Friday, 30 August 2013

The ethical clothing industry: Recycling and buying - Oxfam Lincoln

At all times we are trying to achieve a balance between offering a bargain for our customers, and respecting the value of items given to us by donors; who obviously want us to make as much as possible to continue Oxfam’s work.

With nearly half of the donations Oxfam Lincoln receive being clothing or accessories, you would think that people would be much more aware of the bargain fashion pieces they could find by shopping at charity shops such as this one. Not only a bargain for the customer, but raising profit for the charity and helping to make a change on a larger scale. 

Ethical buying and the recycling of clothes is not a subject that often gets publicised, but it is well worth looking into. I spoke to deputy manager at Oxfam Lincoln, James Grigg, to find out about the ‘ins and outs’ of the charity and its link with fashion and ethics.

For a highly student populated city, I was interested to find out just how much custom is from the younger generation, therefore showing how aware the students are of ethical shopping in charity stores. Lincoln hasn’t got the full range of popular high street shops, for example they are missing stores like Zara and H&M, but it can offer a wide range of boutiques and charity shops –yet it is the boutiques that are more heard of. 

James says: “I would guesstimate about half of our customers might be “younger”. Lincoln is a very youthful city with two universities now, and students always need to stretch those loans –Coming to Oxfam is a great way to get quality clothes cheap; we get a surprising amount of brand new clothing donated, and sometimes get corporate donations too, so you can find some real treasures and great bargains. We also often get students and younger people in looking for quirkier items for fancy dress, or drama students looking for costumes.”

Oxfam ultimately aims to ‘fight poverty at its roots’ and the work they carry out and the profits they earn, all go towards helping make a change towards this. They have a respected reputation to uphold, so not only is their charity work of the highest standard, so is their work within their stores across the UK. 
This means that any donations they receive to the shop are vital – within reason, any item donated can be recycled and either sold in store, ‘up-cycled’, or passed on to deprived countries. Clothing is one of the most common donations that Oxfam receives and they ensure that they make the most out of everything.

James says: “As far as clothing donations go, we pretty much take anything; even if we determine we can’t sell something in the shop, Oxfam has great systems in place to make sure we can make the most out of any clothing donated. We are slightly more discriminating with other sorts of donations; we do not take furniture or plug-in electronic items because we are not equipped to deal with them. And we don’t take cassette tapes and most magazines because we struggle to sell them.

“The first thing we do with donations is sort through to see what we can sell in the shop. What’s left is sent to Oxfam’s processing hub, ‘Wastesaver’,and they sort it again. Something like 20% of what goes to Wastesaver is picked out to be sent to Frip Ethique, an Oxfam social Enterprise in Sengal. Local people there are employed to sort what they get, which is then sold on to traders, so they can sell in local markets. So not only does that clothing find a new use, but it also helps employ people, and encourages people to develop their own incomes by developing their own businesses.

“We actually ran a campaign this year to try and encourage donations of bras to the shops, specifically so they could be sent on to Frip Ethique, where they are the most valuable item of clothing they can pick out. Bras are complex to manufacture, and the tailoring industry locally isn’t set up to produce them yet - even damaged bras find a market there, where people repair them and sell them on.

“The rest of what is sent to Wastesaver is either picked out to be sold in the UK at Oxfam’s Festival shops, or is sorted into fabric types and sold in bulk as fabric. So at every stage Oxfam make some sort of income from clothing donations!”

It is clear that not only shopping in the store, but if you were to make a clothing donation, that it goes a long way to helping people in deprived countries. Such a small gesture can mean the world to someone else – it can help give them a better way of life; opening up business opportunities through Oxfam’s programme’s or generally contributing to making their life that little bit easier. Right at the start of processing the donations, Oxfam look into what they can do with the items, what the best thing to do with them is and whether they will help make a difference.

Ethical shopping is something that more people should be doing and something maybe high street shops could look into helping out with. ‘Fashion’ is a big industry and just a small percentage of any profit the shops make, if it were to be contributed to charities such as Oxfam, would make a huge difference. 

You have the best of both worlds knowing that you’ve found yourself a bargain and that, that bargain item has helped to make a difference somewhere in the world. 

James says: “It makes a huge difference! Clothing is at the core of Oxfam shops across the country, and thus helps us raise many thousands of pounds every year. There is also a big environmental impact; donating clothes to charities effectively extends the life of any given garment; which means it isn't rotting in landfill, and virgin materials haven’t had to be grown, harvested, and processed, to make a new replacement.

"We take this even further with our relationship with Marks and Spencer’s and the ‘shwopping’ scheme; which encourages M&S customers to donate an item of clothing to Oxfam whenever they buy something new. This has been a great source of donations for us, but it goes even further - once Oxfam has sorted the donations, M&S are now buying back some of the donated fabrics to make brand new clothing from the recycled materials!"

Follow Oxfam Lincoln on twitter: @OxfamLincoln

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