Free Stylin' It.

Boy it feels good to step back through the doors of my local charity shops. Nothing but nothing beats browsing, pondering, holding garments in my hand and really looking (trying on is currently paused but that's ok, refunds are the norm, but you knew that, right?). After what feels like months and months staring into their closed shop windows, at rather tired looking Christmas decorations, it's a joy to see the shop lights back on, familiar faces smiling back and to hear the tills ringing, the sector - so desperate for earnings - announcing record sales (Oxfam reporting a 77% rise compared to 2019; Cancer Research UK took half a million pounds, more than double their expectation and The British Heart Foundation recording £1m in sales).

So, what's going on? I think it's simple: our online boredom factor has well and truly kicked in. We seek human interaction, we want to see stuff IRL, to meet up with friends, we'll even join a queue, hover outside a shop window and it's why, I think, the high street will regenerate and evolve. To quote founder of global fashion platform Farfetch José Neves "fashion is not downloadable". Did you hear that? FASHION IS NOT DOWNLOADABLE. This has to be my favourite quote EVER because even José with his mahoosive online empire recognises that 3D retail: bricks and mortar, a shop window with a door and HUMANS are very much part of the offer, the acquisition of Browns in 2015 a clear commitment to getting up close to the customer.

As I'm sure José would agree, nothing lures a customer into a shop like the window display, the teaser for what's going on inside. Big brands spend huge budgets working on themes and directions with merchandisers adhering to strict style guidelines. Charity shops are polar opposite: no budgets, no merchandisers and no repeat items in the stock room if something in the window sells. But for me - as someone lucky enough to dress my own local Cancer Research UK shop - that's the sheer joy. The world is your oyster to be creative, playful and impulsive, you can 'speak' to your customers in a way many a merchandiser would kill for. Set up a DJ booth in the shop window (done it); sat on a whicker chair in the window reading my book (done it); dressed the *mannequins as half mystical animals, half plaid clad bikers for the Christmas window display (done it). Scrawled in chalk on the pavement 'Step this way for Louis Vuitton' (done it). 'Buffet' dresses as seen on the Great British Sewing Bee - yeah let's go with that this week and while we're at it we'll tag in Patrick, Esme and Joe, because we can.

A moment on *mannequins if I may. If you are an extraordinarily kind fashion brand with spare, clean, full working mannequins, that you would be proud to have in your own shop window, can you please donate them to your local charity shops. You will be making a difference. Thank you.

Here's my shopping list for getting noses up close to your window and feet through your charity shop doors:

  1. Scrap the guidelines: give your shops the autonomy to dress their windows their way.

  2. Champion examples of colleagues' window displays. Get talking: share it internally, what works well, what sells, what customers are saying.

  3. Hand over your window - like an Insta takeover - see what other creatives can do.

  4. Have the right tools: *working mannequins, good overhead lighting, pins and clips, a clear window, an a-frame ladder.

  5. Tag in the brands - you're giving them the opportunity to piggyback on the sustainable message - they'll love it.

  6. Keep it refreshed. If key items sell, think about redressing the window, far better than having a mixed-message, confused theme.

  7. Think like the big players. You have a blank canvas, be as bold and confident as you can. Take inspiration from Liberty, Selfridges, John Lewis, Fenwicks...

  8. Less is more. Resist the temptation to shove in a vase of dried flowers. What is it adding?

  9. Stand outside and look. Does it tell a story? Is there a theme? Can you add in accessories, price tags, a chalk board with a handwritten message? Would YOU stop and stare.

  10. Does it make you smile and feel proud. Good windows should make you dance a jig.

CJ x