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Eco-thrift #1: The €1 handbag that other handbags want to be… and an open letter to Oxfam Ireland

Soft wine leather. All satchel, no statement. This is the handbag Coco Chanel foretold when she said elegance is refusal. This is simplicity on a strap and it can take you anywhere.

chosen-handbag-on-doorForget the €5 icky wannabes that Penney’s et al. are flogging by the truck load. You just can’t beat supple, well-loved animal skin. And it’s ok to buy second-hand leather because it doesn’t trigger another slaughter.

This one came from a recent ‘everything for €1’ Oxfam sale. Usually, however, I avoid Oxfam because they’re too expensive and that’s not right.

Oxfam Ireland is just one of 18 Oxfams, working in 90 countries to help create ‘a just world without poverty’. Their aims are noble. In fact, one of their goals involves ‘reducing the impact of climate change on the most vulnerable’, something which they report direct experience of in Peru and Malawi.

But shouldn’t charity shops serve two communities? Those the charity aims to serve and the people who buy things in the shops – opportunists, environmentalists and of course, the poor of this society. Why not incentivise buying old stuff to slow the avalanche of new stuff? New stuff means resources get used – raw materials, cheap human labour, manufacturing, transport, packaging – it all costs; mostly carbon. And let’s not forget that when a thing is bought, industry can read that as a signal to produce more of the thing (it’s a success! order more now!), triggering the process again. Who suffers? We all do. Who suffers most and soonest? The people Oxfam aims to help.

Note: with 51 Irish shops, Oxfam is the McDonalds of charity shops and therefore draws the kind of whole-industry aimed flack that McDonalds attracts by the supersized butt-load. It’s the face of the modern, one track, hardnosed charity-boutique, but it’s not the only offender (I’m looking at you, St. Vincent de Paul, Limerick: €8.50 for a cheapo black synthetic top that looks like it’s seen some action down alleyways – really?). Yet despite the overpricing trend which Oxfam Ireland started (I know this because I stopped shopping there first) the environmental angle isn’t news: the Irish Charity Shops Association (of which Oxfam is a member) features the ‘Repair. Remake. Reimagine’ message upfront on their site.

There is an opportunity here to not just talk the talk, Oxfam Ireland. You can help slow climate change and save lives, one pre-loved, Bangladesh-made blouse at a time.

So, what about a charity shop that’s doing it right? A round of applause for my local Irish Cancer Society, a no-frills space where you can pick up a Zara top for €3 or a three piece leather living room suite in great nick for €80. But what about the revenue for the charity, you ask? Well the lovely lady at the counter told me that 200-300 items fly out of there a day (yes, EVERY DAY) and that’s in a sleepy country town with more charity shops than parking spaces. Low prices and BIG turnovers serve everyone better – it’s not like there’s a shortage of stuff in the world, is it? I mean, I picked up ‘the handbag that other handbags want to be’ in a €1 Oxfam sale. Tell me that wasn’t because you too, Oxfam Ireland, are snowed under with stuff, smothering in black bin bags full of things that once cost. Only second time round, you get to price their value. Choose wisely.



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