The musty image of charity shops run by old crones selling junk has gone, to be replaced by stylish, branded stores where the likes of Kate Moss are proud to shop. Oxfam and Traid have long been running outlets catering for a younger, more fashion-conscious audience. But other innovative ideas range from a specialist bridal shop set up by Barnardo's, which has already taken bookings for the next two years, to shopping on the internet from the National Trust.
Efforts by charities to modernise their shops have started to pay off.
Figures from the Association of Charity Shops show that at a time when the retail sector in general has been suffering, charity shops have actually been doing very well. Since the end of 2001, sales have steadily increased and in the past quarter they have even outperformed the commercial sector.
Charity shops seem to have a tradition of defying the times. As the retail sector boomed in the late 90s, charity shops did not fare so well. Now as the retail sector is struggling, charity shops seem to be making a recovery.
With other income streams suffering, these figures couldn't have come at a better time. Investment income is declining, affecting not only charities' individual investments but also the amount of money available for grant-making trusts to distribute. Organisations are also finding it tough to keep up voluntary income as the public tightens its purse strings. The RNID is the latest organisation to announce a number of redundancies.
As the effects of the economic downturn become more apparent, charities that have long relied on investments need to find new ways of raising funds. Although money may be tight, the present financial climate makes it vital for them to have as many strings as possible to their fundraising bows.
Charity shops could prove more of an asset than expected.