“Second hand clothing isn’t only cool vintage or jumble sales,” says Holly Shaw, owner and operator of Anchor + Hope, a recycled clothing store just opened on Roman Road. The aim of her shop is to not only fill the gap between the high and low ends of the second hand clothing market, but to support local women. “I call it a recycle boutique,” Holly says. “It’s second hand clothes done well – great condition, in-season clothing from the middle of the high street upwards, in terms of brands.”
There are two particular aspects to Anchor + Hope that set it apart from the rest. The first is the business model: “I’m selling second-hand clothes in as-new condition – it’s not a charity shop where I accept donations, but rather I sell on behalf of women who have great clothes sitting unworn in their wardrobes. It’s beneficial both for those who like the idea of buying second-hand clothing from an environmental and ethical perspective, but don’t want to sift through a store to find good brands, and for those who have clothes to pass on. It’s not about me making money off other women’s clothes; it’s a 50/50 split,” Holly explains. “I’ve seen this model work really well in New Zealand, which is where I’m from, and while a lot of people have said they’d never heard of the business model before, I’ve had a huge number of both customers shopping and clients bringing items in since I opened.”
The second unique selling point of Anchor + Hope is its target market: combining both women’s fashion and maternity wear for mums-to-be in one store. “I’m pretty sure I can say I’ve got the largest collection of second hand maternity wear in London,” Holly says. “I saw that no one else was really doing second hand maternity wear, but what other time in your life are you only going to wear clothes once? Buying a whole new maternity wardrobe can be expensive, so I offer an affordable alternative and a great mix of brands under one roof, as well as that chance to maybe make some money back when you’re finished with your bump-friendly clothing”. From the pregnant mannequin in the window, to the way the store is designed with a clear, wide central space, and changing rooms big enough to take a buggy into, Holly says: “I really tried to think about the kind of women that would be coming in when I considered the layout of the shop. It’s for women with kids, women with buggies. There’s a sit down area, toys for kids to play with, and a baby change station. I wanted to get the balance right: it’s about clothes, about women, and a place for mothers to try on clothes and feel good.”
Holly, who has lived in Tower Hamlets for five years and Bow for three, is an active member of All Hallows church and lives on the Lincoln Estate. I drop into Anchor + Hope to meet her a week to the day since the store opened and she says so far things have been “really encouraging”. “Our opening day was very good. Everyone’s been so welcoming.” This is Holly’s first foray into shop ownership, but she says it has been a long time coming.
“I worked in retail as a student, but since working for Social Enterprise UK, have become increasingly passionate about community and business as a social development tool. I’ve also always been pretty opinionated about second hand clothes and sustainability, so I thought I better put my money where my mouth is. I really think that business shouldn’t be detrimental to the planet. Places like Primark advocate throw-away fashion. But when you buy a dress for £3, who is really paying for that dress in real terms?”
The premises Anchor + Hope occupies at 363 Roman Road was formerly a mosque. Holly and her husband bought the property and then applied to Tower Hamlets council to change its use and appearance, a process Holly says was quite stressful and long-winded. “But all in all, I can’t complain,” she says, although adds that “if (the council) want to see the road change and develop they need to be more accommodating and understanding of the realities of setting up a small independent business”.
And “Roman Road is developing,” she says. “There’s so much momentum. There are people here who are committed to making the road work. I think it’s pretty amazing to be part of a street with so much history, as well as being part of its change. People do want to see the best of the old and the new, and I guess that fits quite well with second hand clothes.”
As to the other shops on the road, Holly says: “I love Zealand Rd coffee and their salmon sandwich is incredible! I think I had one four days in a row once. I also pop into my neighbour at Art Cafe for a quick coffee, and their egg florentine is pretty delish. Snap is a no-brainer for fun stationery and unique gifts, and I rely on Thompsons for all of my DIY advice and stuff. Plus some of the furniture in the shop came from Gina’s Closet, and our fab neighbours at Sond Construction did a brilliant job sorting our renovation work. Generally, I just love the whole road. Roman Road is a street with a real community, and it’s nice to be welcomed into that community.”
And it is community that is at the heart of Holly’s plans for the future of Anchor + Hope. “I’d like to see it being used somehow as a community social space. I want it to be more than just a shop. I’d like to support postpartum mums and perhaps have someone come in and give a talk about breast feeding, or how to get your baby to sleep at night.” Pointing to some framed pictures by illustrator Emma Rees that are hanging on the wall behind the till, she says: “I’m also passionate about women being creative and expressive, so selling these prints is one small way of supporting someone local to do that. I’m really open to all kinds of things in the future, but right now I’m just concentrating on making it a great clothes store.”
Click here for Anchor + Hope contact details and opening hours.