Declining levels of clothes donations and shortages of volunteers have led to the biggest crisis for charity shops of the past 20 years, according to senior trading managers.
The recession has increased the number of charity shoppers while reducing the volume of donations, and some shops now sell clothes they would previously have classed as rag.
Amie Ibrahimi-Brown, senior marketing manager at Cancer Research UK Trading, said the past 12 months had been the most difficult period the charity's shops had experienced. "The recession has created new problems for us," she told Third Sector. "Footfall is up, but we have great concerns about donated stock.
"We have launched our biggest-ever stock-generation campaign, and we are running a volunteer recruitment campaign in our shops. This is the toughest period we've seen."
Lekha Klouda, director of the Association of Charity Shops, said things had never been so bad in her 17 years in the field. "Not having enough stock to sell is the crunch point," she said. "Charity shops are busy, but we have got to keep stock coming in to meet increased demand."
Alan Hodges, director of retail at Sue Ryder Care, said stock in the north of England was 10 per cent lower between April and August 2009 than in the same period last year. "We now take a second look at clothes that would otherwise have been sold as rag," he said.
Steve Biddle, head of finance at the British Heart Foundation's shop division, said it was the toughest period since the charity opened shops more than 20 years ago.
Earlier this month the BHF launched its biggest-ever appeal for stock, after a 20 per cent fall in donations. Barnardo's has launched an appeal for volunteers after it found almost all its 365 shops were short-staffed.