How Oxfam rose to prominence in the UK’s online fashion scene

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After reporting 33% growth in sales over Christmas, Trade Director hopes to double the size of its web operation.

It’s one fashion’s most trusted secrets. You can shop luxury brands like Burberry, Prada, and  Miu Miu as a well as the best high street brands for a steal.

Sales were up 33% at Christmas as shoppers bagged vintage and designer clothes for the party season but the company is not listed on the stock exchange like the web giant Asos and there is no chance of it ever being taken over. You might recognize some of these clothes if you pay attention.

They might be your clothes, in fact. Oxfam is a rising star of the UK’s online fashion scene. It scrutinizes the vintage and branded items that are left on its doorsteps each day and casts an increasingly critical eye over them.

“It is a big secret but when people hear about our website they are really intrigued,” says Oxfam trading director Andrew Horton who wants to double the size of the web operation to reach 10% of retail sales over the next three years.

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The website is based in a dark warehouse in Batley, West Yorkshire. Wastesaver is the charity’s sorting & recycling centre. There, 50 employees sort through 80 tonnes of clothing each week.

Horton says that shops receive donations almost every day. “If they don’t have the right logistics to collect donations, it can become a mess. We don’t accept donations from shops that have very small stockrooms.”

Every weekday, clothing is dropped into the warehouse of 80,000 square feet, located just a few minutes from Asos’s Barnsley hub. Bags are placed on conveyor belts and picked up by pickers who scan the bags for saleable items. They then drop them in white sacks labeled “shoes”,’retro”, or “leather”. Milton Keynes also has a second sorting center.

The sacks are then given to a small group of people who are surrounded with moodboards made by fashion students. They alert them to the latest trends and allow them to select the right items for their online shop. Graphic bags, leather gloves, and everything in acid yellow are all expected to be big in 2022.

The Oxfam website has more than 125,000 unique products. This vast catalog includes music, books and clothing. The most popular brands on the Oxfam website at Christmas were Gucci, Whistles, Boden, and Barbour. A search of Oxfam’s boutique reveals a silk .Hermes scarf for PS190 and a Burberry trench coat at PS110.

“I was in Batley to help pack Christmas orders and one was a Karl Lagerfeld jacket from the 80s,” says Horton. “We always believe that those who donate want us trying to raise as much money possible. It’s usually about one-third of the retail price. Lagerfeld jacket cost PS75, which is an affordable price for vintage clothing.”

Oxfam’s 2017 London fashion week catwalk show, where models wore the best of Oxfam’s “preloved”, clothes helped to boost the site’s fashion credentials. Bay Garnett, a stylist at Oxfam, is currently creating the collection.

A team of volunteers works in the Wastesaver warehouse. They photograph the clothes on mannequins, and then upload their descriptions to the website.

Half of Oxfam’s 622 stores do this job themselves, and the charity has invested in technology to speed up this tedious task.

Wastesaver staff find some desirable items and send them back to shops that don’t get enough donations. This includes branches in Cleveleys Guisborough, Bury, and Guisborough. You can save more outlandish items and fancy dresses for Oxfam’s Festival Pop-Up Shops at Glastonbury or Bestival.

Only 3% of clothes that are sorted in Batley are sold or returned to the stores. The rest is diverted overseas or recycled. All summery clothes in good condition, including bras, are rolled into bales made of hay and sold to .Frip Ethique. This is Oxfam’s social enterprise in west Africa.

The UK’s winter clothes, which UK shoppers might dismiss as being too expensive to buy new, are shipped to eastern Europe.

The future looks shabby chic rather than shoddy for clothes that have outlived their useful life. Oxfam’s leftovers are sold to companies that recycle them, where they can be made into cheap woollen yarn for carpet underlay and car seat linings.

The UK retailers had a difficult Christmas, but Oxfam saw like-for-like sales growth at 1.6%. The total sales rose 1.2% to PS16.9 million in the eight weeks leading up to 23 December.

These figures are a small drop in the ocean compared to high-street giants like Marks &amp. Spencer, but Oxfam is on track for annual sales exceeding PS74m this fiscal year. Oxfam’s success can be measured not by its share prices but clean water. Its progress at Christmas was enough to assist 200,000 people in emergency situations.

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