Case Study

Charity Shop Challenge

A row of tailor's dummies with various outfits displayed on them

Charity Shop Challenge

Class: Year 10 textiles
School: Holmfirth High School
Facilitator: Julia Roebuck, Upcycle Fashion
Charity Shop: The Crossroads Shop, Meltham
Exhibition Venue: Holmfirth Indoor Market 
Project Dates: February 2021 – June 2021 

Charity shop challenge was a 12 week sustainable fashion education project, bringing together sustainable fashion educator, Julia Roebuck, with a class of year 10 GCSE textiles students at Holmfirth High School. Over the course of the project, the students were taught practical garment repair, customising and upcycling techniques in order to transform unwanted textiles into a unique collection of garments, whilst learning about the damaging environmental and ethical impacts of the fashion and textiles industry. The work was exhibited at Holmfirth Indoor Market throughout June 2021 as part of the Woven in Kirklees festival programme. 

Why Charity Shop Challenge? 
Young people aged 14-24 are an important market for fast fashion clothing retailers. Fashion brands spend millions of pounds marketing clothing to young people, predominantly girls, using targeted online, social media and public print advertising. However, online platforms for redistribution of second hand and upcycled clothing, designed to appeal to a young audience, such as Depop (with 90% of active users under the age of 26), have also seen incredible growth in recent years. 

Yet most of our bricks and mortar second hand retail spaces don’t attract the same usership. Charity Shop Challenge aims to connect young people with second hand clothing in local spaces, to engage them in creative and sustainable clothing practices in their own communities and high streets. By giving space to alternative systems and behaviours that lead to responsible production and consumption (Sustainable Development Goal 12) we can support young people to take action that is better for people and better for the planet, and change behaviors that will help to achieve national net zero targets ahead of 2050. 

“We need to empower young people to explore their existing clothing, and the clothing of others, in creative and considered ways, whilst also equipping them with the skills to enact creativity, enable longevity of textiles and take action on climate to do things differently”
Julia Roebuck

The Challenge 
The issues surrounding sustainable fashion and textiles are increasingly complex. From garment labelling (what does “Better Cotton”, or “Responsibly Sourced” actually mean?) to advertising slogans, polyester microfibres and waste, we need to further understand the issues in order to question companies operating in the fashion and textiles industry and hold them to account. 

Many of the changes needed to secure a better industry are based in policy, taxation and regulation. However, realising the power we hold as citizens to be the change we want to see, is the first step in making a collective difference. The next step is to take action, however small that act may seem. At a time when cheap garments are discarded for the most minor of faults, the act of sewing on a button should not be underestimated.  

“In a disposable society, to repair is to rebel”, The Economist, 2019. 

Pop-Up Charity Shop 
The original proposal for Charity Shop Challenge included taking the students on visits to different local charity shops, volunteering opportunities and for the students to select the “raw materials” for their upcycled garments from the unsold shop stock. However, COVID-19 restrictions in early 2021 prevented this aspect of the project, and instead Julia brought in 2 rails and 3 bags of unsold stock from Meltham based charity shop Crossroads to the Design Technology room and installed a pop-up charity shop, which was well received and an interesting option to explore for the future, even when there are no restrictions on school visits. 

Following an 8 week period of learning, class discussion and technique sampling, the last 4 weeks of the project were designated for upcycled garment construction, with students using their selected charity shop garments as both inspiration and material for their outfit. The only “new” items that could be used were fixings, thread and elastic. This materials-based approach required the students to create their design after their material selection, which is the opposite to more traditional approaches. This process of experimentation, trial and error was challenging at times, but everyone persevered to create a wonderfully creative upcycled collection, with a good variety of techniques including hand embroidery, patchwork, pleating, drawstring and applique.

Fashioning Futures
At the start of the Autumn term 2021, the students were asked to reflect on their shopping habits since the start of the project. All but 1 student noted an increased use of charity shops, with two commenting: “I have bought more second hand clothing from charity shops and bought less from online shops” and “It has made me think more about where I buy clothes from and buy more things second hand when I can”. 

The students have continued to use their skills and knowledge to take on additional projects including adding embroidery to jeans, patched multiple items of clothing so they can continue to be worn, making and knitting with more T-shirt yarn, recovered zips from discarded clothing and upcycling a second hand tent for their GCSE final project. 

When asked about having their work exhibited in the middle of Holmfirth, the students commented: 

“I liked having my work displayed and I think it will have helped raise awareness of the issues addressed”

“I was happy for people to see what can be made from different clothing items and hope to inspire someone to do something similar” 

“Julia worked closely with teaching staff to plan and deliver an exciting and relevant project based on sustainability in textiles. Julia planned and delivered theory work that was in line with the exam board specification to a high standard. All students were engaged throughout the project and were excited to see their final pieces in Holmfirth Market Hall for the whole of June for the Woven festival 2021. Julia brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise in this important issue of sustainability within textiles and we are looking forward to her returning this year to bring some more knowledge and skills to our students.’
Cerys Nixon, Design Technology and Art Teacher, Holmfirth High School l


T-shirt Macrame
One student used YouTube and TikTok videos to teach themselves macrame techniques, inspired to use the T-shirt yarn they had made in class. 

Replacing Buttons 
The act of sewing on a button is not only a simple mending technique, it has the potential to completely change the style of the garment. By replacing boring buttons with buttons that better match your own style or colour preference, you can make a garment more appealing and more likely to wear. 

Machine Embroidery 
Following development of hand embroidery skills, students were encouraged to use the sewing machines creatively for free embroidery, as well as for garment construction. 

The students were taught how to add their T-shirt yarn into a garment to create a drawstring. Drawstrings can be used as a fastening, as an alternative to elastic, or purely for aesthetics to create interesting textile shaping. 


In addition to the sampling of techniques individually to support their coursework, the students created two collaborative pieces to inform and inspire the wider school community: 

Fashion Revolution Zine 
Students from textiles, English and photography collaborated to create A5 monochrome designs on a Fashion Revolution theme for a Holmfirth High School Zine that was launched in Fashion Revolution Week 2021. Contributions included creative works around the themes of clothing, mending and ethics. Each contribution was photocopied and brought together in a zine that was issued to students and staff around school and at the exhibition in June 2021.

Lockdown Craftivism Banner 
Textile students used hand embroidery techniques to depict imagery inspired by what helped them whilst in lockdown in 2020. Stitched memories of nature, music, film and pizza, the conversations that took place whilst the pieces were stitched gave the space to share and further our understanding of what helped us to get through a difficult time, what brings us joy, and how we might use that in difficult times in the future. This banner is now displayed in the main corridor at school.

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