Hidden in an unassuming passage in Stepney lives the characterful East End Thrift Store. Known by many for its good value and plentiful stock, the store is a practical and stylish place to look for some interesting and unusual garments. With aged jackets, dungarees and frocks stacked to the ceiling, some real sifting through some good vintage wear can be done here. The ‘fill a bag’ concept, allowing customers to fill a £10 or £20 bag with as many clothes as possible is undoubtedly a great way for people to pick up a few good outfits. There is a strong individual feeling about East End Thrift, it’s a straightforward and honest place aiming to provide good value vintage.
Luckily I was able to speak to Jamie – one of the managers at the store and ask him a few questions about the place.
Hey Jamie, so you’ve been working at East End Thrift for quite a while, how long has the place been open and how did it start?
I think the place has been open for about 5 years and has been a ‘fill a bag’ store for the last three or four months. You can grab a £10 or £20 bag and the whole shop floor is yours to shove your bag full as much as you can, I believe it’s the only one in London that does that, it’s kind of a USP for this store.
Sounds great, so where does all the stock come from?
I think most of it comes from America, places like Texas. It’s delivered 20 tons at a time in big bales of clothing and we sift through it all. Some of it goes to charity (we’re good like that) and the rest of it comes out here and some goes to a pound sale, it’s as simple as that.
I see, so people have given this stuff away in places like Texas?
Well I’m not really sure how it works over there to be honest, I think it gets warehoused or something, it’s just old stock so a lot of is has not necessarily been used. A lot of it has of course been used which you can probably tell by the smell. (Laughs)
One thing that seems interesting about the area is the culture associated with fashionable thrift and the recycling of out dated clothes. This seems to give the store quite a stylish feel given its location, would you agree with this?
Yeah exactly there is a lot of that, the amount of stock we actually have here means that you can really match and pick out a whole outfit or three in a single sitting so that’s something that’s quite good about it.
Yeah that’s cool. You said that a certain amount of the stock load goes to charity?
Yeah quite often the things we send off to charity are specifically the fashionable things, so any time you see some Africans on TV wearing some stylish clothes, their kitted out in East End Thrift Store stuff – all the flannel shirts and skinny jeans etc.
“It’s free promo!” mentions his colleague.
But no genuinely it’s quite a worldwide thing it’s not just Whitechapel you know? Almost like a calling card in Africa or Nigeria or wherever it is. I think everyone is pretty happy with the way it works to be honest – as where you might be really.
So is there a general demographic that tend to come in? Is it a lot of familiar faces or mostly tourists?
Yeah there are a lot of familiar faces, I’d actually say the main demographic is 16- 18 year old girls, you know the ones who like to wear really skimpy outfits, running around the place, their probably our best demographic. Yeah stuff like that; it can be a bit worrying at times.
“Is this going to read well?” his colleague behind the counter interjects.
Yeah this is great. So do you enjoy working here?
Well it can be a bit miserable at times, I mean we’re in Whitechapel for F**** sake. I suppose its better than working in a charity shop. I used to work in Topshop and it’s better than that, it’s preferable to Topshop, that’s a fact.
Thank you so much for speaking to me, I was expecting something a lot more simple and straightforward but you’ve given me some great, honest information.
It was quite honest, I hope it wasn’t too incriminating
Not at all, thanks for taking the time to speak with me!
So there you have it, a day in the life of The East End Thrift Store. In terms of the general shopping experience, the décor is, as you would imagine in an east end warehouse – rather cold and simple. The building however is not without its charm. Equipped with a pretty good sound system, piles of never ending retro garments and staff that are always up for a laugh, this Gem is a special one. Head down there and fill a bag for £10, you never know what you might find.
Overall rating: 4/5