Peggy was in London at the end of December, and of course found time to go thrifting. She filed this report.
In the United Kingdom, if you’re looking for thrift stores, you’ll want to search for “charity shops.” Customarily, they are single stores run by churches and nonprofits. But several British charities, including The Salvation Army, Oxfam and British Red Cross, operate stores in multiple locations.
In London, one such charity shop chain is run by the Octavia Foundation, which has 23 locations across London. We found the one in Chelsea, on Brompton Road, just two blocks from the famed Harrods department store and shouting distance from the Victoria and Albert Museum. Another famous full-price nearby store, Harvey Nichols, had a sign urging shoppers to “get it or regret it,” which seems to us to be the motto of charity/thrift shopping too.
The Brompton Road Octavia shop contains 70 percent new items, with tags attached, a much higher percentage than its sister stores. Why? Retailers donate goods to the shop and many of the residents of this high-income neighborhood donate never-worn items as well.
As a result, the ground floor is a designer boutique with high-end labels such as Max Mara, Armani and Chanel, as well as silk pillows and some housewares. The upstairs inventory represents a mix of manufacturers and prices, from pristine, Italian-made leather boots for $180 to Osprey leather wallets for $18. The shop carries men, women’s and children’s clothing and accessories, all in top condition and arranged in front of cheery pink walls.
“We receive a lot of clothing donations from Hugo Boss, Gant and Harrods,” said Giusy Domingo, the store’s assistant manager. “It helps us support the Octavia Houses for the homeless and for single mothers.”
This shop also has held two-day designer sales, in 2016 and 2017, that raised $13,500 and $8,800 respectively, and featured goods donated by labels such as Burberry, Hermès, Marc Jacobs and Nina Ricci.
The charity is 12 years old and honors the name of noted social reformer Octavia Hill, who died in 1912. Hill pioneered British housing reform, finding investors to rehabilitate London slums into safe housing. Her influence spread to America, where two Quaker women studied her methods in London and brought them to Philadelphia in 1896. The Octavia Hill Association remains in business there, managing hundreds of units of reasonably priced housing.
In London, the Octavia Foundation charity stores all have bright red storefronts. Each store carries copies of the book, A Life More Noble—Reflections on Octavia Hill’s Ambition of Nobility for All. The book includes passages contributed by dozens of famous and not-so-famous people reflecting on the founder’s mission of helping those affected by ill health, social isolation, low income or unemployment. One very relevant thought was contributed by artist Grayson Perry, winner of the 2003 Turner Prize, who said, “Paying tax is one of the noblest things we can do.”
Proceeds from book sales help fund an annual holiday party for Londoners without friends or family. The charity estimates that sales from its shops help improve the lives of more than 2,000 Londoners each year.
Octavia Foundation Shop, 211 Brompton Road, SW3 2EJ. 020-7581-7987 http://www.octaviafoundation.org.uk Open Monday –Saturday 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.; Sunday noon – 5 p.m.