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Thrifting, a concept not so outlandish to the shoppers of today has been around since the 16th century. It then was sort of a barter exchange, in exchange for used clothes it aimed to provide food for the needy and the underprivileged. But over the span of about two centuries thrifting has mutated into a comprehensive business model and its altruistic nature has been cast off, although not entirely. Goodwill, one of the major stalwarts in the business of retail thrifting has been around for more than a hundred years and remains fairly true to the inaugural idea of the concept of thrifting – societal and community development. Contrastingly, many solely profit oriented thrift stores are in shedload in major cities of the world esp. London, NYC and Paris where if you’re lucky, and most times one is, you can walk out with a vintage Prada dress for a knockdown price, or an original one-of-a-kind YSL shirt for a price so low that it’ll make the shopper question the verity of the product, and if the store is affiliated with a foundation or a charitable cause, you’ll walk out with a good conscience that comes at no cost really!


India, in this respect, has been a dawdler. Buying and selling of second-hand goods began in the 1980s in places like Chor Bazaar in Mumbai and Chandani Chowk in New Delhi where objet d’arts and odd collectibles are bought and sold. Goa, with its rising inrush of international tourists, has well received the thrifting culture too, especially with the resale of fashion items. It’s fired enthusiasm in entrepreneurs in the urban cities only in the past few years. Bombay Closet Cleanse, a Mumbai based thrift store started as a fun garage sale for family and friends hosted at the founder, Sana Khan’s house in 2018 with the intention to simply clean out her own closet but also giving it back to society and since then the store has grown to be a respectable venture and has had a tremendous response mainly from the younger lot who are more open to the idea of shopping second-hand fashion. Similarly, when Curated Findings, another burgeoning second-hand fashion Instagram-based retailer, started during the pre-Covid period, there were very few thrift stores present, possibly just in single digits. “Ever since the covid lockdown began, the thrifting trend took off momentum and a lot of stores popped up on Instagram out of the individual need of people to clear out their own closets during that excess time. Today, we have over 250 Instagram stores in the country selling pre-loved clothing and we are absolutely loving this! One item thrifted is one less item ending up in the landfill”, says Tamanna Chawla, the Founder. 


On the whole many Indian consumers are still very averse to buying second-hand clothing items. There’s still a major stigma around it. Shreya, a digital marketer by profession and a stark non-thrifter, says she rather shop at an H&M or a Zara or even Amazon on sale for that matter than a thrift shop. ‘I don’t trust the quality of the products sold there. They somehow still look very worn-out. There’s something weird about wearing something that’s already worn by l-don’t-know-who! I did shop a Celine bag on for INR 30000 and a McQueen top though. A Celine bag for that price was a steal and I don’t think she has BO issues.’, she says. Many shoppers are unaware of the fact that the clothes go through solid and stringent quality checks before they are made ready for sale and are thoroughly laundered. Nevertheless, this stigma around buying secondhand clothing continues to detract fashion consumers, en masse, to newly piled stock of fashion items in physical stores, online stores and on social media, particularly if they’re heavily discounted or on sale. But Tamanna begs to differ, she claims that apparently, there’s a mixed audience. A part of the audience – young and woke, as I refer to them, is very open to the idea of thrifting. This audience is conscious and aware about the shortcoming of the fashion industry and are willing to make a difference with their conscious purchase decisions. However, the other half is not-so-open to the idea of thrifting and buying second-hand. They doubt and question the pricing and cost behind the thrifted pieces and are not willing to pay the asked price, majorly because it’s second-hand and expect it to be sold at throw-away prices. This part is ignorant of the efforts, cost and time put into the various functions of thrifting like curation, washing, sanitation and ironing, photoshoot and warehousing and logistics management. A lot of them are also not open to buying second-hand and are hesitant about the quality and authenticity of the instagram stores. Sana (Bombay Closet Cleanse) echoes the same feeling – “Of course the younger crowd has been welcoming to the whole concept of thrifting but there are always people who have reservations about it and second-hand shopping is not something looked upon as a dignified part of the fashion industry in an aspirational country like India where people, especially the older generation, aren’t fully aware of the concept and once they come to know that the clothes are pre-used, they walk out of the store”.

Shoppers who are staunchly ill-disposed toward thrifting also feel a severe need to uphold an image of a well-off person. A very common phenomenon among the conservative middle and upper middle classes of India. ‘It’s a poor person thing, to shop pre-owned items’, says Aradhyaa who works in the corporate sector. ‘I don’t shop a lot but if given a choice, you’ll see me browsing the aisles at Marks & Spencers or Promod, but never any thrift store.’ What’s also typical among many shoppers like Aradhyaa is that they’d rather buy a first copy imitation of a high street product than find authentic ones at thrift shops a season or two later at a marked down price. And in India there’s a large market for imitation goods – imagine a Ray Ban imitation for INR 300!

What’s more? Many non-thrifters have chosen to be so is perhaps due to their démodé understanding of the concept of thrifting. A thrift store is still a fashion Shangri-La of sorts for thrifters who love going on an expedition, sans any predefined shopping criteria, to find items from years ago that have stood the test of time and have travelled continents to land up in the now, in their shopping bag. It’s a different kind of a dopamine rush, many would agree. 


It’s definitely all this, but predominantly today thrifting has matured into becoming one of the easiest and a more sustainable way to consume fashion. Popularly known as circular fashion, where a product is circulated among consumers with the intention of extending its life cycle for as long as possible, in turn delaying its end of life, a product is better remodeled, recycled, repurposed and then resold than it ending up in a landfill somewhere left there to not decompose. Many consumers of fashion are driven by the idea of the ‘self’ alone and fail to see beyond themselves – the unprecedented environmental impact directly induced by humanity’s hard-wired unconscious lifestyle choices.  The concept of thrift shopping assumes the role of an on-the-fence proponent to both sides – as a prominent catalyst to circular fashion and a Utopia for fashion fiends. There’s definitely an added onus on the shopper to continue extending the product’s life and keep sustaining it till it’s deemed unusable but in this regard thrift shop owners are doing their major bit. A little more education and awareness on circular fashion and more sustainable ways of consuming fashion will spark off a more conscious consumer in all of us, no matter the country. 

IMAGE CREDITS: Girl with red hat, Allison Christine; UNSPLASH.COM

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