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For model looks for less, why not try a charity shop?

The NI Hospice says there is fashion galore in its charity shops...so we challenged our catwalk stars to buy an outfit for under £50

By Stephanie Bell

Published 22/07/2015

Dressing to impress: Rebecca Shirley
Dressing to impress: Rebecca Shirley
Leanne’s look: Festival. Total spend: £12.50
Dwayne’s look: Smart casual. Total spend: £34.80
Meagan’s look: Date night. Total spend: £15

As they enjoy a glamorous Champagne gathering in Belfast's fashionable Fitzwilliam Hotel, these top local models are hiding a wonderful secret - their elegant outfits were bought especially for the occasion - from a local charity shop.

The four young fashionistas, who are more used to dressing in designer threads for photo shoots and the catwalk, were recently challenged to shop at a second hand store by the Northern Ireland Hospice.

Three Miss Northern Irelands were joined by Mr Northern Ireland all from the Alison Campbell Agency in Belfast to find a fashionable outfit in their local Hospice shop for under £50. The models were given a brief to choose clothes which were bang on trend and suitable for one of five occasions - a festival, cocktail party, smart casual, formal or date night.

While there was some apprehension - Leanne McDowell, Meagan Green, Dwayne Kerr and Rebekah Shirley - all emerged delighted after their shopping trip, and looked stunning as they posed for this exclusive photo shoot before mingling with the cool crowd at the Fitzwilliam.

The task was designed to highlight the importance of the Hospice shops in supporting the charity's work as well as showing that there is something for everyone among its clothes rails. A Northern Ireland Hospice spokesperson said: "The challenge was to show people of all ages that superb fashion items can be found in Hospice charity shops provincewide at affordable prices."

‘I was spoilt for choice, there was so much variety’

Miss Northern Ireland 2014, Rebekah Shirley (19), from Ballymoney, is surrounded by fashion everyday both in her job as a part-time model and as a sales assistant with high street store Topshop. She was thrilled to take part in the Hospice challenge, especially as she chose the Children's Hospice as her charity during her year as Miss Northern Ireland. She says:

"I started modelling when I was 16, mostly at bridal shows. A work placement at a local fashion magazine, though, turned into an opportunity when they asked me to be their front cover model.

Shortly after that I started working for ACA, going on to win Miss Northern Ireland last year, which really kick-started my modelling career. It was a great year and it flies by so quickly.

I love my fashion, but I don't have a favourite label. I would buy a lot of my clothes in Topshop, while for evening wear or a special occasion I like Blush on the Lisburn Road, so I have a mix of high street and designer clothes.

I don't have a specific style; I like to mix it up. During Miss Northern Ireland, I had to dress in an elegant and ladylike way, but my normal look would be more casual and edgy.

My monthly clothing spend would be between £100 to £200.

I chose the Northern Ireland Children's Hospice as my charity during my year as Miss Northern Ireland, so I had shopped at my local Hospice shop in Ballymoney. For my challenge I chose the 'festival' category.

I found a really cute denim dress in charcoal which I paired with tan wedges of my own and a long necklace. It cost £3.50 and I loved it, I would definitely wear it again. I wanted to get something that reflected my own style, so I was really pleased with what I got. I actually was spoilt for choice as there was so much to choose from.

A lot of the clothes were from high street stores where I shop, such as New Look and Marks and Spencer, and all very affordable.

I think it is great idea for the Hospice to showcase their stores and encourage people to give it a go and find something they will like."

‘I’ll be hunting for bargains there again’

Meagan Green (25), from Lisburn, was studying for a career in business when she won Miss Northern Ireland in 2013, and found herself working full-time as a model. A self-confessed fashionista she was the perfect candidate for the Hospice fashion challenge and choose an outfit suitable for a 'date night'. She says:

"I love fashion and always have even before I started modelling which was never something I planned to do being a country girl from a farming background. I just love it now.

I love everything about fashion - the make-up, the photography, the clothes - and I grew up watching fashion week TV and looking at magazines to see what the new season's trends were.

This fashion challenge to find a fashionable on trend outfit for under £50 was right up my street.

There are two sides to my style. When working on a modelling assignment, I am usually in a dress or tailored trousers, always with heels. When I am off duty, I think you can't beat a pair of skinny jeans, Converse trainers and a casual shirt.

I like Karen Millen and Coast, the latter of which are designer quality with high street prices. I like to think my style is classic - like a younger Kate Middleton - very elegant and ladylike, but still fun.

I have to confess that I have never shopped for clothes in a charity shop before, and I wasn't sure how I would get an outfit that was on trend for under £50.

In reality, there was so much choice that I ended up buying two outfits. I bought a black linen Marks and Spencer jumpsuit with a V-neck and wide legs which was absolutely beautiful. The jumpsuit can be dressed down with sandals or teamed with heels for a night out with the girls.

For my photo shoot I found a beautiful Loulou dress which has a Grecian-style - and beautiful colour which is on trend.

It cost £15 and was probably only worn for a couple of hours. I absolutely loved the dress and its neutral shade meant it was so easy to wear and very flattering, too.

I am now a Hospice shopping convert - I'll be hunting for fashion bargains there again. I would encourage anyone to give it a go - you might be surprised what you find.

‘It has changed my perception of charity shops’

Dwayne Kerr (22), from Lurgan, has been a part-time fashion model with ACA for five years and recently signed with London-based sports brand agency W Athletic. Dwayne also works as a social media marketer and content developer with Icons Festival Company in Belfast. He managed to come in under budget by splashing just £7.95 on a shirt, £1.95 on a scarf, £14.95 on a blazer and £9.95 on jeans for his "smart/casual" look. He says:

My first experience of modelling was when my mum put me in for a competition to find the Face of DV8 when I was 18. I got into the top 10 and, even though I didn't win, Alison Campbell spotted me and offered me a contract. I've been modelling part-time ever since.

I enjoy meeting new people and trying on lovely clothes and getting my photo taken in them.

I've just signed with W Athletic in London who work with all the top sports brands. But when it comes to buying my own clothes I am not hung up on labels. I am actually wearing a pair of jeans from Primark right now.

When I go shopping, I usually have something specific in mind. I spend £100 every couple of months on clothes.

I shop anywhere - designer or chain store - finding the right fit is more important.

I do have some designer pieces in my wardrobe, and my favourite label is All Saints.

I have to admit, I have never gone into a charity shop to buy clothes before the Hospice challenge.

It just never entered my head that I would get clothes I liked in a charity shop.

I couldn't believe the type of clothes they had and how many brand names.

I went to the Hospice shop on the Ormeau Road, which unfortunately didn't have a big range of men's clothes at that time. I loved the outfit I got, all except for the jeans, as I had to get a bigger size and they were boot cut which I wouldn't normally wear.

It's hard to believe how cheap the clothes were.

I got a blazer, a shirt and a scarf as well as jeans, and I felt comfortable in them.

It is an outfit I would wear out for dinner or meeting friends. It has definitely changed my perception of charity shops.

I was told that fewer men donate to charity shops than women, which is why there is less choice for men, but even with that limited choice I was really happy with what I got.

The clothes are affordable and the fact that your money is going to a good cause is a bonus."

‘I was really surprised at the quality’

Recently crowned Miss Northern Ireland Leanne McDowell (20), from Newtownabbey, was astonished to pick up a gorgeous dress and chunky necklace in the charity shop for just £12.50. The 19-year-old student is currently enjoying her busy year as a beauty queen and model. She says:

I've always loved fashion and spend hours looking at magazines to get inspiration on outfits. I love to dress up; my style would be classic and elegant.

I have never shopped for clothes in a charity shop before, but after the challenge I will be now. It just never occurred to me that I would find clothes I liked there. I was really surprised by the quality of the clothes, despite the fact there was not a huge range in my size - which has made me want to donate my clothes to the Hospice.

I chose the 'festival' category, and the dress I bought is so beautiful, I wish now I had a festival to go to. I will definitely wear it again. I couldn't believe how cheap it was. I loved the charity challenge and I will be shopping there again."

Counting the cost of nursing care

  • The Northern Ireland Hospice has 27 shops across Northern Ireland which provide an important income for the Hospice
  • The shops offer the community an easy way to support the work of the Hospice through donating stock, volunteering time in the shops and buying from them
  • Good quality clothes are a big seller with others sold for recycling
  • A standard black bag of donations can earn between £25-£30 for the charity which covers the cost of an hour of specialist nursing care
  • The Hospice will accept donations of clothes, fashion accessories, jewellery, homeware, books, CDs and DVDs
  • Shops in greater Belfast, Bangor and Antrim also accept furniture donations
  • A volunteer doing a half-day shift a week for a year contributes at least £1,500 in funding for the charity

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