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Proud Mary Portas

…And so she should be, with another of her chic charity boutiques opening in Clifton. With thoughts of her chosen cause, we raided the rainy day fund and stopped by for a browse and a chat

Retail expert and broadcaster Mary Portas’ Living & Giving stores are charity shops with a difference – filled with designer donations all sold for Save The Children. The young people’s organisation has just updated its Bristol community store to one of these special boutiques with Mary’s help – we took five with the ‘queen of shops’ to find out more…

TBM: How did the idea to redefine the charity shop come about?

Mary: I began working with Save the Children back in 2008, when I overhauled their worst performing charity shop and turned it into one of their best performers, as part of the BBC television series Mary Queen of Charity Shops. Off the back of this I then became Save the Children’s retail ambassador and worked with them to create Mary’s Living & Giving shops. Unlike most other charity shops we use the local community as inspiration and sell beautiful, high quality pre-loved designer and high street clothes in a boutique environment. They are a collaboration of people’s ideas, beliefs and values – local people doing what they can to make a difference to children around the world.

What do you like about Bristol?

What’s not to like? I remember coming here when I was doing my high street report and the energy and upbeat outlook of the people made me feel at home. It’s a really inspiring mix of historical architecture, modern art, eclectic music and independent food and fashion outlets. I couldn’t think of a more perfect place to open our next shop!

Tell us a bit about the new store…

It seemed a no-brainer to open it in the heart of Clifton, one of the UK’s most famously beautiful shopping destinations. The area has the perfect combination of independent and boutique shops, cosy cafes and scenery. Every one of our 23 Mary’s Living & Giving shops takes inspiration from its surroundings and the Bristol shop will be no different. The shop itself is designed to celebrate the traditional Georgian architecture of the area with more of a contemporary interior once people get inside. The juxtaposition of original features like the stained glass windows against more abstract fixtures inside the shop, is a nod toward Bristol’s progressive art scene while still respecting its history. And to keep some local flair we’re collaborating with local signage artist James Cooper which will certainly bring a unique vibrancy to the shop. We’re waiting on details of stock donations but we always have a brilliant array of donated designer and vintage items for people to get their hands on at shop openings. We are so excited to be among the shopkeepers of Clifton and look forward to meeting more of the community.

What’s the best aspect of the venture for you?

Mary’s Living & Giving is like a perfect shopping equation: community inspired and run destination + ethical shopping + incredible bargains = happy customers. But I think for me it’s that all money raised from the shops goes to Save the Children, helping the world’s most vulnerable children. It’s a total win-win situation.

What are your observations on Bristolian style?

Much like the aesthetic of the city centre I’d say it is diverse, colourful yet classic at the same time. As Bristol has a big student population I’ve noticed a lot of great vintage outfits on the streets and there is definitely a locally sourced aesthetic that makes Bristolian style so individual. This works well for Mary’s Living & Giving as not one item is the same so everyone will come away with something unique!

Where would we most likely bump into you shopping at the moment?

I’m a big markets girl. Most Saturday mornings I’m there. There’s a brilliant one in Stroud, near where I have a house, and it’s full of fresh produce, food and independent craft makers.

What do you think of Bristol’s independent shopping scene?

Obviously I am extremely passionate about Britain’s high streets as I believe they are the heart of every community. I’ve been banging the drum for small, independent retailers for some time now as I truly believe when these businesses thrive, so does the entire local economy and community. So many town centres are struggling at the moment which is why Gloucester Road, for example, is so completely wonderful – it’s one of the best examples of how shops selling locally sourced and produced items can really thrive.

What has been your best find at a charity shop or car boot?

I love china or glass rummages if it’s not one of my shops. I bought a beautiful Spode china plate with two exotic birds on – my daughter’s fave plate to eat off.

Most treasured possession from a charity shop?

My Celine mac from one of the Living & Giving shops. You don’t get many of those in any second-hand shop!


August 2020
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