5 Minutes With…Claire Whittaker

Charity Shop Fashion

Claire Whittaker works part-time for Oxfam GB as a Shops Marketing Coordinator. Having studied art and creative writing at university she puts her creativity to work supporting Oxfam’s high-street shops and promoting preloved fashion on Oxfam Fashion blog and twitter. Claire first became involved with Oxfam 10 years ago as a shop volunteer so loves spreading her passion for charity shopping as part of her work. Outside of her work at Oxfam Claire fills her time with dance choreography, eating far too much fairtrade chocolate and is currently setting up her own virtual ethical craft stall.

With Claire’s love of charity shops along with her work at Oxfam and ethical craft stall, I thought it was only right that I ask her to feature on this ol’ blog and luckily for me – she agreed. So here it is. Five minutes with Claire where we chat all things Oxfam, charity shops and how to bag the best of the second-hand bargains.

When did you become interested in charity shopping?

My Mum started volunteering at our local Oxfam when I was in my early teens and I used to go along with her during the school holidays. I quickly became resident ‘fixer-upper’ for the clothing and accessories section.

I’m a total Womble so I love hunting around and finding the hidden potential in things. I hate seeing things that might still have life in them heading to recycling when a few stitches could make all the difference!

Charity shopping quickly becomes addictive with the promise of the next amazing find just a rale or two away. Plus being a bit of a hoarder does mean that I already I have a wardrobe overflowing with finds so charity shopping is a great way to shop without the guilt, I mean it’s all for a good cause right!

How did you become Oxfam’s Shop Marketing Coordinator?

I first got involved with the team when I applied for the Shops Marketing Internship. After a lifetime obsession with charity shopping, upcycling, writing, designing and with basic training in HTML coding the role was an absolute dream come true! It was the first time my Pinterest addiction was praised as a productive use of time! We have volunteer jobs coming up every now and again so it’s worth keeping an eye out if it sounds your cup of tea (in fact there’s some live at the moment!)

Because I enjoyed the role so much when a role opened up as a Marketing Coordinator I jumped at the chance. I didn’t actually get it at the time, which I was fully expecting as I didn’t have enough experience but what I wasn’t expecting was that they would come back with a counter offer and offer me a 3 month contract as a Marketing Assistant. This meant that when another Coordinator role opened up a couple of months later I was able to reapply with much more know-how for the job. Oxfam are a really supportive organisation to both their staff and volunteers and there are loads of options to get new experiences, from training to opportunities like volunteering at a festival or going on an exposure tour to see the work that happens around the world. I’ve definitely learnt a lot since I started!

What does your role at Oxfam involve?

A lot! We’re a busy bunch! There’s just 5 of us in the team for over 620 shops so it’s pretty much non-stop. It’s very exciting – no two days are the same. You can end up doing anything from attending the filming of a celebrity volunteering to calling a shop to talk them through reclaiming their facebook page after they lost the login (admittedly a lot more of the second one that the first!) The job is 50% reactive and unpredictable and 50% planning super far ahead (for example work has already started on Christmas 2019! And people say I’m over organised for starting my charity shop Christmas shopping in June!)

Despite still being responsible for the Oxfam Fashion blog and twitter I don’t actually manage much of the fashion side of marketing as that’s done by one of our lovely Shops Marketing Managers. Previously, I’ve been working on more engagement and community campaigns, doing things like the recent update of the Give A Shift volunteer campaign, promoting stock donations and supporting shops with their social media. However, we’re doing a bit of a reshuffle so I’m going to start working on some more retail focused campaigns in the next few months which I’m really looking forward to (keep your eyes peeled for some exciting things to come!)

Charity Shop Fashion

What is your favourite item/outfit you have purchased in a charity shop?

I bought an amazing cadmium red circle skirt from the Oxfam Festival Shop team when they did a pop up shop in Oxfam House. I wear that far too much! It’s got sooo much fabric in it so it does a great fan out if I spin in it (which of course I do because that’s the fun of wearing a circle skirt!)

Another favourite of mine is a red dress in the same shade which has a cute pattern around the neck and hem and is from Oxfam on the Cowley Road in Oxford.

I’ve got into layering skirts or tops over dresses of late to mask the full dress effect and give me a few extra outfit options from my wardrobe and I’ve combined these two recently – red to the extreme, I love it!

Charity Shop Fashion

What are your top tips for bagging a bargain in either the charity shops or on Oxfam’s wonderful online shop?

I feel like anyone reading your blog will probably already be a pro at this so I’ll try and think of something different to the usual suggestions!

I suppose my best tip would just be to try and imagine whatever you’re looking at in the context you’d use it eg for clothing – what do you have at home that might go well to make it into an outfit?

For homeware, where would you use it in your home? Would it be for display or function?

Think about the potential of the item rather than what you see.

Oh, and always have a belt with you when you’re charity shopping (or nab one off the shelves to take into the changing rooms with you!) it’s amazing how an oversized shapeless dress or a skirt with a zip that won’t quite do up because it’s that wee bit too small can be transformed when you top it with a belt!

As for the Oxfam Online Shop I’d have to say look out for the sales, they’re the best time to get something that would normally be out of your price-range or a way of cheaply getting hold of nice fabric for upcycling projects if you buy marked down vintage skirts or dresses in bigger sizes for cutting patterns into. Though of course it’s worth checking without a sale on too as the best items do get snapped up fast!

A massive thank you to Claire for her wonderful answers. You can head to Claire’s ethical craft stall here, and the Oxfam Fashion Blog here

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