When the music festival season begins next month it will also be the start of a hectic summer for the Huddersfield-based Oxfam team which sells secondhand, vintage and fancy dress clothing at 11 different venues in the UK. Hilarie Stelfox reports
LISA MORRIS and her Oxfam team made a staggering £145,000 last summer selling cast-off clothing – everything from wedding dresses and leather jackets to T-shirts and wellies – at music festivals around the UK.
This year they hope to do even better.
Taking Oxfam shops to festivals such as Glastonbury, the Isle of Wight and Leeds has become big business for the charity which has a major presence at many of these musical events.
Lisa, who is Festival Shop Manager at the Huddersfield Oxfam Wastesaver depot, said: “I think the idea of selling clothing arose from the fact that we provide a stewarding service at festivals.
“A few years back the people at Glastonbury approached Oxfam and suggested that we sell fancy dress. We took along a lot of dinner jackets that were of little value to us and they were bought by people who hadn’t packed a shirt and tie to wear at the casino.
“We made a lot of money from clothes that we couldn’t sell anywhere else.”
And so it began, the annual operation to shift literally tons of recycled clothing.
“We take a 12-ton lorry to each festival and a van with shop fittings,” explained Lisa. “When we get to the festival we have a marquee and volunteers to run the shop. It’s absolutely exhausting, but I love it.”
The clothes they sell are collected by Lisa and sorters at Wastesaver throughout the year and baled up ready for the festival season. Wastesaver is Oxfam’s textile recycling centre and receives unsold donations from the charity’s high street shops.
Sorters look for a wide range of garments from the wacky and unusual to standard-issue jeans and T-shirts.
A former Oxfam shop manageress, 40-year-old Lisa took over the festival shop two years ago and has almost doubled profits. She expects to continue growing this side of the charity’s business.
“I had a vision of what I wanted to do,” said Lisa. “I profiled the customer base at each of the festivals we go to so that we were selling the right stuff.
“For example, Glastonbury is very fashion-orientated so we sell a lot of fake fur and leather jackets there and Leeds and Reading are mainly attended by young people.
“But most festivals are a mixture of ages so we have to have something for everyone.”
Certain festivals have a quirky profile.
At the Isle of Wight, for instance, Oxfam discovered a market for wedding dresses which are bought and customised – by men. Lisa is a little bemused by this and can’t explain the popularity of chiffon and tulle with male festivalgoers, but she’s only too happy to provide the gowns – usually damaged already – to the paying customers.
“We tried taking wedding dresses to other festivals but they didn’t sell,” she said.
The Leeds Fest shop raises the most money – £35,000 last year – however Lisa and her team are still pleased to attend smaller festivals that turn a more modest profit.
“Last year we went to Latitude, which only has around 11,000 people at it but we made £11,500 and practically sold out,” she said. “It’s quite a civilised, quieter festival, really lovely, with a lot of theatre. We took masses of little floral dresses and cardigans and they did really well.”
“At the Big Chill, fancy dress is big and at Bestival there is usually a theme. This year it is fantasy so we’ll sell lots of sparkly stuff.”
This summer, the Oxfam team will also be at The Goodwood Festival of Speed with a vintage shop and a ‘classroom’ in which visitors will be able to customise, re-work or create garments.
“We do have a customising section at each festival where people can make T-shirts linked with our campaigns,” said Lisa.
This year the festival theme is campaigning for a fair deal for people most affected by climate change.
As well as selling clothing, the shops do a phenomenal trade in knitted blankets created by volunteer knitters from wool donations to the high street shops.
“We never ever have enough of them,” said Lisa. “They have become an iconic festival accessory. People just love them because they are so beautiful and colourful.”
When Lisa, her deputy Andy ‘Cy’ Reid, and their team head off to the first festivals of the season, Rockness and the Isle of Wight (both June 11-13), it will be the start of a long hard-working summer. Lisa alone will be working for a total of 65 days at festivals until September, sleeping in a tent and putting in long hours.
“I couldn’t do it if I didn’t love it,” she said. “But it’s great getting out there as ambassadors for Oxfam and promoting the shops.”