6 November 2023

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Influencer Emma’s mission to make us all charity shop treasure hunters

With so many great bargains to be had, Emma can’t understand why anyone bothers buying new

Sustainable Fashion Ambassador

St Christopher’s fashion ambassador, Emma Fowler, turned 50 this summer and she can’t remember the last time she bought a new item of clothing, except occasionally underwear.

Growing up on a council estate in Hackney, money was tight for Emma and her family. She took an interest in fashion from an early age but knew she couldn’t afford the clothes her friends were buying new and had to find a way.

“I was probably in my last year of primary or first secondary when my Mum started taking me to Lewisham market,” she remembers fondly. “I’d pick out fabric and have ideas for clothes and then Mum would make them.”

Then, as charity shops became more commonplace, Emma’s fashion horizons widened.

“I started to realise I could have things my way, on a budget, and not feel like I was being left out of the fashion,” Emma added.

By the time she had her first child, aged 22, in the mid-90s, Emma was a charity shop pro, having furnished her flat with pre-loved items.

Now, almost 30 years later, Emma, who was also once Head of Sales for Fred Perry, not only dresses herself in bargains she finds in charity shops across South East London, she has her own small network of pre-loved pop-ups, operates as a personal charity shopper for lots of her friends and volunteers as a stylist and blogger for St Christopher’s.

“I absolutely love it. I wouldn’t say it’s an addiction, but I just get such a thrill being in a charity shop. Some people love sweets. Others love cake. I love charity shops.”

Emma has built a social media following thanks to her posts highlighting that day’s bargain outfit. It was these that brought her to St Christopher’s attention.

When she was approached to support St Christopher’s with its Wedding Fair earlier this year, Emma says she couldn’t believe her luck.

“When they asked me to come to the wedding event and be a pre-loved ambassador I thought the heavens had opened and all my dreams had come true. It was an incredible day and one of my friends bought her wedding dress there. It was worth £2,000 and she got it for £500.”

As well as ample qualifications for this ‘dream’ role, Emma was thrilled to be asked as she has a personal connection with the hospice too, as it cared for her grandparents and an uncle.

“I think St Christopher’s holds a special place in the heart of everyone I know locally. That’s what makes me feel so proud to be part of it.”

During Second Hand September, Emma went into St Christopher’s premium store in Crystal Palace, went through the rails, picked out items she knew worked together, took photos of them laid out on the floor and then tried them on and had shop volunteers take photos of her in them. Emma then posted these on Instagram urging her followers to come and find their own hidden gems.

So, what’s Emma’s secret?

“I think what I do is show how accessible a charity shop is and how you can do it. A lot of people say they can’t find what I find. I do have an eye for it but I’m also able to imagine how you could wear an item in a different way or have it taken up or out. You’ve got to go in with an open mind and give yourself time to look.”

Emma’s keen eye and love of charity shopping does mean her own clothes collection is pretty large.

“I have my own bedroom to myself and it has a lot of wardrobes which are full. I think at the last count I had 35 coats. But then if I have a clear out, I either give things to my friends’ daughters or to charity shops. It’s that circle of life and sustainability that I love. We’ve got to stop buying so much new stuff.”

It’s not just the wardrobes in Emma’s house that are testament to her charity shopping skills. Every item of furniture and even the knives and forks are sourced the same way. And she’s determined to change the hearts and minds of anyone she comes across who has a mental block when it comes to buying pre-loved.

“I love taking people with that mindset round some charity shops and showing them what they can find. I’ve converted so many people and lots of them are now buying vintage only.

“If you look hard enough there is treasure. I sew the seeds for people and then they go and find their own treasure.”

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