Art & Culture / Culture

The Future: Charity Shop Sue

After stints at some of the biggest fashion houses in Paris, Charity Shop Sue has relocated to a Nottinghamshire market town, where she’s using the locals’ donations to Sec*Hand Chances to change the way we consume fashion.

Hometown heroes are in short supply these days. Everyone seems to have settled down in the capital before they become a big shot. But in the cheery Nottinghamshire town of Bulwell, one woman is fast becoming a homegrown celebrity in her own right. Sue Tuke, better known as Charity Shop Sue, has set YouTube alight with her self-titled documentary series which follows her over the course of a month in her own store, Sec*Hand Chances. It’s a hard-hitting watch, rife with the trials and tribulations of running a successful charity shop in the modern era from battling off the towns thugs to handling dirty knickers.

HUNGER travelled to Bulwell to track down the thrift shop icon, and were surprised to discover that, aside from being the world’s best charity shop manager, she’s also an outspoken advocate for climate change. Clad in a floral two-piece and statement gold-ish jewellery, Charity Shop Sue is ready to change the world, one stain-covered blanket at a time.

We’re in Bulwell today, what makes it so special?

It’s the sense of community. People think these places are dying out, because the city just gets represented all the time. Well guess what, we’re still here and we’re not going anywhere. These places are like bloody gems. It’s like Aladdin’s cave, why would you need to leave Bulwell? We’d be fine if the world went to shit here, because we’d all look after each other. It’s a very special place.

I hear you’re a bit of a local celeb?

Oh I get attention! A lot of people have been asking about merchandising and I’d love to do something with Rottingdean Bazaar. You know sustainable and thinking outside the box but we haven’t done merch yet because we want to do something sustainable. We’re not going to do it until we’ve found a sustainable way of doing it.

And your charity shop is the town’s crowning jewel. Why did you want to work in a charity shop?

I was working at some very big fashion houses in Paris. Someone said to me “you’re a dab hand on a machine”. I mean I could literally make a baby blanket into a beautiful couture jacket. I just didn’t think they were doing enough for sustainable fashion at that time and it was always something that was important to me. I came back here and definitely weren’t sure what I was going to do. Then all of a sudden, I thought about helping people plus fashion, put the two together: CHARITY. SHOP. MANAGER.

Upcycling is a really big thing and a lot of people are sourcing their material from charity shops. What are your thoughts on that?

Sometimes we get stuff brought into the shop; old blankets with bloody stains on them and people say “chuck that away it’s disgusting”. I say put it in a hot wash, give it to me, all of a sudden they’ve got a pair of ballroom trousers! And they’re made out of bloody dirty sheets. Let’s make new stuff out of these clothes. There’s enough fabric in the world. Let’s make new things out of this shit.

So you’re quite climate conscious. How do you intend on changing the world?

Clothes are like friends: If you treat them good, they’ll treat you good. That’s my motto in the shop. I’ve got an idea and I want to put it out there. People have their own Come Dine With Me nights, why not have charity shop nights? Get a couple of bottles of wine, get your friends round and do a bit of sharing. Why not circulate some of this stuff instead of getting rid of it? With fast fashion you pay £30 for a top, four weeks later the arms come off! You need quality. It’s not about quantity.

What are your top tips for charity shop shopping?

Always look in the bargain basket! We always have one! People think it’s going to be some old tat but we put some really good items in there. Jewellery, accessories – people don’t normally go into charity shops for that, but have a look! There’s some absolutely beautiful things you can get; Beautiful diamantes, everything! Go in with an open mind. You can’t just go in thinking “I want a pink shirt”. Step outside of your comfort zone, be unique!

If you could describe charity shop shopping in what sentence, how would you describe it? Why’s it important?

Our charity shop Sec*hand Chances is giving people a second chance; not only through volunteering but the clothes are getting a second chance too. So in one sentence, we’re helping people help others through sustainable fashion.

1 May 2020