Page last updated at 14:30 GMT, Thursday, 4 June 2009 15:30 UK

The evolution of the charity shop

By Mario Cacciottolo
BBC News

Mary Portas
Mary Portas says her project allows shoppers to give something back

A fashionable young woman exits from a shop, chatting excitedly to her companion about the Anya Hindmarch bag she bought for £150.

What's unusual about this scene is that the bag's new owner is emerging from a charity shop in Westfield Shopping Centre in west London.

Mary's Living and Giving Shop is being run by Mary Portas, star of BBC Two television show Mary Queen of Shops, for one month.

On a quiet Thursday morning it is the busiest unit by far in the Village portion of the centre, where the designer shops are, and is filled with women eagerly rooting through the rails.

The layout and design are all sharp, attractive, perfectly in place, the stock eye-catching, and the clientele would not look out of place sipping a skinny latte on the King's Road.

But it is, above all things, a charity shop.

We both came here with the idea that we were going to spend while giving to charity
Tara O'Neill, shopper

Ms Portas describes her venture, selling items that vary greatly in price, as tapping into the "zeitgeist of the consumer" as the recession bites and more people than ever before either look for bargains, or feel as though they ought to.

Charities benefit

"This shows how shopping is changing," she says, sweeping her gaze over the still-busy premises.

"What I like about this is that we have put on its head the whole notion of the charity shop.

"The most important thing about this is to think what you're giving back to the world.

"Who says a charity shop like this doesn't belong in Westfield Village?"

The charities to profit from the shop's profits are Save The Children, Mind and Trees for Cities.

Lesley Willis
Lesley Willis thinks the premises are full of high quality items

In her latest series of Mary Queen of Shops, Ms Portas gives advice to charity shops in an effort to boost their image and their sales.

According to Ms Portas, the donated stock for her venture has come from readers of fashion magazine Grazia, as well as "friends, colleagues and brands".

She also hints at maybe asking Marks & Spencer chief executive Stuart Rose for stock.

The premises, on the second floor of the Village, were given for free by Westfield.

Although its intended lifespan is four weeks, Ms Portas says in a stage whisper that "I want it to be here longer than a month".

Michael Gutman, managing director of Westfield UK, said he thought the project was "fabulous".

"We have all seen charity shops on the high street, but I don't think they've ever been done with such style," he added.

'Good quality'

Among the shoppers was Lesley Willis, 42, of Cookham in Berkshire, who described the shop as "like a little boutique full of gems".

"Vintage and re-homed clothing is much more popular these days," she said.

Lucy Axford (left) and Tara O'Neill
Lucy Axford (left) and Tara O'Neill wanted to shop and donate to charity

"And as it's going to charity, you can make yourself feel good and give a lot back."

The lady with the Anya Hindmarch bag, 25-year-old Lucy Axford from Barnes, London, said she thought Mary's Living and Giving Shop was "re-inventing charity shops".

She added: "It's all very good quality, with nothing horrible or old."

Her friend Tara O'Neill, 24, of Richmond, London, had a number of items which included an Oasis sample bag priced at £25, and a top from Warehouse for £5.

"There's a real range of clothes," she said. "It's a really good way of raising money for charity.

"We both came here with the idea that we were going to spend while giving to charity. That encouraged us to come out and shop."

The next episode of Mary Queen of Shops is to be broadcast on BBC Two at 21:00 BST on Tuesday 9 June.



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