In this series we talk to the individuals and companies helping retailers become greener businesses – highlighting the tools, technologies, and options available to support a change in environmental focus.
Acclaimed British designer, Wayne Hemingway, made his name in retail by building up the Red or Dead brand in the 1980s and 1990s, but now he’s pursuing a green dream.
As co-founder of Charity Super.Mkt, a new charity department store concept that launched in January 2023 and which has popped up in several locations across the UK, he’s now beating the drum for circular retailing and a fresh charity retail approach.
Charity Super.Mkt, which was co-founded by Hemingway and the CEO of charity retailer TRAID, Maria Chenoweth, is a multi-charity fashion store concept offering a new take on second-hand clothing. So far it has arrived in pop-up format in five locations, each selling items curated from a range of charities.
It comes at a time when consumer spend has been squeezed, focus on the environment and reducing waste is high on the agenda, and the concept of pre-loved fashion is en vogue. According to Hemingway, against this backdrop there is potential for growth as well as for longer tenancies than the six-week slots it has been trialling to date.
What is Charity Super.Mkt and who are its partners?
Charity Super.Mkt popped up to much fanfare at Brent Cross Shopping Centre in January, selling goods from the charities TRAID, Havens Hospice, Barnado’s, Shelter, Cancer Research, Age UK, Marie Curie, Emmaus, SCT and All Aboard.
The partner charities receive 80% of the revenue taken without having to worry about the cost of retail space and energy bills. The other 20% of income covers the staff wage bill, marketing activity and other operational costs such as shop fitouts.
Bringing charity retail together like this was a unique move, but Hemingway and Chenoweth have repeated the trick with pop-ups in Reading, Manchester, Glasgow Fort shopping centre, and Bristol. And so far business has been good, according to Hemingway.
He describes the impact and interest in the stores as “incredible”, saying the Brent Cross shop took £375,000 in six weeks, Reading took about two-thirds of that figure, and “Glasgow went off like a train”.
“The queues at Glasgow [when it opened in June] meant we had to bring more tills in and increase staffing levels,” he adds.
“The concept totally works, the public love it, it works for the charities financially, and it works for the shopping centre owners because of the increased footfall. The adjacent retailers are all asking us to stay longer.”
Hemingway says there is consumer demand for affordable clothing as energy bills, interest rates, and inflation remain high – and there is also a generation of new shoppers who want to shop more circularly to reduce their impact on the environment. However, he says the shop is relevant as a retailer in its own right.
“When you get an average of ten charities in there you have massive choice,” he notes.
“With the different curators it’s difficult not to find something good in there. In a single charity shop – you can get around them quite quickly. For us, the scale works. Like Topshop at its height, there is something for everybody.”
Fashion with a purpose
It is intriguing Hemingway uses Topshop as a comparison, because it is the fast fashion concept the old Arcadia brand perfected in the 1990s and 2000s, and which has become so pervasive with many brands online since, that Charity Super.Mkt is providing an alternative to.
Hemingway, who sold the Red or Dead brand he had built up with his wife Gerardine for a multi-million pound fee in 1995, says Charity Super.Mkt has purpose at its core. The charities represented in its shops all help raise money for areas in society that require funding – “the money can go to good causes that will help consumers”, he explains.
“When you buy something in fast fashion you’re caring about yourself, but when you go in Charity Super.Mkt you’re caring for others as well,” he argues.
Hemingway, who alongside Gerardine established Hemingway Design in 1999 specialising in affordable and social design projects, acknowledges retailers are starting to be better at addressing issues of sustainability, but says the industry is “only scratching the surface” of what can be done.
He bemoans the “tonnes of greenwashing going on” in the industry, too, and describes fashion retail’s circular thinking as emerging but being at a nascent stage.
“You can’t ignore the fact that generations are learning about and caring about the environment, so retailers know they need to cater for it,” he says, adding that brands need to design for longevity and consumers need to start thinking differently about how they use and care for clothes.
“We encourage clothing donations in our stores – if people could think about what they don’t need, what they can take with them when they go to buy new clothes [that would be an encouraging development],” he says.
“We’re very early days – we’re only into one or two generations thinking like this. We’re not at a tipping point because people aren’t actually feeling acutely the impact of climate change. There will be points where people do start to feel it.”
Old ideas and future plans
There are several retail take-back schemes that have cropped up in recent years, many of which are covered on the pages of Green Retail World. Lots of them are well established and provide a great way to resell items and keep goods in circulation, but Hemingway questions the impact of some of them.
He says not all of the clothing collection in store should be dressed up as sustainability-focused, saying that often what is gathered in store from consumer donations is sold on at which point their end destination becomes unclear.
“Retailers don’t need to be selling overstock to commercial rag merchants, and they are wrapping it up in sustainability,” Hemingway says, encouraging retailers to consider the charity route first where there are experts who can keep these garments in circulation.
More Charity Super.Mkt pop-ups will emerge to help with that, while freshening up the charity retail sector in the process.
The 62-year-old Hemingway says thrift, reuse, and “not wasting anything” was a core part of his working class upbringing in the north-west of England, long before it became the big market opportunity it is today dressed up as the pre-loved revolution. Now as co-founder of Charity Super.Mkt he is offering consumers a new way to apply their thrifty sensibilities.
“We’d like a semi-permanent shop,” he explains, adding that if the right opportunity materialised in a busy retail thoroughfare they’d consider staying for a year.
“The great thing about pop-ups, though, is they keep the excitement going and people flock to them – we’re proving that,” he says.
“People know they only have a limited amount of time to experience it – that’s great. But there is hassle in setting up and breaking it down again. We also know this concept will work in busy location, but we only started in January and we don’t want to run before we can walk – we’ll see where this all goes.”
The direction of travel is pop-up format in Manchester on 19 September 2023 and then Bluewater, Kent one week later. It seems as if there is consumer demand for the concept and inclination from the co-founders to build on their initial success, meaning more could be on the way soon after.
At Green Retail World we are giving greener retail champions, like Wayne, Maria and Charity Super.Mkt, a chance to explain how they are helping retailers become greener businesses. Please contact editor, Ben Sillitoe, if you’d like to put yourself forward for an interview on this key subject. Sharing good practice can help the wider sector move in a positive direction.
[Image credit: Chris Watt for Charity Super.Mkt and Glasgow Fort]