Croydon’s charity fashion gem

By - Tuesday 1st December, 2015

‘Mother about town’ Dionne Ormonde discovers that buying clothes second-hand is not only ethical, it’s an opportunity to grab a unique bargain and finally reclaim her unique sense of style

Photo author’s own.

I’ll admit it, I’ve run out of ideas. I don’t make fashion choices anymore, I just smash and grab. My once meandering morning routine (pre-motherhood of course) of trying on a range of outfits, whilst sipping on a camomile tea has morphed into a dawn raid. I no longer have time to ponder the virtues of vermilion against my skin tone. Gone are the days of outfits so original, they inspired a regular response of awe and enquiry.

Frankly, no one cares to know where I got my trusty selection of bottoms designed to stretch-and-go and tops that flatter-and-flow.

Time, methinks, to finally recognise that the once stylish girl-about-town has given way to a mother of two who spends more time making sure that her kids look good in their uniform than checking if she passes muster in hers.

Hidden Gems is a pre-loved specialist-cum-shabby-chic boutique which would sit comfortably in the modish north London enclave of Primrose Hill

In clear need of a powerful injection of sartorial elegance, I recognise that there are only so many clothes that a yummy mummy can buy from the increasingly homogeneous high street before her fashion choices become predictable and stale.

In my quest to find unique inexpensive pieces to not only update my wardrobe but enliven it, Hidden Gems has been a perfect find. An oasis of retail charm, Hidden Gems may present itself as just a humble, if somewhat stylish, charity shop, but it’s so much more.

A beautiful fusion of vintage and contemporary fashion, Hidden Gems is a pre-loved specialist-cum-shabby-chic boutique which would sit as comfortably in the modish north London enclave of Primrose Hill as it does on central Croydon’s bustling High Street. A stone’s throw from Surrey Street market, this gorgeous little independent shop is nestled between the Buddhist Centre and a photo shop.

Make yourself comfortable in the reading corner, chill out, peruse and enjoy with no obligation to buy

With no time to hit my once beloved Portobello market, Hidden Gems offers a once proud west Londoner some hope. The layout is fresh, open and accessible, both physically and spiritually; not only do the charming collective of Buddhist women that run the shop – Mokshadarshrini, Theresa, Jill and Bodhimala – ensure that the stressed out mums amongst us, still tied to transporting our toddlers around in buggies, have room for manoeuvre, but this space encourages you to feel good whilst you’re doing it. “Aesthetics are really important”, Mokshadarshrini tells me, “but so is accessibility to all. We’ve made sure that the shop is not crammed with items, so wheelchairs and buggies can get around easily”.

In fact four buggies can quite easily and happily get around this shop, without any danger of crashing into heavy rails, toppling displays or dragging clothes under your buggy wheels.

Children are a welcome addition to your visit to Hidden Gems, and it is just that: a visit. There is no pressure to purchase; if you simply wish to chat to whomever is working that day, you are more than welcome. Or make yourself comfortable in the reading corner, chill out, peruse and enjoy with no obligation to buy.

“It’s really important for us to have an ethical approach”

Mokshadarshrini, Theresa, Jill and Bodhimala really care about their customers and offer a ‘choose and hold’ service. “We don’t want our customers to feel compelled to buy anything right away”, explains Theresa.

The women of Hidden Gems are clearly mindful of the urges of compulsive buyers. You’ll find a chilled, calm and relaxed energy in this shop, which seems to gently guide you to take a breath, a moment, a day… or two, if required to consider your purchase or get the money together to buy it.

“It’s really important for us to have an ethical approach and we don’t want anyone to feel excluded”, says Bodhimala. “We want to appeal to all. This area has a vibrant and mixed demographic and we’re very aware of the impact of social inclusion. There are people in Croydon who are well off and others living on a shoestring budget. We want all to feel welcome”.

“We have our regulars”, Bodhimala continues. “Some of our customers are out of work, and some have become friends. We provide a service. We want Hidden Gems to be an inclusive and enhancing experience”.

I see the ladies’ desire to have a mixed clientele in action as I search for some desperately needed additions to my wardrobe. While I focus my attentions on some beauties on the designer rack, there’s a sudden rush and an eclectic mix of customers browse and then make purchases such as a snazzy wool hat and a couple of spiritual books.

Photo author’s own.

The diverse stock, which not only includes quality clothes but books, CDs, DVDs, shoes, bags, toys, jewellery and homeware, is carefully selected. Much of the stock is sourced traditionally through pop in and drop off store donations, but the team are meticulous when selecting items that will be sold.

Their impressive range of clothes comes through donations made to their neighbours and associates including the Croydon Buddhist Centre, and until recently the Braintree clothes label was also donating samples and end of line pieces.

Who says that the school run dress code can’t be a little more flamboyant?

Clothes that don’t meet their exacting standards are sold on to an ethical rag recycler. “It’s a holistic approach to life, fashion and the impact of re-distributing pre-loved clothes”, explains Mokshadarshrini. “When we up-cycle and re-cycle, we’re very aware of the impact on the environment”.

This really is Buddhism in action. Theresa, who says she comes to work every day with a smile on her face, is clear about the source of her happiness: “Our wonderful donors, our great volunteers and our lovely shoppers”, she says. “I really would like to express my gratitude to them all”.

Inspired by the eatery and creative space that is Matthews Yard, they wished to create a vibrant phoenix that would emerge out of the ashes of the riots of 2011. “We wanted a creative response to that event”, Mokshadarshrini says, “a place where people could come together. We asked ourselves, ‘how can we add to Croydon to make it a better place?’ Hidden Gems is our opportunity to reach out to the community and express our Buddhist values through our work and our shop. It’s a gift to the community”, Mokshadarshrini continues, “it’s not just a charity shop”.

It’s clear that this combination of ethical shopping, gift wrapped in Buddhist values, makes Hidden Gems a treasure trove that deserves to be found… and as for me, there really are no more excuses. My uniform days need to become numbered. I’ve spotted a rather lovely purple spotted velvet dress: unique, comfortable and, most importantly, which doesn’t require ironing. Who says that the school run dress code can’t be a little more flamboyant?

Hidden Gems is at 96 High Street, CR0 1NG (020 8688 2899). The shop celebrates its second birthday today, 1st December.

Dionne Ormonde

Dionne Ormonde

A journalist and editor, with over 20 years experience, Dionne's previous roles include Arts and Entertainment Editor with British Black newspaper The Voice, Editor at Black women’s magazine Pride, contributing fashion stylist for the BBC, Channel 4 and ITV television and 8 years with the BBC World Service as a Managing Editor. But that was then and this is now:a mother to two young sons aged eight and four, Dionne nowadays juggles her responsibilities as a mother with her passion for writing creatively. She has a pile of completed manuscripts for children, is currently working on a collection of women's monologues and looks forward to publishing her first children's book I'm A Star through her publishing house LoveChild Press.

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  • Anne Giles

    Must try it out!!

  • Lorraine Gallagher

    What an amazing article. Really want to go and visit this “Charity Fashion Gem”

  • Rajal

    Great article and can totally relate as I am a mum as too. Never knew this shop existed! Must go check it out!

  • Mokshadarshini

    I’ll be skipping to work tomorrow after reading this… By the way we’ve got some great teapots and upcycled cake stands in the shop at the moment which will all make great, unique Christmas presents.

  • Sophia smith

    Love the article, will be getting the paper from now on so I can keep reading all the brilliant piece your going to write about.. Will be checking out that shop in the morning.

  • Bodhimala

    Really enjoyed the article, beautifully written. I can certainly say it is a gem of a charity shop, as I am one of the team that work there. As a anniversary gift to our customers we have many reductions in the shop. Check them out…

  • Theresa

    Wonderful article & such a delight to be with Dionne too while she was writing it.

  • Aisha

    Well this is just brilliant! Not only is this article after my own heart, fashion, I can’t wait to actually visit this little hidden gem. Having crept up the age ladder, I find it very difficult in the local shops to find clothes that inspire,yet alone serve the purpose of being age appropriate and practical but stylish.
    I will unhesitantly be taking a peek at this shop, and will share my experience with a few hidden gems of my own.
    Well done Dionne a fantastic read, your creative flow was exceptional very inviting and on point for us busy mums who love fashion and class .

  • Mariam Shahbaz

    Great article ! I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Hidden Gems , it does look like a very shabby -chic boutique .
    Great work Dionne ! you are doing a fantastic job by giving information to all the busy mums about these hidden places in Croydon , keep it up ! :)

  • L Rhoda Molife

    I can feel the love you have for this ‘hidden gem’ in you article! Really engaging and I absolutely can’t wait to try it out as I try to rediscover how my fashionata self again!

  • Jamila Springer

    This is truly great stuff! I love the idea of looking a million dollars for a quid ;-) and more importantly you’re doing it with an ethical approach. Love it, love it, love it!! Thanks for sharing with us. X

  • Ladislav Hubert

    Nice article Dionne. I am very looking forward to publish our
    first book I illustrated for you (I’m A Star). All the illustrations for the
    book are finished. Hopefully one day it will be published :-)

    Here is the book cover with few illustrations plus the link to my website, where are more illustrations.