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‘They just seem to be trending now’: Charity shops flourish due to sustainability shift and rising living costs

Stores are going upmarket to tap into customers’ preferences for vintage style and are using apps to make things easier for consumers

Charity stores are going upmarket to tap into customers’ preferences for vintage style and have turned to apps such as Depop and Vinted to make things easier for consumers.

The charity shop model has adapted as more people are looking to charity shops for fashion, as outlined in a survey released by the Charities Regulator on Tuesday. Some 54 per cent of all respondents said they have bought something from a charity shop in the last 12 months, an increase of 8 per cent.

The survey found that the number of people who have donated goods to charity shops in the last 12 months has gone from 43 per cent in 2020 to 57 per cent in 2023.

They are no longer just somewhere to shop if you cannot afford to buy clothes anywhere else, due to both a growth in sustainable shopping and the rising cost of living.


Lenka Pustay, a customer at the NCBI store on Camden Street, takes her 11-year-old twin daughters shopping once a month in the charity shops between George’s Street and Camden Street.

Originally from Slovakia, she moved to Ireland in 2006. Pustay said that when she first arrived in Dublin, she thought that people in the West “live a bit more wastefully”.

“In Slovakia, at that time I came in 2006, many people would not just buy things for one occasion when it comes to clothing, which I also wasn’t raised to do,” she said.

“Even before the girls were born, I promised myself that I am going to be buying clothes in charity shops because I think it’s the price we should be buying them for, no matter what the brand is, and I’m trying to teach them that.

“The name of the brand nowadays, it’s not as it used to be, it’s not the assurance of quality anymore at all,” Pustay added.

She said she buys her daughters’ shoes in non-charity shops – but even so, their football boots “fell apart”.

The entire outfit Pustay was wearing while shopping with her daughters came out of charity shops. She found her jeans in Amsterdam in 2005, from a bag left on top of a container of clothes.

“So these are almost 20 years I have them for, so somebody must have had them before me and they are back in fashion.”

Olive McKevitt, manager of the NCBI’s shop in Dún Laoghaire, has worked as a manager for the charity for the past eight years and has worked in a number of its stores.

“The one thing I have noticed is over the past few years, charity shops have just made a massive comeback, where they just seem to be trending now,” McKevitt said.

“When I was younger, you wouldn’t go into a charity shop – you shouldn’t be seen going into a charity shop or coming out of it, there was always a stigma attached to it.”

McKevitt added that people’s mindsets are completely different than they were in years previously, but that rising living costs have played a part too.

“I think that people are realising that now that you might spend €10 in a charity shop and it may be second hand, but good quality, it is in good condition and you’re walking out with something better than what you were planning on buying somewhere else.”

The NCBI also has online Depop and Thriftify accounts where they sell vintage items, and have vintage clothing rails in shops country wide.

Laura McDonagh, from Dublin and living in Canada, was charity shopping with her boyfriend while back visiting her hometown for the week.

“I personally love looking for vintage stuff, just because I like the cuts and the colours. There tends to be better fabric choices because there was like a lot before polyester and rayon and stuff like that, when you go pre-80s, so I think the quality of clothes tends to be better,” McDonagh said.

“I prefer to shop second hand where possible because I am trying to cut back on my carbon footprint, and just love a deal – you cannot go wrong in finding nice things for four quid.”

Another charity shopper on Camden Street, Maura McCormack from Sligo, used to manage the NCBI shop in Tubbercurry.

She feels that some charity shops have got “extremely dear”.

“They are looking up the price of the brand on the internet and seeing this is a valuable brand, we’re going to charge X pounds. People are not going to buy at that expensive price, they want value when they go into a charity shop,” McCormack said.

You have literally every walk of life you could imagine, from young to old, to rich to poor

“Who is going to pay €50 for a dress in a charity shop? Okay, they might have found that it’s an expensive dress, but no one is going to come into a charity shop and pay €50 for a dress. We expect to get a new dress for €50.

“If that was down the country, it would be €5, that’s the most it would be,” she added, saying that Dublin charity shops are more expensive than others.

Nina Heffernan, who manages the Irish Cancer Society’s charity shop in Dún Laoghaire, said that people “know they are going to get good-quality stuff and designer stuff,” in charity shops, and that “a lot more younger people are definitely now coming in”.

“You have literally every walk of life you could imagine, from young to old, to rich to poor” in the charity shop, she added.

However, designer donations are not as common as they once were, in Heffernan’s experience, following the rise of selling items online.

“People started selling their stuff as opposed to just dropping it. Before, people had nowhere else to give it. If they didn’t give it to family, friends, they would give it to the charity shop, but then they started realising, ‘Actually, I could sell this’,” she said.

“People probably are not buying as many designers. People are not as flush maybe as they would have been, so people are not buying that kind of stuff. Therefore, we are not getting it. They are wearing their clothes for longer, they are just more conscious now, they are thinking more,” she said.

However, demand is still high in the shops, with donations of all sizes ranging from one small bag to 20 full boxes coming numerous times a week.

According to both McKinney and Heffernan, men’s clothing donations are not as common as women’s – with both managers stating the same reasons.

“The men’s section is always the least stocked because we have noticed over the years that men either give you stuff that is fairly new and in great condition, or it is worn to an inch of its life and you cannot actually sell it! There is no in between,” said Heffernan.

“If [the clothes] have been brought in and they are, you know, any way reasonable, it is usually because a wife or a girlfriend is after going through their wardrobe while they weren’t there and brought them all down on the sly, but that is the truth of it, it is usually what they do,” McKinney said.

This ties in with the Charity Regulators report, which stated that usage of charity shops is highest among women, with 60 per cent of shoppers being female.

Ms Heffernan often wonders where clothing items go after they have been bought in the charity shops.

“I think, ‘I wonder where they are going with that, and what journey that will make’, or if someone brings in their wedding suit and then someone else buys it for their wedding – I love things like that, I get a real kick out of it.”