GLAD RAGS TO RICHES
When women in the UK wear only ten per cent of their wardrobe and still dream of owning more, it's time to get creative.
Enter the recessionistas – seasoned style gurus who know that buying new clothes is out and snapping up second-hand bargains is in.
And where better to find a cut price designer dress or snap up a bargain pair of Jimmy Choos than Rag Trade Boutique?
In perhaps a somewhat unlikely spot, opposite the Bristol Royal Infirmary next to a pub and a bike workshop on Upper Maudlin Street, Rag Trade Boutique has been offering a unique service since it opened in 2009.
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Run by Alison Taylor, the stylish shop is a great place to hunt for a bargain and a spot where you can even sell your own threads.
She says: "I like to think of this as a big dressing up shop. Typically, people come in here not knowing what they are looking for, some will walk in, have a look around and leave but there is the idea that they could find a real treasure.
"There's a real 'look what I found' idea behind it all and also the option to sell some of your own things."
Shoppers can make a booking to take in a maximum of ten good quality designer items to be sold in the shop.
Within three days, all sellers get an email detailing the pieces Rag Trade Boutique has accepted and the prices at which it intends to sell them.
Sellers then have a week to collect any unaccepted items, after which time they go to charity.
Alison says: "We've all got clothes that we don't wear or shoes that are too tight. Our mantra is refresh, recycle and renew – the value of unworn clothes is amazing really. When money is tight I think more and more people see me as an avenue for their recycling.
"I get offered so much I can afford to be choosy about the pieces I accept. They have to be high quality items, brands such as Christian Dior, Vivienne Westwood, high end labels or boutiques.
"Then there are the high street brands, too – Reiss, Jigsaw and Whistles, that sort of quality. Anything else would have to be something very sought after, or on trend."
The accepted items go on sale at the agreed price for up to five weeks after which time the pieces are reduced by a third for a further two weeks.
If after this time they are unsold they are reduced again to either £5 or £10 for a final week. If the items are still unsold after this time, they are given to charity.
If pieces are sold within the seven-week period sellers get an email confirming the amount they are due to receive.
Customers then have the option to reinvest in the store, collect the cash or request payment direct to their bank account.
"We get such a mix of things from a real mix of people," says Alison.
"We have even had a few items from actresses, things that have been worn on the red carpet. I remember a gold, long knitted cardigan that was brought in and it was bought by a cellist who was going to perform in a concert.
"She tried it on and did a few twirls in the shop and it was perfect for her – I like it when something like that happens."
With more than 1,700 active customers selling their wares it's clear that Alison has perfected the art of recycling – but it is the personal touch that has made her business a success.
She says: "I've done lots of different things. I've been a nurse and an interior designer and then I had a business selling second-hand children's clothes. That's how I came to know about Rag Trade. I like people to come in and feel comfortable, have a look around and try on whatever they like.
"I have customers with wish lists, for particular designers or items that come in, and if I see something that I think a certain customer would like I call them and tell them. I think people like that I think about them. Because of our location we get a lot of ladies popping in from the oncology unit, and they say it's a distraction and a bit of a pick me up to come and try on clothes or to sit and just have a chat.
"I had a lady who had one of her children in hospital having chemotherapy and wanted an outfit for a wedding.
"She really wasn't in the mood for it when she came in but we made her feel a million dollars and she didn't have to feel guilty about it. She still comes back now.
"I really like being here and part of the Christmas Steps Arts Quarter, too. It's great when new people find us and come and shop in this area, as I think it has so much to offer."
Rag Trade Boutique, 2 Upper Maudlin Street, Christmas Steps Arts Quarter, Bristol, BS2 8DJ. Tel 0117 976 3085 / www.ragtradeboutique. co.uk.