc.), has whipped up a charity shop that feels like a boutique. It’s impressive, with the rails and rails of cut-price designer goods—for now. After all, as with any thrift store, there’s only one of each item, and key pieces are going fast.
A Save the Children representative said that the shop will continue appealing to brands for samples, and events--around LFW, perhaps--should keep the fashion community’s attention on the charity’s efforts. But in the age of eBay, how can a store that depends on donations ensure it stays haute?
“It all depends on the donations that come in,” a Save the Children spokesperson said. “It’s really up to the community.”