Upcycling is the new black

We’re all becoming increasingly aware of the impact of fast fashion on the environment, and how reuse is becoming the ‘new normal’ – meaning charity shops are finally being seen as the high street heroes we’ve long known them to be.

For the last 80+ years, charity shops have been quiet eco warriors, encouraging reuse and recycling not just of textiles, but also homewares, toys, books, music, furniture and pretty much anything else you can think of. According to the Charity Retail Association, in 2018/19 alone, charity shops diverted 339,000 tonnes of waste from landfill – a remarkable achievement.

So, with the increased awareness and desire to behave in a kinder way to our planet, how are charities responding and readying themselves for this new wave of supporters? Upcycling and remodelling is becoming increasingly popular and charity shops are a great place to start.

Some charities have been thinking creatively for many years. Back in the early 1990s, Oxfam set up a sub brand called NoLoGo which remodelled clothing and fabrics, creating high end, unique pieces which were snapped up in London and Leeds where the branches were based. This article about the founder Janette Swift, published in The Independent in 1991 could have been written yesterday, it resonates so strongly with today’s zeitgeist.

Karen Dennis, a trained pattern cutter and early champion of upcycled clothing worked with Janette in London and then with our own Vicki Burnett to set up a workshop and specialist department in a Leeds city centre Oxfam store which ran successfully for several years. The pictures below – kindly supplied by Karen – show a range of the items produced by NoLoGo the time – including a copy of the famous Liz Hurley dress made at the request of the Yorkshire Evening Post.

Skip forward a decade or so and we see more of this kind of work. Once again, Karen and Vicki collaborated – this time on an upcycling project called Martin House Makers for Martin House Children’s Hospice, encouraging anyone with an interest in crafts and sewing to upcycle and remodel items for resale. The project produced a wide range of upcycled goods, including Christmas decorations made from donated buttons and beads, bags and bunting made from fabric scraps, knitted outfits for Barbie dolls – and upcycled high end fashion as shown in the picture below.

Pic: By Leanne Clarke – upcycled clothing made by Martin House Makers & modelled by volunteers

These days, we are seeing lots of this type of project running in charity shops and beyond. Sue Ryder, for example, has a ‘Remade’ section in some of its shops (Headingley shop pictured) and Charity Shop Chic is just one of many blogs showing how to upcycle pretty much any item of charity shop clothing.


There are lots of ways to tune into and benefit from this wave of interest. Running workshops in shops (in or out of hours), having resident volunteer fixers and sewers based in the shop or from home, running events, writing blogs or making “how to” videos on transforming your charity shop purchase into a unique item are just some of the ways to engage the modern eco-conscious customer.

With years of experience in this field, the Charity Retail Consultancy can help, advise and support you in developing an upcycling offer that suits your shops and your team. From defining the right offer for you, developing volunteer role profiles, building a business case to invest in staff and resources, setting up a workshop space, building marketing programmes and running training courses, we’ve got it covered.

For a small investment, we can provide you with all the guidance, materials and training you need to help establish a long term engagement and income generating project within your shops.

So – what are you waiting for? Get ready to ride the upcycling wave and see your profits and profile soar.

Get in touch:

Email us at: hello@thecharityretailconsultancy.co.uk

Call Vicki on: 07985 574904


Featured pic at top of post by Leanne Clarke. Holly is wearing upcycled clothing from Martin House Makers

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