When her husband, Jon gave Jessica Humphreys a £12,000 black Hermes tote two years ago, she thought she would never let it out of her sight. ‘It was a present for my birthday and I treasured it, keeping it in its luxurious soft dust bag and bringing it out on special occasions only,’ the interior designer recalls.‘Then, last month, we were hit with a few big bills — £6,000 for our kids’ school fees and £1,500 for some emergency rewiring — which we couldn’t afford. That’s when I thought the unthinkable and sacrificed the Hermes.’Yet rather than sell the bag on eBay, which would have meant losing it forever, Jessica, 43, used it as collateral to get a loan. In short, she pawned it. While traditional pawn shops are not somewhere you’d usually find middle-class women like Jessica, they’re emerging as their High Street lender of choice.
The National Pawnbrokers Association (NPA) reported 15 per cent growth in business last year, half of which they put down to the rise in individuals and small businesses using their services following the recession. The number of specialist web-based pawnbrokers and those accepting designer clothes and accessories has also grown, fuelling a rise in women raiding their wardrobes to raise cash.‘I’d never considered pawning anything before,’ says Jessica, from Cobham, Surrey. ‘Then a friend told me she’d pawned her two beautiful Chanel handbags — one black, one ivory, that had cost around £1,000 each — plus a £3,000 Temperley evening dress, and been given £2,000 instantly. That’s when it dawned on me that our greatest assets, other than the house and cars, were in my wardrobe.’
Within ten minutes of arriving at high-end pawnbroker Prestige Asset Finance in Weybridge, Jessica had signed the paperwork and left with £4,000 — and a huge sense of relief. She could now cover her bills, and was confident she would be able to repay her loan and reclaim her Hermes tote within the six-month term.Ray Perry, CEO of the NPA, says: ‘Historically people pawned gold, but in theory you can pawn absolutely anything because what you’re doing is providing security against a loan — be it a car, jewellery or, as we’re now seeing, designer dresses, heels and handbags.