'You don't need any money' - Welcome to the clothes swap shop

New U Cromer

Sean Cowie, assistant manager, Sue Buffin, CEO, and Christine Robinson at New-U, a women's clothing swap shop in Cromer. - Credit: Daniel Hickey

As part of this newspaper's Your Money Matters campaign, reporter Daniel Hickey visited a unique clothing shop that's helping people save instead of spend. 

It's a shop where you don't need to spend any money. New-U, a swap shop for women's clothing on Brook Street in Cromer, opened in late January

Customers exchange donations of clothes for points which can then be spent in the shop. It's an idea that seems tailormade for these economically ominous times, when households across the UK are facing rising energy prices, soaring grocery bills and the highest level of inflation in a decade.

Sue Buffin, 56, founder of chief executive of New-U, said: "People have less and less money now. What attracts customers to the shop is the not-spending and it's the environmental aspect."

Opening of New-U shop in Cromer

Former mayor of Cromer Mike Bossingham opens New U in January 2022. - Credit: New-U

Customers can bring in up to 10 good quality, clean and undamaged items of clothing on any given day, then swap those clothes for points which can be spent in the store.

The shop also sells some items to ensure that it can stay open

Ms Buffin said: "You don't need any money to get clothes in this shop. As long as you have something to swap, which is in good condition, you can get clothes here.

"It's for people on a budget. Everyone has something in their wardrobe they might never wear again. If you have things in your wardrobe you don't wear anymore, you can bring them here."

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Ms Buffin said the shop also helps to keep clothes "in circulation" so there is a smaller carbon footprint.

"There are so many good clothes being brought in," she said. "There is such an excess of clothing out there that already has a huge environmental footprint. It just makes sense to keep them in circulation."

New U Cromer

A sign in the New U in Cromer explains how the swap shop works. - Credit: Daniel Hickey

The New-U charity was established in 2018.

Ms Buffin had worked for the health service for 20 years and then at the Prince's Trust, where she ran an employability programme called Talent Match.

As part of that work, she set up a clothes loan scheme for people looking for outfits for interviews and formal occasions.

"We quickly realised we could do far more and have a swap shop," Ms Buffin said. 

When the project came to an end, she left the Prince's Trust and set up the New-U charity, opening a swap shop in Castle Mall in Norwich in 2018.

New U Cromer

Sue Buffin, CEO, Christine Robinson, and Sean Cowie, assistant manager, outside New U, a female clothing swap shop in Cromer. - Credit: Daniel Hickey

Sean Cowie, 40, has been assistant manager of the Cromer store since just after it opened.

He said: "I thought it would take months for the swapping and points system to catch on, but within weeks we had so much success with donations coming in, and customers coming in, on a regular basis.

"We've had more people buying items by points rather than with cash.

"It's been a brilliant success," he added.

Mr Cowie, who has previously worked in charity shops, said: "I've had so many donors in other shops who have a really lovely dress or a pair of shoes, but because you've paid so much money for it, they don't want to part with it for nothing, even though they don't wear it.

"With us, with the points system, the donor isn't getting money back, but they are getting something, and people are more willing to part with those things."

Clare Francis, project manager, and on the right Sue Buffin, founder and CEO of New-U.

Behind the counter on the left is Clare Francis, project manager, and on the right Sue Buffin, founder and CEO of New-U. - Credit: New-U

Currently, the most popular items in the Cromer branch are dresses. As June approaches, they are hoping to receive more donations of summer clothes.

Ms Buffin said that on average, an M&S dress will get six to eight points.

A point is worth about 50p. A donor might get the equivalent of £4 for a dress while buying one equals approximately £7.

A pair of jeans, a top, jacket and shoes costs about 40 points.

The North Norfolk News has launched a Your Money Matters campaign.

The North Norfolk News has launched a Your Money Matters campaign. - Credit: Archant

The shop also hosts rag-rug workshops, run by Christine Robinson, 68.

The rugs are made from pieces of fabric cut from clothes which have been donated but are not suitable or good enough for display.

Across the two sites they have 30 volunteers.

The shop also provides work placement opportunities for long-term unemployed young people with low level mental health issues, disabilities and hidden disabilities.

The experience is geared towards helping trainees gain confidence and recognise the skills they already have.

Ms Buffin said she would like to think there is a future for her charity's business model.

"But there's no money in swapping, so we're reliant on funding," she said.

New-U is open from 11am to 4pm Wednesday to Sunday. 

Saving money on clothes: Some ideas

Which? Has put out a list of ways people can save money on clothing. Some top tips are:

-Buy children’s shoes for yourself: If you are a size five or under, this is a handy way to save as children’s clothes and shoes avoid VAT. 

-Try ‘swishing’: This is swapping clothes or footwear with others. This works particularly well for children’s clothes. You could even organise a ‘swishing party’ among your friends. 

-Consider quality: Value for money doesn’t always mean the cheapest option. Read online reviews of items before you buy if you want to get an idea of their quality. 

-Haggle: If you spot an item in a store you’d like but it has a fault, you may be able to haggle the price down. Just ask, what do you have to loose? Missing buttons can be resewn on and most stains can be removed. 

Our campaign: Helping you through

The North Norfolk News has launched a Your Money Matters campaign to address the rising cost of living.

Our reporters will commit to telling your stories, sharing both your struggles and successes.

We want to do more for our readers than just reporting on price increases. We need to help find solutions, ways to make it easier and areas in which we can fight so people can enjoy a better quality of life.

If you run a north Norfolk shop or business and have a special offer to promote aimed at easing the burden of the rising cost of living, contact our reporters Stuart Anderson at stuart.anderson@archant.co.uk or Daniel Hickey at daniel.hickey@archant.co.uk.