Embrace the gift of giving this Christmas with a trip to one of Mary’s Living & Giving stores. Established in 2009 by retail guru Mary Portas, Mary’s Living & Giving is a community based lifestyle boutique with all profits donated to Save the Children. The stores stock an array of covetable brands including Sophie Hulme, Liberty of London, Rigby & Peller, Prada and Whistles with products either donated by the designers themselves or members of the community.
With 14 stores now spanning London’s boroughs and one in Scotland, we met brand ambassador Erica, and Strategic Marketeer Morgan to discover the true art of giving this Christmas.
Erica - Brand Ambassador
VH: SO WHAT DOES A BRAND AMBASSADOR DO?
Erica: We are the masters of all trades essentially. One of the key things is obviously getting the new shops full of fantastic donations. So it’s about calling up amazing brands to see if they have any excess stock that they want to donate. In addition to that we also organise events in the stores, it’s all about getting the community involved so whether it’s a late night opening or getting Alexandra Shulman in to do a book signing, it’s anything that will get a crowd together and raise our profile at the same time.
VH: HAS IT BEEN DIFFICULT TO GET DONATIONS?
Erica: Retailers have been so generous! If they are able to donate they will. Obviously we are in a little bit of a recession so we are still seeing a lot of donations but a little bit less than before. For example where we used to see 20 boxes role up from a retailer now it’s maybe 20 pieces. Which is obviously amazing but just means we need to call out a lot more and shout out on social media.
VH: WHERE DO THE MAJORITY OF YOUR DONATIONS COME FROM; RETAIL OR PUBLIC?
Erica: On the opening days it’s about 50/50. Then as the shop gets immersed in the community then over the counter pre-loved donations become about 80%. It could even be brand new pairs of Jimmy Choos!
VH: WOW, SO PEOPLE DONATE NEW THINGS?
Erica: Yes, we had a Swarovski mans watch that retails at about £800 in a beautiful box, so the quality is still amazing even when they’re not brand new from the designers themselves.
VH: SO IF OUR READERS GIFTED SOMETHING THAT WAS £100, WHERE DOES THAT MONEY GO?
Erica: So 100% of our profit goes to Save the Children. That works out at about 88p out of every £1, the rest goes to raising awareness etc. Save the Children will use that money wherever they see the need, sometimes in the UK, sometimes abroad as part of a crisis.
VH: OUT OF ALL THE MARY’S LIVING STORES, WHICH IS YOUR FAVOURITE?
Erica: My personal favourite is the Barnes store. It’s such a cute shop and they have an amazing network of community that donates fabulous pieces!
VH: WHICH IS THE BEST FOR A GOOD BARGAIN OR DESIGNER VINTAGE?
Erica: You know what, you have to do the rounds! They all have something different. The stores that tend to get frequent amazing donations are Barnes, Teddington, Primrose Hill and Highgate so if you had to narrow it down to four in one day do those!
VH: BEST BARGAIN YOU’VE PICKED UP FROM A MARY’S LIVING & GIVING STORE?
Erica: I think I’m there best shopper to be fair. One of my favourites is a beautiful full-length silk trench coat from Ralph Lauren Purple Label that I bought for around £150. It would have retailed at £1000 so I was quite happy with that!
VH: WHAT’S BEEN THE MOST UNUSUAL OR GENEROUS DONATION?
Erica: We literally just had 40 boxes of designer pieces from Perry Ellis, so super generous! I had a little peek and they included Laundry Shelli dresses, Penguin for the guys and some lovely sparkly things for Christmas!
Morgan - store co-ordinator
VH: WHAT DOES YOUR JOB ENTAIL?
Morgan: My job involves making sure that all our stores do exactly what we need them to do to support Save the Children. We currently have 16 stores and I take care of everything; the look, the brand all of our incredible PR and events through to the buildings, teams and everything else you can think of!
VH: I GUESS THE LOCATION IS REALLY IMPORTANT?
Morgan: It’s really important for us! Mary’s Living & Giving has a special heart that is its community, so we need to make sure everywhere we put a store there is a strong sense of that.
VH: STEPPING INTO ONE OF THESE STORES I CAN’T BELIEVE EVERYTHING IS ACTUALLY DONATED!
Morgan: We’re really lucky to have Mary Portas as our mentor and ambassador. Our business is really about making sure we’re offering wonderful products that are donated kindly by the community. People who don’t think, ‘this is junk I don’t need it anymore’ but think ‘this is a really beautiful piece, I don’t wear it anymore but I’m going to bring it into a place where I know the money I raise will go to credible causes.’
VH: WHAT SORT OF CAUSES ARE YOU SUPPORTING AT THE MOMENT?
Morgan: At the moment our funds are pouring into things like the Ebola crisis and making sure there are medical facilities in West Africa. We’ve had amazing things happen like people have cleared out their closets and given us Louboutin shoes and Chanel bags. I love the fact that people can do anything to help, whether it’s a really wonderful donation or spending some time helping us in the shop.
VH: YOU ALSO RUN EVENTS FROM YOUR STORES…
Morgan: Yeah we do a lot of things. Some of our stores have ‘knit and natter’ groups, readings and book signings, music evenings and even yoga!
VH: BOUTIQUE HIGH STREET STORES ARE PART OF MARY’S PHILOSOPHY BUT WOULD YOU CONSIDER A BLENDED APPROACH AND GO ONLINE IN THE FUTURE.
Morgan: Absolutely. For us we have to be very careful as there’s overheads of course for online but we really want to become an online retailer as well.
VH: WHAT HAS BEEN THE BEST BARGAIN YOU’VE PICKED UP FROM ONE OF THESE STORES?
Morgan: We’ve actually just had an amazing Chanel donation. An original vintage Chanel necklace which I would love to buy but sadly it’s against the rules! It’s an unwritten rule between the staff and myself as we want to make sure that customers get the best things first.
VH: YOU HAVE LOTS OF STORES DOTTED AROUND LONDON, BUT WHICH IS THE BEST FOR DESIGNER VINTAGE?
Morgan: That’s a really good question! The nature of what we do is so changeable, we get a donation at any moment but just don’t know what it is. We tend to have some amazing high-end fashion donations at our Westbourne Grove store as well as Primrose Hill.
More information and find your nearest Mary’s Living & Giving store.