Charity Shop Provides Elegance in Ealing

Mary's Living & Giving celebrates the area with local photoshoots


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Earlier this year, a new set of photographs was shared on the Instagram account @marylivingandgivingealing. They feature a woman in a sleek black evening dress with cut-outs, walking barefoot in a field of grass and trees.

The dress is a Phase Eight design, pulled from the sale rack at the Ealing branch of Mary’s Living and Giving (MLG), the chain of boutique charity shops designed by retail expert Mary Portas for Save the Children in 2009. In the store, it had been donated by an Ealing resident, been sorted, steamed, tagged and priced by an Ealing volunteer and then displayed. Having not sold after a little while, it was included when a half-price sale was launched. Now, at a price of £17, it hung in the beautifully designed shop, awaiting a new owner.

When a new volunteer took over the social media for the shop, it was pulled for the first Elegance in Ealing photoshoot. Clothes are meant to be embodied. This particular dress, one of hundreds of items that move through the store with the purple front, looked so different in the photographs of volunteer model Sarah Yule in Walpole Park that shop manager Sandhya Kanabar says, “I’d put it on the sale rack only the day before, and I didn’t even recognize it!”

MLG manager Sandhya poses in a vintage Parigi dress at Ealing coffee shop The Moon and Maybe

The Elegance in Ealing photoshoots take items of clothing out of the shop, so that they can be seen in context. But not just any context. Nica Cornell, the volunteer who came up with the concept and runs the photoshoots, explains that, “As part of the community ethos of MLG, these photoshoots seek to celebrate local talent, history, sites and business. Thus far, we have done shoots at Walpole Park; The Cheddar Deli; the secondary steps of Ealing Town Hall; The Moon and Maybe; Mooch Ealing, and All Original, as well as one in our own shop. And we’re just getting started!!” All the models are Ealing residents who have volunteered their time and energy, as has local filmmaker and photographer David Traub. As well as sharing the photos themselves on social media, with details on the clothing featured, each post promotes the site in question with tidbits such as The Cheddar Deli providing cheese towers for special occasions, and that Ealing Town Hall featured a public library and swimming baths when it opened in 1888.

While dependent on a limited pool of volunteer models, the photoshoots seek to show a diverse range of ethnicities, body shapes and ages. “This is particularly important to us,” says Nica, “we are always working to increase the diversity of the models that we feature, as we believe that if we are going to celebrate our community, it has to be our actual community. The preparation is also such a fulfilling process – because it is for a good cause, people are willing to try things on that they wouldn’t normally wear. And in the process, they are often surprised at how beautiful they look! We all have our insecurities and doubts, but it is a privilege to watch how putting on that dress that fits just right can make someone feel more confident and stand up a little taller.” The MLG Instagram account has almost doubled its following in the two months since the launch of Elegance in Ealing.

Cheddar Deli founder Brent Wilkinson introduces MLG volunteer model Masa to a new cheese

Mary’s Living and Giving celebrates its ten-year anniversary this year. The first boutique charity shop was launched in Edinburgh Stockbridge in 2009. There are now 26 shops across the UK, which have raised a total of £20 million for Save The Children UK. These shops are designed to be community hubs, with each being uniquely designed to reflect its neighbourhood, and run by locals. As Mary Portas says, “I wanted to create a place for people to collaborate, share, and commune, with energy, kindness and love. I wanted us to think about how we live and how we give back.” Elegance in Ealing is an enactment of that ethos.

To see more of the photoshoots, follow @maryslivingandgivingealing on Instagram or Mary’s Living and Giving Ealing Shop on Facebook.

If you’d like to suggest a site, or collaborate on a shoot, get in touch via their social media accounts or email

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August 27, 2019

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