Christine Colbert’s Dress Cheshire - pre-loved fashion in Prestbury
PUBLISHED: 00:00 09 April 2020 | UPDATED: 16:25 14 April 2020
You can shop sustainably without sacrificing style at Christine Colbert’s Dress Cheshire
We know about plastic bags. We know about straws. And we can’t even bring ourselves to face the shame of asking for coffee without a KeepCup. But for all the good that does, many of us are still finding it difficult to break free of bad fashion habits – those bulk-buying bargain basics with a click of a mouse – delivered in swathes of plastic.
Fashion is the third largest polluter of our planet after oil and gas, and our fondness for fast retail does nothing to help this. Every year, 300,000 tons of clothing ends up in landfill, not to mention the damage done to the environment in creating the materials in the first place. It’s frightening to think what we’re contributing to the problem. But there are easy fixes, such as shopping sustainably.
In fact, the coolest way to update your wardrobe with Insta-worthy style this season is as budget friendly as it is green. Enter… the dress agency.
Impeccable, luxurious and pre-loved are just some of the hallmarks of Christine Colbert’s Prestbury boutique, Dress Cheshire. The décor is gorgeous, with statement walls, velvet-covered chaise lounges and rails filled with everything from Chanel jackets to DVF dresses. This is boutique buying with the added benefits of saving both money and the planet, as well as giving to local charity.
Christine is the perfect advocate for sustainable shopping. Impeccably dressed in a designer blazer under rows of Coco pearls, the award-winning marketeer has long been ahead of the eco-shopping curve. Luxury and longevity are at the heart of her fashion ethos.
‘I’ve been going to dress agencies for more than 20 years, and always liked the idea of sustainable fashion even though I probably never used that term,’ she says. ‘Of course it’s on-trend now. But I’ve always appreciated the quality of designer brands even if I haven’t been fortunate enough to afford them from new. My first secondhand buy, 22 years ago, was a Vivienne Westwood dress,’ she says proudly. ‘I still have it; the design is timeless.’
Unable to get pristine pre-loved pieces by the likes of Hermès or Louis Vuitton in Prestbury, she toyed with the idea of opening a dress agency in her home village – but with a luxury edge. She reasoned it would do well because of the amount of designer clothes gathering in local wardrobes, not least her own. ‘From deciding to do it on a beach in Barbados during the summer of 2018, it took me 14 weeks to open the store,’ she says.
Fuelled by her passion for fashion, Christine walked her dogs for miles doing leaflet drops, encouraging locals to donate unwanted designer clothes and accessories. Her business idea of selling pre-loved luxury goods was an instant hit and has gone from strength to strength.
“People want to give to charity but also want to get some money back – eBay wouldn’t exist if they didn’t,” she laughs. “It’s sustainable, it’s recycling and I’m making a good margin, so it’s win-win.”
It helps that buying secondhand items has lost its stigma thanks to powerful warnings from national treasure David Attenborough, the protests of Extinction Rebellion and the Herculean efforts of a certain Swedish teenager. Attitudes are slowly, but surely, changing for the better.
Of course, Christine has long had a bad feeling about fast fashion, reasoning that someone, somewhere, suffers for a T-shirt that costs just a couple of pounds. And she’s not alone. Research from Mintel shows British women are moving away from their fast shopping habits and buying with sustainability in mind, with 47% interested in how their clothes are made.
A dress agency allows people to dispose of their unwanted clothes ethically and encourages women to buy better. It helps that donors are given 50% of the sale price.
‘We are very strict – the items we take have to be ready to hang,’ explains Christine. We’ve turned away high-end brands that need dry cleaning. People are now more likely to take care of their clothes knowing they can sell them here.
‘We have a little saying that if we love it, we’ll list it, even if it’s high street. A lot of stores, such as H&M, have collaborated with designers or released limited edition pieces. We want there to be something for everyone – from £15 to thousands. We have such an eclectic mix of styles and brands and after just over a year, we have more than 700 members.
‘We don’t swap – although for some people it may feel like that as they sell something, then buy another thing. Clients love it as they feel as though they’ve had something for free.’ They’re also given the opportunity to help local charities. ‘It’s important to give back,’ says Christine. ‘We make a cash donation to Caudwell Children by taking the loose change from an item. We also have affluent sellers who give their half to charity. We’ve already raised enough money to fund a therapy cycle, and donate unsold items to East Cheshire Hospice charity shops – but only if the client doesn’t want them back.’
There is a real feel-good vibe to shopping at Dress Cheshire, not least due to the sense of community and friendly staff. And then there’s the attention to detail, with logo-strewn hangers, signature scents and purchases carefully wrapped in tissue and branded bags. They’re scrupulous about provenance too. ‘With the majority of the really high-end stuff we take, we ask for the original receipt or know the people selling. If we have even 1% of doubt, we won’t take it,’ says Christine. ‘And if the brand owner says it’s not genuine, we’ll give the money back within 14 days.’
It is considerations like these that have made Dress Cheshire such a success, so much so that there are plans to open similar stores in neighbouring towns.
Viva la pre-loved.