Interview: The Oxfam Boutique

Last week the Morgan Quarter hosted an alternative Student Lock-In, with the mix of independent and high street stores offering a chance to snap up some great discounts. The Oxfam Boutique located in the heart of the Morgan Quarter showcased their sustainable fashion, shaking up traditional notions of charity shops. I caught up with the Boutique’s manager Catherine Lye to find out more about the store and Oxfam Boutique’s plans for the lock-in.

Obviously you are charity-based shop, but could you tell me a bit more about the philosophy behind the Oxfam Boutique?

Saffron Foronda
Saffron Foronda

Oxfam Boutique is unlike many charity shops in that it is fashion focussed, with a particular emphasis on sustainable fashion.  We are trying to break away from the traditional view of charity shops, which unfortunately have come to have a negative stigma attached in more recent years. We recognise that with a changing high street, we need to keep up.

Oxfam’s overall ethos of empowerment remains the same, but the way we go about raising money differs. The shop is displayed in colour blocks and the shop adopts an overall boutique-feel – many of our customers walk into the shop without even realising it is a charity shop! The perceived high standard of the shop has a domino effect on the quality of donations we receive from the general public which are then used for our displays.

Do you find people hold certain pre-determined opinions surrounding clothes from charity shops?

Absolutely – however I tend to find that the people holding these misconceptions are often those who have never actually shopped in charity shops! In any shop you will find a hidden gem – but it is the shop’s responsibility to showcase that gem! That’s what we try to do here – we use the items that are donated and the skills and expertise of our volunteers (some of whom come from a fashion and art background) to merchandise the store and display these goods so that they appeal to the public. If customers can see that a shop takes pride in its self they are more likely to see the worth of what they have to offer; and then any misguided opinions about charity shops will disappear.

There has been an increase in the popularity of vintage in recent years, have you seen an increase in the number of students coming into the shop in search of vintage/second hand items?

Saffron Foronda
Saffron Foronda

We are very fortunate within the shop to have such a wide range of customer – we really do have something for everyone. It is true that the trend for vintage clothing has meant that younger people are more likely to come and seek out items, which previously may not have been considered desirable to their age group. This really is great for Oxfam as we are so conscious of recycling and upcycling – we have minimal waste.  It is fantastic to see clothes get a new lease of life and great that younger people appreciate the quality and value of these vintage items.

Can you tell me a bit more about what you have going on for your lock-in event?

Our shop-in event is a great opportunity to promote our store and raise awareness for our cause – as we discussed earlier, students are an important part of our market and it is great having the opportunity to specifically target them. Because we are raising important funds for charity we are not giving a discount on items (although our prices would compete with any offer other shops would give at discount prices on the high street!). Instead, we are holding a raffle sale with prizes including a £50 discount at Jamie’s Italian, gift cards for M&S and facials at Molton Brown. The shops have donated all of these prizes and we are so grateful to them for their support. Pure Gym has also provided us with free personal training sessions, and these will be available to the first ten people spending £14.99 or more. We are having a mini fashion show with live music by Dominic Griffiths. It should be a great night!

Finally, what do you think of the Morgan Quarter as a location? Do you feel it helps set your shop apart from other high street stores?

The Morgan Quarter is the perfect location for our boutique, in that it is filled with beautiful independent shops, which really suit our style. We are based on the opposite side to where the main shopping area is, so we will always have that to contend with in terms of getting passing custom. However the shop is beautiful set on the corner with windows along two walls – it is nice being separate from the high street, in that I feel that the Morgan Quarter has something unique to offer people – a rare quality to find on the high street these days.

Words: Jess Rayner 

Photos: Saffron Foronda 

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