Preloved Chica Elene Marsden shares her Ipswich charity shop finds with YouTube fans
PUBLISHED: 14:44 09 January 2017
One day almost two years ago, Elene Marsden bought a pair of boots from a charity shop and when she got home she felt she just had to tell the world about them.
Ahead of my interview with Elene Marsden I decide that I’ll dress to impress, writes Sheena Grant. And that means pulling some of my secondhand bargain buys - a knitted mustard coloured overtop with a chunky button fastening and a pair of black trousers - from the wardrobe.
I can sense I’ve struck the right note. Elene, or Preloved Chica, as she’s more widely known these days, seems to recognise a kindred spirit. What’s more, she loves my slinky black trousers.
But I quickly sense something else too: compared to Elene, I’m a mere beginner when it comes to charity shop clothes buying.
Elene, who lives in Ipswich, has a bubbly, infectious enthusiasm for preloved clothing. I suspect it would take just a few minutes in her company to persuade anyone that it’s the only way to go.
For a start, she looks fabulous, with beautiful bobbed hair and a sartorial style you’d be hard-pressed to find on the high street. Today she’s wearing a long, faux fur gillet over a pretty, lacy dress, complete with bracelets and pendant - all bought from charity shops. And it’s not long before she’s pulling other bargains from her wardrobe to show me - designer boots, a beautiful black coat and more besides.
One of her favourite finds is a Giorgio Armani jacket previously owned by actress Felicity Kendall. She picked that up online, through Oxfam’s ‘shwop shop’, a link-up with high street retailer Marks & Spencer. Several of the items on sale have been donated by celebrities.
There aren’t many charity shops locally (in fact, there probably aren’t any) that Elene hasn’t visited.
Once, it was purely for pleasure and although that’s still the case - of course - nowadays there’s also another reason.
Elene has a channel on a video-sharing website and each week, uploads a new ‘show’ for her growing number of subscribers. Sometimes it’s about a specific charity shop, sometimes it’s a purchase she’s made and other times she has ‘guests’ to interview about their own passion for preloved fashion or love of upcycling and thrift.
Elene works in business training and shares her love of charity shop fashion in her spare time. She’s passionate about connecting with others with the same outlook and creating a kind of preloved community. She’s linked up with many people in Suffolk but also those in other parts of the UK and even as far away as the US and Australia.
“It’s a passion and lifestyle and the aim is to encourage others to think they could do it too,” she says.
Although she’s always loved secondhand clothes it wasn’t until 2015 that she began broadcasting online. She chose to go under the name of Preloved Chica - Spanish for ‘girl’ - after someone coined the phrase to describe her.
“It’s such a great name I had to use it,” she says. “I love searching for something unexpected. One day, almost two years ago, I came back from town with a pair of purple boots I had bought from the Sue Ryder charity shop. I was so happy with them that I just decided to click a button and tell people all about them and share my passion. I’ve been doing it every week ever since. What I really love is inviting others to join my show and talk about their purchases too and get their advice.
“I’ll be 60 next year. There are lots of young girls online talking about fashion and clothes. I’m hoping to appeal to older women and show the fun that can be had doing what I’m doing, keeping clothes out of landfill and embracing this lifestyle.”
Elene started off going to jumble sales in her native Wales as a teenager and remembers rummaging through tables full of clothing, looking for something a bit different. And that’s really why she does what she does. It’s great to pick up a bargain for a pound or two but for her that’s not the main motivation. It’s about finding the unusual, something that has a backstory so she help write the next chapter in its life.
And because she buys so much, she also has to free up wardrobe space by handing a lot back to charity shops so someone else can enjoy an item when she has finished with it. In fact, her motto is use it, wear it, pass it on.
“I never throw any clothes away,” she says. I like unusual clothes. I like the fact that buying at charity shops means you can dress uniquely. Also, I really like the fact that each item of clothing has its own story and history. I picked up a beautiful dress from a car boot sale at Needham Market and the woman selling it told me she had worn it to Newmarket races. As soon as she said that, I thought: ‘I’ve got to have that’. I always think about her and her day out at the races when I wear it.
“Another time, I bought a top and long skirt to wear to a ball. After the event, I decided to pass it on. It was bought by a woman in Canada who really liked the designer. So that went to the other side of the world, where someone else could love it.”
If you haven’t been into a charity shop for a while, you may find the modern incarnation of what many used to - and perhaps some still do - regard as the scourge of the high street, not quite as you remember it.
“Many charity shops are busy, bustling places,” says Elene. “A lot of young girls use them but so do a lot of older women and often, creative people who love using colour.”
Through Preloved Chica she’s also finding out about other ways to pass on clothing. For instance, recently she went to an event at someone’s home in Ipswich where guests brought five items they no longer wanted and took away five that had been left by others. She got some white tops and then did an online show about dying them.
Some of her favourite shops in Ipswich include one run by homelessness project Emmaus, in Dales Road, for the quality and range of items, and the Cancer Research shop, although, she says, there are many other good ones too. Elsewhere in Suffolk, both Felixstowe (not too expensive) and Bury St Edmunds (more upmarket) are especially great places to go shopping while in Essex, Colchester is very good. Internationally, Japan (where her son lives) is also excellent for picking up second hand buys, as is Holland.
“I think Britain has a pretty good reputation as a good place for charity shops too,” she adds. “I have spoken to someone in the US who told me we were so lucky with all the shops we have here. In almost every town you go to there’s a charity shop to explore and most of them are pretty good. I think the main thing to remember is that you have to have your eyes open. It’s a different way of shopping.”
So, how often does Elene herself buy something?
“Definitely every week,” she says. “I wouldn’t feel like my addiction was satisfied if I didn’t pick up something! I might only wear it a few times and then take it back to make room for the next thing. I’d encourage everyone to give it a go. You never know what you might find.”
For more information, visit Preloved Playlist or Elene’s website. Elene also recorded a show about the clothes she wore in the pictures that were taken for this article by EADT photographer Sarah Lucy Brown. You can find it here,