Online thrift stores generally source their collections from factory outlets, flea markets, factory reject thrift stores, closet clearance, among others.

A brown bag with a product from an online thrift shopInstagram / Alamara
Features Fashion Wednesday, January 20, 2021 - 16:59

Online shoppers in India would be familiar with brands like Myntra, Flipkart, Ajio and Limeroad, but since last year, many would have also noticed Posh Past, Thrift Fiction, Nush Thrifts and other names surfacing on Instagram.These are online thrift stores offering an array of unique pre-loved fashion at affordable prices to customers.

Though it’s been a trend in the west for a few years now, India has recently begun witnessing the rise of slow fashion. As opposed to fast fashion, which keeps pace with seasonal fashion trends, slow fashion calls for a sustainable model which relies on reusing pre-used clothes and accessories. The trend has also highlighted the need to slow down the accelerated rate of fashion waste in the country. Ganesh Venkataramani and Gowry Lekshmi, a popular Malayalam artist duo who runs Kochi-based Alamara The Thrift Store believes that, “The emergence of online thrift stores is a stand towards sustainable fashion in order to eliminate the consequences of fast-fashion industry like dumping clothes which are rejected and unsold into landfills.”

It was in the second half of 2020 that shoppers began to see an influx of Indian-based online thrift stores on Instagram. The pandemic forced everyone to ‘go online’ — a key reason behind the success of thrift stores, which are primarily found on the internet. Pooja Prabath, the owner of Kerala-based The Mallu Thrifter says, “Thrift stores came up because they promote sustainable fashion and the pandemic restrictions added to its benefits.”

Additionally, Shein, a popular Chinese affordable shopping site, was banned in India last year, forcing customers to search for other sources of pocket-friendly fashion. “The sudden popularity of thrift stores in my belief is the ban of Shein,” said Aleena Shibu who runs a Delhi-based online thrift store, Thrift_India.

What is thrifting and how do you do it?

Most of the online thrift stores connect with their customers through their Instagram handles, such as thrift_india, Nush Thrifts, Posh Past, Alamara the thrift store and others. Given that most thrift stores operate on Instagram, the customers generally fall within the age group of 18-30 years.

Through Instagram stories and posts, thrift stores will announce their upcoming “new” collections of pre-loved fashion — commonly termed as a “drop.” The announcements are usually a day prior to the “drop” to notify prospective customers.

Once the store drops its collection on its Instagram page, customers are free to comment or DM (direct message) to book their products. Thrifters will often turn on notifications for posts for a quick alert as items are picked up within minutes of a drop.

Why run thrift stores?

When asked why she decided to start her own thrift shop, Gujarat-based Thrift Fiction owner Kajol Gulabani says, “When I saw many Instagram thrift pages, I was motivated to start my own thrift page to promote reuse of clothes.”

Yet, for others, starting an online thrift store means clearing out the closet. Aleena Shibu says, “I had too many clothes that I owned which were barely used and in a perfect condition, which I didn't see myself wearing again because I either grew out of them or they were just not my style anymore.” Pooja Prabath, who started her thrift store recently, sources her collection from her own clothes, along with her close friends’ closets as well as a few trusted people whom she met online. However, many thrift store owners ‘drop’ a mixed collection sourced from their closets as well as clothes sourced from factory outlets, flea markets, factory reject thrift stores and local markets.

Few online thrift stores also offer the facility to donate or sell their clothes. “Anyone can come forward and donate/sell via Alamara. We choose which to sell, and the contributor gets paid a commission as well,” says Ganesh Venkataramani.

Last but not least, online thrift stores also help people earn easy money. Mary Marak, who runs Posh Past, says, “Many students and young girls have started online thrift stores because it is a very easy way to earn income.”

Why do they thrift?

For thrift store owners, the uniqueness of a pre-loved piece makes thrift stores a sought-after source for fashion. According to Ganesh Venkataramani, “Unique is the most important factor” in thrifting culture, as these stores offer a collection that transcends time and trends.

Another motivation for thrifting arises from the gradual realisation of the hazardous consequences of fast fashion, such as emission of greenhouse gases, the use of massive amounts of water and energy, depletion of non-renewable sources and the accumulation of fashion waste, among others. Thrifting, then, has become a sustainable alternative for customers.

As many thrift store owners articulated, the quality, longevity and affordability of fashion in thrift stores is yet another reason people have opted to thrift instead of shopping from stores like Zara and H&M.

Sustainability is the new trend

Thrift stores, which work on the principle of sustainability through fashion, have gone a step further by practicing sustainability at all levels of the production stage. “We go for sustainable and eco-friendly packaging. We use newspapers and our own stamps for packaging,” says Ganesh Venkataramani.

Mary Marak adds, “We try and use biodegradable papers for packaging the order. However with more followers and increasing orders, it gets hard to afford such things.”

But will thrifting culture survive after the pandemic, when shoppers can once again head to malls and other brick-and-mortar stores? Aleena Shibu replies, “I strongly believe that the thrifting culture in India is here to stay and will only get bigger and better with time.”

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