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Photo by Susana Grau
Vintage shops home
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Photo by Susana Grau
Le Swing vintage shop
Le Swing vintage shop, Notariat 3 (tel. 93 301 9870) and Riera Baixa 13 (tel. 93 324 8402)
The smell of old ladies’ cardigans. Jigsaws with missing pieces. Well-worn paperbacks. Frankie Goes to Hollywood 12-inch singles. Faded wedding dresses. Back issues of Reader’s Digest. Mournful, empty photo frames. Souvenir teapots from Whitby. Clothes with a story to tell.
People may not realise they even miss them, but there is an alarming lack of charity shops in Barcelona. What do folks do with all their unwanted things after a clearout? How can they be sure they’ll go to a good cause, and where does a shopper look for something that is more original than the latest designs to hit the racks in H&M, but that won’t bust the budget?
Charity shops started in the UK in 1948, when Oxfam opened a small shop in Oxford to help Greek civilian victims of the Second World War. Today, there are over 7,000 charity shops in Britain that raise £110 million for local, national and international charitable organisations, and they are largely staffed by volunteers.
Unlike thrift shops in the US that exist to provide cheap clothes and goods for the local, often poor community, the raison d’être for charity shops is to make as much money as possible for their causes. Charity shops do exist in other countries; New Zealand, Ireland and Australia, for example, all have networks of shops, but not to the same extent as the UK. So what about Spain? Why are there so many charity shops on the rainy isle and so few here?
David Moir, from the Association of Charity Shops, said it all has to do with history: “The culture of charitable giving in the UK was really established by 19th-century philanthropists, and the creation of bodies such as the Salvation Army. In other societies such as Spain, such altruism and charitable activities were more generally provided via the Church and its communities.”
However, while the high street here is not dotted with as many charity shops as elsewhere, there are various places to find decent, cut-price and often unique fashion pieces.
For thrift shop addicts and Brits used to a charity shop on every corner, Barcelona has relatively slim pickings. However, for those who like standing out from the crowd and are searching for something different, there are other options. For instance, there’s plenty of vintage. To the cynics, vintage might appear to be a euphemism for expensive, but bear in mind that vintage shops are normally run by people who know what they’re doing. They effectively save customers the tedious task of scouring through rails of rubbish to find what they’re after.
The Raval, Gràcia and the Born are all great places to find that special something. Gallery on Torrent d’Olla has carefully selected vintage at reasonable prices, and Lailo is one of several shops on Riera Baixa that boast outfits from as far back as the 1900s. Retro City, with outlets in the Raval and Gràcia, is another good hunting ground for one-off pieces and Le Swing near Pintor Fortuny focuses on clothes from the Forties, Fifties and Eighties.
For those who have just moved house or had a spring cleaning, there are places where hand-me-downs can be taken to help others. The cooperative Roba Amiga, in conjunction with the Obra Social de Caixa de Catalunya and Solidança, have a network of orange metal containers with the Roba Amiga logo for donations of unwanted clothes and shoes. These are located around the city and at each ‘punt verd de barri’ (‘green’ neighbourhood recycling point). Donations of clean clothes in good condition, as well as shoes, bags and accessories are all welcomed. Unlike Oxfam, which raises money for projects, Roba Amiga is a job creation scheme. Cast-offs left in the containers get sent to a warehouse in Sant Joan Despi.
Here, the clothes are sorted and sent to the network of Moda Amiga shops. Profits from the sale of the clothes pay the wages of the warehouse staff who are all people socially at risk or marginalised by society. Working for Roba Amiga is often the first step back onto the job ladder for many of its employees.
In Barcelona, there are various Moda Amiga shops including one on Carrer Sant Salvador in Gràcia; the shop is open during normal business hours, and is small but busy. Prices are a little on the steep side, but as shop assistant Jade Ogden (an English volunteer no less) points out, there are gems to be found. Cheaper items can be found at the Moda Amiga shops in Cornellà or Mollins de Rei, but if it’s Versace a customer wants they are more likely to find it in Barcelona.
And then there are the bins. For those who don’t mind getting their hands dirty, take a tip from the Wombles and head to the streets. Not used to the charity shop culture, most Catalans leave their unwanted clothes out by the grey rubbish containers found on every street.
One of those who makes good use of what is left behind is Lucas Doffo, an Argentinian who has been living in Barcelona for the last 18 months. He’s picked up all sorts of interesting bits and pieces in the streets, from clothes to antique furniture, and is particularly partial to a blue Seventies jacket he came across. “About 20 percent of my wardrobe comes from the street. Normally clothes are left in bags or suitcases and not in the bins themselves; all they need is a good wash and they’re as good as new.”
Isabelle Demais, from France, agreed. “The streets of Barcelona are like a free market. I love it.” She said she draws the line at underwear or shoes, but has a flat and wardrobe full of streets finds, from furniture to plants, expensive brand names to clothes with the price tag still on. Her message is simple: seek and you will find.
OVER TO YOU: WE ASKED THREE READERS IF THEY BUY SECOND-HAND CLOTHES HERE
Country: Germany; In BCN: 14 months
“I usually buy my clothes on the high street at Zara, Mango and Bershka. I have never bought clothes second hand and probably wouldn’t. I don’t really like the idea of it. I also haven’t ever donated my old clothes either.”
Country: England; In BCN: 2 months
“I would like to buy vintage or second-hand clothes but haven’t found anywhere here yet. I buy from H&M and the high street normally. I have given clothes to charity before back in England but don’t know how to here.”
Country: England; In BCN: 6 months
“I would always donate clothes when clearing out or moving by either taking them to the shop or using the bins but I’ve never bought clothes from a second hand shop. I have bought other things like an old watch or bag though.”
List of all Humana shops: www.humana-spain.org
For a list of Roba Amiga containers: www.robaamiga.net
Information about who the Roba Amiga projects help: www.solidanca.cat
Gallery - Torrent de l’Olla 117, tel. 93 551 0191
Lailo - Riera Baixa 20, tel. 93 441 3749
Le Swing - Notariat 3, tel. 93 301 9870; Riera Baixa 13, tel. 93 324 8402
Moda Amiga - Sant Salvador 39-41; for a full shop list, see www.fundaciocaixacatalunya.org
Retro City - Tallers 51
First published October 2008