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Filantrópia, charity shop Interview

Updated: Jan 19, 2019

I was in a charity shop in the UK for the first time and as a collector (recovering) and treasure hunter I fall in love with the concept. I was really happy when I see these shops opening also in Hungary - though I still go much more often for the flea market! In the last minute I managed to catch Zsuzsa Mester, one of the founder of Flantrópia charity shop. Read her thoughts about overconsumism, what are the stangest object in the charity shop and how to create a community through objects!

Please, intorduce yourself

I am Zsuzsa Mester. I am a cultural and visual anthropologist, one of the founders  of Profilantrop Association and since 7 years I am the president. 3 years ago we have founded and opened the Filantróp charity shop and since than most of my time I spend here especially my collague Juli VÖrös is at home with her baby. I have been working in the civil sector for long and I love to work with young people that is one of the reason we are also hosting European volunteers. These projects keep me motivated as I love to know other cultures. I live in Leányfalu (close to Budapest) and I am a nture person and I have an adopted cat.

What does charity means to you?

It is a difficult question, because I love to support people in everyday acts, like helping an older lady to lift her heavy bag while getting off the us, smiling at a crying baby, to be attentive to others. Of course, these acts are not charity, but more like cooperation, empathy but these forms of humanity are going out of style. I consider charity as a form of supporting others, giving them a hand when they need and what they need. I find it important to emphasize that we give help in what they need help, not what we think they need. Charity means energy, love and attention to me. When I donate I dedicate time to check the clothes what I want to give. I check if it is clean enough, wearable and that person whom I want to give really needs it or not.

When did you hear first about the concept of the charity shop?

I do not remember exactly but since many years already, maybe I saw in a Finnish film. After I went to the opening ceremony of the first charity shop in Budapest (E-cherry) in Alkotás utca.

Why did you choose to open a charity shop?

In the association, since many years we had been thinking to start up a social enterprise, I wanted to open an Eco-Hostel – I spent time with the details of this plan but I had to see others from the association were not that enthusiastic about this idea as I was. After many years of different experiences we have discovered the fact that an association has to be financially independent as well. The reason was, that an idea / project should not depend on funds, that in this way we could stay authentic and honest in what we do and we do not have to act according to tenders and all different type of applications. We were looking for an idea what was in line with our values and what could do with all heart – this is how the idea of Filantrópia was born. I have participated in many different courses and at the end we realized that the charity shop is a concept what we can all relate to and it has the same mission as Profilantróp NGO. Before – as we are all cultural anthropologist we have dealt with objects, the concept of kitsch and the association was dedicated towards sustainability in many forms (financial, environmental, etc.) in this way, slowly we got the picture together that we are going to open a charity shop.

How do you present these values in your daily life?

I do my best to live a sustainable life, to reduce my waste and not overconsume. I buy my clothes from secondhand shops since a long time, about the electronic tools I always do a background check of the company – if they work ethically, fair trade, how long is the durability of the product. After buying I use till it works, than I try to fix it,  after upcycle it in some way when there is no hope to fix it. I think I am the ‘last man on Earth’ who still use a simple mobile phone. It works perfectly, the battery takes it till 4-5 days without charging and I can call everyone.

Who goes into your shop?

We have a big variety in our customers, there are many and many type of people who buys by us. You can find many type of person in our customer selection, like people living in difficult financial situation, old people, families, kids. There the so called “treasure hunters” or collectors. There people from better financial conditions looking for unique pieces, young people looking for stylish pieces, expats ad tourists as well. Luckily there are more and more younger people in their 30’s who are conscious consumers, but there are people coming from the film industry, theaters. Last but not least, there are the drop ins in lunch break from the municipality, or kids after school, or stay at home moms and I can continue.

How did Hungarian people like the idea of the shop?

Before opening our shop we have visited many other charity shops and it was clear we want to create also a safe space to be in order to build community. “Filantrópia is an island where the not needed objects can find rescue and can serves others. Filantrópia is a community space where donor and the customer can both stay in order to find each other. It was important for us that the shop looks nice, that the objects are not in a simple card board box, but each of it has its own place. In order to reach this state we take special attention to the design, details, the color of the walls and the logo. I believe we could make it happen what we planned and the people loves it as well. Three years ago when we opened people started to visit the shop from the nearby, today they became donors and customers as well.

Do you donate? How do you do it?

I do donate regularly. Mainly clothes to the shop and I never through out food. If there is a leftover I prepare it and give it people in need. I bring it to them, explain what it is and I ask if they want to take it or not. Also our charity shop is giving away objects, cloths. We do specific selection for homeless shelters, women/mom house, kids department in the hospital according to what quality we get. Of course we get also a lot of waste what we cannot sell, reuse – these in some cases we give to animal shelters.

What is the most common item in the shop?

Women’s clothes.

What is the strangest object what you have met till now in the shop?

We meet many strange objects day by day at the store. There are cases when we do long research on the internet what is an object for, because when customers came in they want to know everything about the item. For example there were already few times in the store some plastic banana slicer – what is absolutely an unnecessary object. My current favorite’s are the reading glasses what you can fold into supertiny, and a very scary eskimo mask.

+1. I am satisfied when,

I see that our idea works, when customers are opening for each other, they share upcycling tips, recipes of the Grandma’ in a corner of the shop without knowing each other. In the meanwhile a customers comes back and shares that she made happy a little girl with the coat she bought here.

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