Or, a general ode to charity shops…
Hong Kong is well-regarded globally as an excellent shopping destination. Its gleaming malls, complete with such features as ice rinks, arguably set the precedent for the modern luxury shopping experience we see today in states such as Dubai. I should know, having spent my early childhood being reluctantly dragged around Pacific Place before a 180º turnaround in my teenage years, during which loitering around IFC became a legitimate hobby. Fast forward a couple of years and I’ve picked up some more interesting hobbies, but I never lost my (perhaps excessive) love of shopping.
My love of shopping is, however, very Scottish in character. I’m not a ‘cruise the mall with your flexible friend’-type of shopper. Those who know me know that there’s nothing I love more than getting a good deal – and where better to find a good deal than in a thrift (or to use the non-Americanised term, second-hand) shop? Despite the glamorous image I may portray on instagram (I can’t help it!), I would say that these days I get a good 70% of my clothes in thrift shops – the other 30% are probably direct donations from my dear friend Annie.
It’s not just the price of thrifted goods that attracts me to them, although it does help. Thrift shopping is an essentially guilt-free exercise. It’s good for the planet, cruelty free (see below my fur coat which I adore but would have extreme moral qualms about purchasing brand new), and in most cases benefits a good cause (particularly when the stores are charity affiliated).
Not only does thrift shopping have ethical benefits vis a vis high street shopping, it’s also a great way to access unique looks without having to shell out bags of money on couture. It’s no fun turning up to a party in the same dress as three other people. The number of Realisation Par leopard print skirts (no shade, I borrow my mum’s one all the time) and Zara polka dot dresses I’d see on the tube in London on a given day beggar belief. I’d be extremely surprised if I ever encountered someone else in my lime green Thierry Mugler suit (possibly because they’d find it so heinous; see below). Neither would I currently be able to afford a suit of that quality, let alone a vintage Thierry Mugler one. For the HK$120 (roughly £12) I spent on that suit I could hardly get a flimsy T shirt on the high street.
Essentially, everywhere I go I love to hunt down thrift shops. Half of my mother and my trip to New York in 2018 was spent in thrift shops – the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree – and after nearly two years in London I could map out all of the best charity shops in my vicinity. Thus my three-month Coronavirus stopover in Hong Kong was always going to involve some bargain hunting.
Once again I digress into the storytelling American Midwest Blogger Mom TM stereotype. Please see below for a list of some of my favourite Hong Kong thrift shops and some of my favourite purchases therein, with some tips for other cities and humblebrags about past purchases thrown in for luck!
Green Ladies (Wanchai Road)
As we now live near Wanchai, this large consignment store got a lot of love on my stay in Hong Kong. GL is a trailblazer in its field, the first socially-oriented eco-focused consignment store to open in Hong Kong. Not only does their business model benefit the planet, they also have a specific focus on getting middle aged women into employment in their stores (the store workers are delightful). The store itself is an absolute goldmine, full of high quality, usually hardly used items at super reasonable prices (if anything they could comfortably increase their prices, though I’d rather they didn’t).
Unlike your typical charity shop, GL tries to keep its offerings trendy and current, and only takes things that are largely undamaged. In this sense, you’re less likely to come upon a vintage Hermes scarf and more likely to find a (also beautiful) Zara dress. Some of my finds include a beautiful 100% silk Carolina Herrera dress, a comfortable and easy Zara 80s-style floral dress, and an unbranded but reminiscent of self-portrait pink dress, all detailed below. I definitely could’ve bought more were I not showing restraint – I still think about a beautiful, hardly used pair of Jimmy Choos that was just slightly too small for me.
Green Ladies has three branches – the one I’ve discussed here is the Wanchai one. They are also present in Sai Ying Pun and Tsuen Wan.
Oxfam, Jardine House
My mum has been going to this shop for years – she can’t resist a pop in when she’s in the vicinity. It’s not a large one like GL, but it is full of unique, high-quality goods (I’m not sure if they deliberately curate this one to be chock full of designer goods, but it is in any case). Because it’s so small it can be a little hit and miss, but when it’s a hit it’s a very big hit – on our last trip, we got a beautiful sheepskin coat, some great basics, and my favourite, the bright green Mugler suit. Like other Oxfam shops worldwide, they also stock a substantial selection of fair-trade products (food and otherwise) and all proceeds go to Oxfam.
Oxfam also have a larger outpost in North Point.
Address: LG8, Jardine House, 1 Connaught Place, Central, Hong Kong
Salvation Army Family Stores (Various)
As far as I’m aware these are the most ubiquitous of all the charity shops in Hong Kong. The one I have historically frequented the most is the Kennedy Town store on Belcher’s street (side note, I will never not find that street name funny), and this I have found to be the best. Fashion-wise it’s not always on par with the other two, however as with all thrift shops it has a very hit and miss nature (which to me is half the fun of it).
Strangely enough, this is where I got my ski boots – brand new, Salomon ski boots in exactly my size to the half size! Salvation Army stores also tend to have a lot of ‘miscellaneous’ goods which are lacking in other local charity shops, from home appliances to books. I’ve purchased some excellent brand-new toys for my little sisters in the Wanchai one.
Hong Kong is in a unique position, with lots of sourcing and buying offices of many brands manufacturing in Asia and especially China. As a result, it’s not uncommon to find brand new ‘sample’ items in thrift shops (indeed, there’s a whole category of shop in Hong Kong which I also adore, ‘export shops’, which contain only rejected samples). The Salvation Stores seem to have a preferential relationship with these brands, and occasionally you’ll get a surfeit of brand-new items (often from businesses that are unfortunately going into administration – Cath Kidston items have been common lately).
The proceeds of shopping here predictably go to the Salvation Army Charity (it’s a slightly controversial one but arguably still better than your money going to Primark).
Finally, a note on donating!
This crazy year has given the privileged among us time to think about the stuff we have and what we really need. There’s no better time than a lockdown to do that ‘spring’ clean you’ve been meaning to do for years. Of course, if this entire post has shown anything at all, it’s that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. We all rock a different aesthetic depending on our age, body shape, lifestyle or whatever else. Instead of holding on to the too-tight jeans, consider donating them to one of the above – provided that they are of adequate quality; I know well from volunteering that charity shops do not want to deal with your garbage (there are various places to recycle garments that are not fit for sale).
Given also the extremely strange times we live in, please note that some shops will not be taking donations at the moment.