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Little Used - the recycling success story in Derby

PUBLISHED: 00:00 06 May 2019

Books waiting for new owners

Books waiting for new owners

sarah marley

David Marley visits Little Used in Mickleover, Derby, which is celebrating 35 years in business, having helped thousands of parents to recycle their children's outgrown garments and unwanted toys

A little-used girl's dressA little-used girl's dress

As a first-born, as well as the eldest grandson, my childhood was golden. All of my toys were bright, sparkly and shiny and my mother tended to dress me in new or handmade clothes.

For the younger family relatives who followed me into the world, their sartorial lot was a bit different. They were treated to my clothing cast-offs. Many of my hand-me-downs, or 'family heirlooms' as mum jokingly called them, went on to enjoy more lives than a cat. Despite their multi-use our family's garb was always freely-shared and given with love, even if it eventually bore a distinctly third- or fourth-hand feel. But that's just how it was back then.

Forty-odd years on the garment inheritance experience is beginning to change. A new generation of tech-savvy mums, determined to plug gaps in their household budgets, are logging on to the internet to trumpet their kiddie's pre-loved chattels.

And it only takes a few seconds (or 20 in my case) to search the internet to find an electronic jumble of websites devoted to the direct trade of second-hand children's clothes and toys.

Cherry Wisher, celebrating the 30th anniversary of her idea for a retail adventure, with Margaret O'ConnorCherry Wisher, celebrating the 30th anniversary of her idea for a retail adventure, with Margaret O'Connor

The rise in mum-to-mum selling is big business – and these so-called 'mumpreneurs' are spearheading a digital retail revolution that is growing year-on-year. But this wasn't always the case. Back in the early 1980s – before the internet was even a flicker in its inventor's eye – a Derbyshire woman was already thinking about how she could create a new business from the sale of used children's clothing.

In setting up Little Used, Cherry Wisher (formerly Cope) – from Melbourne – had hit on a golden idea, and perhaps had also unwittingly become one of the country's first pre-worn children's clothing mumpreneurs.

Her brainchild was simple. She wanted to sell clothing mum-to-mum via a bespoke shopping experience on the high street. As the business expanded and flourished her concept steadily became one of Derbyshire's longest-lasting retail successes.

'I suppose I was a bit ahead of my time,' laughs Cherry. In 1983 Cherry was heavily pregnant with her daughter and had just started maternity leave from WH Smith, where she was employed as a branch manager.

Margaret in Little UsedMargaret in Little Used

'The idea came to me when I was buying baby clothes for my daughter,' she explains. 'I really didn't want to go back to WH Smith – but I still wanted to do something productive. And at that time no-one else was really doing anything similar in the second-hand children's sector.'

Cherry enrolled on a business course run by the Derbyshire Chamber of Commerce and soon after opened a shop selling pre-worn children's clothes on Derby's Friar Gate. 'I could never have imagined that the business would become so popular. We quickly expanded and even moved into larger premises in the city. At the heart of my concept was a commitment to enable mums to earn something back from the investment they had made in buying beautiful high-quality new clothing – and at the same time giving other mums the chance to buy the items at a lower price.'

Four years later Cherry and her husband moved to a new accommodation business located near Ashbourne and sold Little Used as a going concern. 'Sadly, after five years, and two further owners, Little Used closed,' she explains. 'But I always had it in my mind that I wanted to return to it and get the business back up and running – and when I got the opportunity to open a new shop in Mickleover, I just had to jump at the chance,' she smiles.

Over the next 17 years Little Used thrived and became a much-cherished landmark in its village location. By now several generations of the same families were visiting the shop as a way to earn extra cash and find a branded-clothing bargain. By 2016 Cherry had made the decision to semi-retire and she sold the business to a Derbyshire farmer's daughter, Margaret O'Connor.

Nearly new party shoesNearly new party shoes

'Margaret invited me to continue to work in the business and we've become really close friends – and since then Little Used has gone from strength-to-strength,' she explains.

Margaret, who originates from Hatton Fields, in south Derbyshire, trained as a medical secretary at Burton Hospital after leaving school and had no previous retail experience when she bought the business.

'As a youngster, my pocket money was made babysitting for local farming families, then I trained as a medical secretary. After giving up work to start a family I did my husband's accounts for his electrical business – but in buying Little Used I truly was beginning a new adventure.'

And it appears that no two days are the same working in the attractively-fronted shop in the heart of Mickleover, located opposite a parade of stores, containing popular favourites such as Birds the Bakers as well as an impressive variety of independent retailers.

The shop on Uttoxeter Road in MickleoverThe shop on Uttoxeter Road in Mickleover

'I absolutely love working here – there's such a friendly atmosphere in our shop,' explains Margaret. 'So many of our visitors come in for the social aspect as well as for the shopping. There's a good community vibe here – which is fantastic.'

Little Used enjoys many regular and repeat shoppers. And many of the buyers eventually progress to becoming sellers. 'So many of our visitors have been coming to us for years – and as time passes a good number decide that they too would like to sell their kids' clothes, toys, games and books,' she says.

'Lots of these mums put the money they receive into a savings' account perhaps for a holiday or a special treat – while many younger mums save for driving lessons for their teenagers or for when they go away to college.'

Customers who wish to sell items at Little Used are welcome to bring one grocery-sized bag of clean, iron-pressed, in-season, high-quality branded children's clothes, books or toys.

Items are then checked by Margaret and her team for quality and those passing a vigorous inspection are priced for sale and displayed in the shop. 'Items selling generate a 40 per cent commission on the ticket price for the seller and individual items retailing for over £12.50 will earn an extra 10 per cent – which is more favourable than most shops nationwide,' Margaret explains.

The concept continues to be as popular as ever. More of Margaret's customers are coming to use her services because they are aware of the need to recycle and reuse clothing rather than throwing items in the bin and onward to landfill.

'I think people are more environmentally-aware than ever before,' she says. 'Typically low-quality, one-season, fashion items – clothes that are perhaps only worn a few times – contain toxic chemicals and when washed release plastics which go on to pollute our rivers and seas. By only selling the highest-quality high-street brands we can be confident that items we sell will have more than one owner.'

Any unaccepted items are stored to be collected by the owner for a limited period, otherwise they are sent to Refugee Relief, a charity which distributes clothing and toys to disadvantaged children in East European countries.

'This is a great way of completing the recycling circle – by doing this we ensure nothing we touch in our shop ends up going to landfill or being discarded or wasted,' Margaret says with great pride.

And walking out of the door to take some pictures of Margaret and Cherry it is interesting to see the great variety of customers pouring through the Little Used doors.

'We have such a wonderful set of customers – from footballers' wives to grandparents and also mums whose own mothers brought them in to the shop years ago,' smiles Margaret.

And at a time when the high-street is experiencing a downturn, with many banks and familiar brands disappearing, it is heartening to see that this golden idea for a business – first dreamed up over 35 years ago – continues to flourish and inspire the next generation of shoppers in Derbyshire.

Little Used, 14-16 Uttoxeter Road, Mickleover, Derby.

For details email:

sales@littleused.co.uk or telephone 07821 745204

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