Favourite Charity Shop

swee-charityIf you haven’t already been, get down to the British Red Cross shop on Old Church Street in Chelsea. The small shop is a total treasure trove for fashion junkies, packed with vintage and designer goodies all donated by the designers themselves or by countless fashion-savvy locals. Once you’ve been, you won’t be surprised to learn that this shop, run by Cathy Shimell, now has a huge following.

Shimell initially got involved only by chance. Nipping into the shop one evening to pick up an evening suit for her son, she got roped into helping a friend manage it. But when the friend then left – “clothes aren’t really her thing” – Cathy took over. Unlike her predecessor, Cathy had worked in fashion since she was sixteen (Biba, Harrods, Fenwicks) and been surrounded by clothes her whole life. Four years later the shop is now by far the most successful Red Cross shop in the area (there are eight others), raising up to £8,000 a week and has just had a massive refit to accommodate even more clothes.

Shimell is ruthless when it comes to choosing her stock, no M&S, no Gap, nothing high street at all except Jigsaw, for which she makes an exception. Everything has to be vintage or designer, and anything she doesn’t want is passed on to the other Red Cross shops. She sifts through everything that comes into the shop herself, which means she always knows exactly what she’s got and can therefore provide a fantastic personal service in helping you find what you are looking for, plus she knows exactly what suits people. Her eye for vintage, both clothes and jewellery, is exceptional, (“mainly because I’m old”), and she is full of horror stories of people chucking out treasures such as an Ossie Clarke Black Label dress, just because they looked a bit ragged. Other dealers now come into the shop to buy things to sell on at a huge profit.

Cathy now also holds two annual sales, designer and vintage, towards the end of the year. Last year’s designer sale raised £20,000 in just two nights and had people queuing round the block, desperate to get inside and snap up bargains by Vivienne Westwood, Voyage, Pucci, Marc Jacobs, Christian Lacroix. The list goes on and on. The combination of a glass of wine and some retail therapy, all in the name of charity, seems to work, so get in there quick and get on her mailing list. The sales are by invitation only.

— Lucinda Baring


British Red Cross
71, Old Church Street
London SW3 5BT
Tel: 020-7877 7000

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