In this designer store in Edinburgh, every (donated) item is effortlessly stylish…

I'm drawn in by the striking window-display. Two slender mannequins are kitted-out in elegant, eye-catching floral dresses and the flowery theme echoes in the eclectic collection of shoes, bags and fine crockery.

I walk into what clearly is a vintage-lover's dream; the rails are heaving with fashionably retro clothes, the shelves are stacked with delightfully mismatched cups and saucers while lovely, chunky jewellery sits besides exquisite little bags.

In a league of its own

Around me, a group of young ladies gasp audibly, as they pull-out yet another stunner from the rails; one drapes a coat luxuriating in the feel of the sumptuously rich fabric; another checks -out the stylish fascinators, flashing a smile as wide as the sun.

I pinch myself for I find it hard to believe that this is a charity outlet; the sort one typically associates with musty smells, dark and dank interiors, other people's unwanted clothes and unloved books….

Except, “Mary's Living and Giving Shop, For Save the Children”, is in a league of its own. Set-up by Mary Portas, U.K.'s famous Retail Guru (and star of BBC Two's “Mary, Queen of Shops”) this lovingly created space, spectacularly lit by 105 low-energy light-bulbs, simply oozes chic! Well, charity-chic, if you insist…

Sitting amid a string of charity-outlets in Stockbridge, Edinburgh's affluent neighbourhood, this designer-charity store opened its doors to cost-conscious fashionistas in December 2009, who, famously, formed a long queue round the block and set the cash register ringing. Barbara Williams, “Mary's Living and Giving” shop manager, tells me that the store has since grown from strength to strength and is now self-sufficient with donations.

“Donations are the key to our success and since Mary's put her name to the shop, her following and popularity helps in bringing a class of donations. A lot of designer, vintage stuff is brought to us, as people know we get good value for them. Occasionally, we do get celebrity donations; Mary herself contributes once or twice a year, and we have really big labels like Ralph Lauren in store. And when you have a £3000 outfit on display, it creates energy and buzz, a wow-factor in the shop!”

The store, says Barbara, is now almost like a fashion-hub, and is largely staffed by volunteers – many working full-time as solicitors, lawyers – who love fashion, and are happy to put in a few hours in the weekend. “At the moment, we have 30 volunteers, and since all of them have their own unique style and take on fashion, it breathes life into the store and certainly helps with pricing the donations”.

Shopping-neutral

The store works on Mary's philosophy, which, interestingly, is all about being ‘shopping-neutral'; i.e., give something away before you buy another. And donating one good quality item, rather than a bag full of cheap clothes – that fall apart after a couple of washes – is encouraged. This trend, says Barbara, is actually popular among the 30+ age-group, who believe in quality over quantity.

“Our regulars range from stylish yummy-mummies, who mix and match our vintage and designer pieces with high-street fashion, to funkily dressed students, who're on the look-out for bargains and love revamping styles.”

With Grazia doing events in-store (which, Barbara tells me, is a major crowd-puller), local artists putting up their work on the walls and Scottish designers coming in to display their crafts, the shop is fast becoming a part of the community. And with so much on offer – high-fashion at a snip, not to mention high-standards in interiors – the shop easily remains in the public eye. Snapping a bargain and saving a child has never sounded easier, has it?

Quick facts

Mary's Living and Giving is located in Stockbridge, Edinburgh, a short bus ride away from the centre. (Adult singles: £1.30, Lothian Bus numbers 24, 29, 36 and 42)

The area is home to quality cafes, eateries (try the absolutely scrumptious macaroons at ‘ Patisserie Madeleine' across the road) and, of course, wonderfully stocked charity shops

All donations are carefully vetted and priced by the knowledgeable team. Then they're steamed, washed or dry-cleaned before being put on the shop floor