You’ve probably already seen them on the street: the Red Cross runs several second-hand “clothing stores” (almost a hundred throughout the Kingdom). Not that it intends to compete with the major fashion brands; these “vestiboutiques” (as they are called) serve more of a social purpose: appealing to (quality) donations, collecting them and offering them at low prices to well-targeted audiences. Who ? Those in need, or who voluntarily choose “re-employment”. What you may not know is that the proceeds of this activity depend a lot on the financing of others… sometimes much more crucial and glaring. We talk about it with Elis Barbieri, president of the Red Cross of Namur.
Elis Barbieri, does the success of online second-hand have an impact on your activities?
It has an impact, that’s for sure. This is an observation that encompasses several phenomena – in particular through the various crises experienced over the last three years –; namely, firstly, the destocking of people out of solidarity for the crises, the floods, the Ukrainians in exile… There have been many donations made for these causes and which, de facto, no longer reach us. So here we are in social assistance or assistance to fellow citizens. But there is also the phenomenon of online sales, which is gradually increasing and establishing itself “sustainably”. The latter also has an immediate consequence on our activities since it subtracts all the beautiful pieces of clothing, which would however be very useful to us. The “beautiful pieces”, I mean: the pieces that would bring us the most profit.
You can quantify this shortfall; how do you see this in your solidarity stores?
This can be seen in the sorting. More precisely, at the level of the average quality of the clothes that we receive: they are now “skimmed” from the beautiful pieces. What is coming to us is of much worse quality than before.
Finally, what you still receive are what are called “donations – trash”?
These are skim donations, you can’t necessarily say “trash can“. It sometimes happens that it goes directly to the trash, it’s true. I also find that very insensitive on the part of donors. In an economy like ours, where people are still in difficulty, it “It’s understandable that they value their possessions, especially their best clothes. If they have the opportunity to value them, why would they give it away? Humanly, it’s understandable. I’m thinking especially of people with lower incomes All of this has a very indirect and unintended impact on our business.
There is also another phenomenon that has a very important impact for us: this is called “fast fashion” (low-cost, low-quality fashion that lasts very little over time). There too, it has an effect on the average quality of our clothes since the clothes that we buy new at the origin deteriorate very quickly. After a year, when they are given to us, they are already almost unwearable. Result: it is unsaleable.
What do the profits you get from these “cloakrooms” represent for the Red Cross?
It is not the only element that finances our activities, but it is an important element in the activity of our Namur entity. We have two shops in Namur and the profits from these two second-hand shops represent 25% of our financing.
What does it finance, for example?
It finances in particular our reception for the homeless, in Legs. It also finances the share of donations of food or clothing parcels that we make, for example, to social welfare recipients from the CPAS. We have an agreement with the CPAS of Namur, which sends us its beneficiaries to obtain donations of clothing. There too, the quality being no longer there at the start, it is increasingly difficult to provide free parcels of clothing on behalf of the CPAS to their beneficiaries.
It’s more and more difficult to find good clothes, so much so that we are forced to go buy lots of clothes instead of receiving them (as it has always existed). We are now forced to buy lots of clothes from recovery professionals.
Do these second-hand online platforms represent a form of “unfair competition”, in your opinion?
It is an evolution of the system. These online sales platforms exist and they have a direct or indirect impact on certain operators, including us. We obviously can’t blame the people who do it, because they do it either because they like it, because it’s fun, or because economically, they need to do it. But it’s just a trend that we have to adapt to. And as it is a major trend, this phenomenon will increase in the years to come.