Charity doesn't begin at home anymore

Britons could soon be walking around in German cast-offs if the Oxfam gets its way. The charity is planning to bring second-hand clothes from Germany to the UK to make up for a deficit in donations here, according to this week's Marketing Week.

The charity confirmed yesterday that a spiralling demand for second-hand clothes and books by the booming charity-shop chains in the high street was forcing it to look overseas for its supplies.

Oxfam, which first set up high-street shops in the UK in 1948, is also planning to look for shops in out-of-town shopping centres - ironically silencing the complaints of estate agents and traders in many small towns where charity shops and discount chains are all that are left on the high street.

Ian Bray, Oxfam spokesman, said yesterday: "There is so much competition for donated goods now because the charity shops have just taken off.

"It is very much a British phenomenon. In Germany only commercial companies collect hand-me-down clothes and we see it as a way of finding more donated goods. We would favour Germany because we have a couple of shops there."

In the Nineties, the number of charity shops on the high street increased by two-thirds to over 5,000 and their turnover has doubled to almost pounds 300m a year, according to a report out this week by market research company Mintel.

Oxfam itself saw its sales in its 850 shops increase by 5 per cent last year to pounds 55m, earning the charity a profit of pounds 15m.

Oxfam considered looking overseas for its goods a few years ago but opted to increase the number of collections it made from homes using labelled plastic bags. "At first that boosted the number of clothes we were getting," said Mr Bray. "But now everyone is doing the same thing, everyone gets lots of those bags and the market is saturated." Oxfam also increased the number of goods it received by setting up clothes and book banks, but supplies from these have hit a plateau.

The decimation of Britain's high streets by the car and out-of-town- shopping centres is one factor that has led to the proliferation of charity shops paying lower rents and business rates but Oxfam is worried that it is being left behind by other retailers: "We may have to move out of town," said Mr Bray. "We have to look at what the retail market is doing."

Oxfam is also beating off competition from other charity shops, with bookshops in university towns and gift shops in tourist centres.