On the third floor of the Selfridges department store in London, among the Marc Jacobs and Moschino couture, shoppers can now pick up a Ralph Lauren tie for £3 or a Zara skirt for £7. The bargains come courtesy of the US artist and writer Miranda July, who has set up a fully functioning charity shop inside the London department store.
The pop-up, which opened today (until 22 October) and was commissioned by the non-profit organisation Artangel, comes complete with the harsh strip lighting, curtained changing room and box of stuffed toys synonymous with charity shops up and down the UK.
But this is a charity shop with a major difference. It is the first in the country to combine charities from four religions: Islamic Relief, an international aid and development charity; Norwood, a Jewish charity supporting vulnerable children, families and people with learning disabilities; the London Buddhist Centre, where meditation and yoga are taught; and Spitalfields Crypt Trust, which supports people recovering from addiction.
“Charity shops are a very British thing,” July says. “You also have them in every faith. In the US we only have a few Christian thrift stores.” Although the four charities are jointly staffing and providing stock for the shop, the project has been produced in solidarity with Islamic Relief.
“A charity shop like Islamic Relief would be very vulnerable on the street in the US,” July explains. “It speaks well of London that you have this here. It’s not an easy moment to be Muslim. Islamic Relief is constantly having to prove they are not funding Islamic State.”
July says the idea to create a work in a luxury department store came about after she produced an app in collaboration with Miu Miu in 2014. “I was thinking about the world of luxury goods and how they collaborate with artists. I wanted to mess with that a little bit,” she says.
Despite the project's slightly subversive bent, July says Selfridges were receptive from the start. “We were having high-level conversations about religion and commerce and about bursting the bubble around the experience of shopping for luxury clothing. They were open to the idea of selling a £3 blouse next to one with a £3,000 price tag,” she says.
Sales, which were brisk on the opening morning, are being shared equally between the four partners. They, in turn, are paying it forward by donating 2.5% of their earnings to four other charities. Islamic Relief has chosen The Bike Project, Norwood is donating to Carers in Hertfordshire, the London Buddhist Centre to Praxis Community Project, while Spitalfields Crypt Trust is giving to Providence Row.