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Charity retailers deserve support amid price criticism, says Chief Executive of Traid

By Don-Alvin Adegeest


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Traid Charity shop Credits: Traid website

In recent weeks, charity retail has faced criticism for allegedly overcharging customers with inflated prices. This narrative overlooks the crucial role that charity shops play and misrepresents the sector, which has a long history of supporting vital causes. Maria Chenoweth, Chief Executive of charity retailer Traid, published a thought piece on on how clothing is priced within charity retail.

Charity retail, which dates back to 1870 with St Agatha’s flower shop in East London, has evolved significantly, Chenoweth says. From the Salvation Army stores aiding war veterans in the late 19th century to Oxfam’s extensive efforts starting in 1947, charity shops have raised essential funds for a diverse range of causes, including cancer research, homelessness, and educational support. These shops address gaps left by other systems, offering unparalleled contributions to society.

The sector now contends with the massive challenge posed by ultra-fast fashion, characterised by extremely low prices and unsustainable practices. Charity shops are often expected to offer even cheaper alternatives, despite the inherent sustainability and ethical advantages they provide. They aim to educate consumers about the negative impact of fast fashion while promoting the reuse and recycling of quality garments.

"The industry is being tasked to be the answer to a cost-of-living crisis and be cheaper than a fashion market flooded by ultra-fast-fashion brands drowning in 1 pound t-shirts and 3 pound skirts," says Maria Chenoweth. "What is being asked of charity retail? To mop up the fashion industry’s mess and sell for less than the cost of turning the electricity on? Educating people on why buying cheap, unethical, and hugely unsustainable clothing is the wrong choice? We maximise the potential of the clothes you no longer wear; demanding change from a throw away, fast fashion culture that continues to destroy this planet."

At Traid, where Maria Chenoweth has been chief executive sine 2003, garments are meticulously sorted, priced, and dispatched to ensure fairness and relevance to their market. Reducing prices, as some critics suggest, would undermine their ability to fund important causes. Instead, scrutiny should be directed at corporations driving up operational costs, thereby straining the resources available for charitable services.

Traid exemplifies the positive impact of charity retail

Dedicated to transforming the fashion industry, it funds global projects supporting garment workers, organic cotton farmers, and more. Their efforts have led to significant achievements, such as establishing free daycare centers in Bangladesh and securing Ethiopia’s first organic cotton certifications. By selling second-hand clothing, Traid has supported 700,000 garment workers, repurposed 233 million garments, and saved substantial amounts of CO2 and water.

Critics often overlook the motivations of charity retail workers, who are driven by personal connections to the causes they support and a commitment to maximizing funds for these causes. It's crucial to reassess charity retail's value, recognizing its contributions to sustainability, community support, and global impact.

Fast fashion
Maria Chenoweth