When the country went into lockdown to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus in March 2020, it quickly became clear that every aspect of our social and economic lives would have to be reimagined — including physical shopping experiences, that ceased overnight. Against this backdrop, highly stylized photographs of pre-loved clothing started appearing with increased frequency on Instagram’s Explore section in India. Almost a year later, ‘thrifting’ has entered the mainstream for a new generation of shoppers, looking to mitigate the damning effects of fast fashion. Covered extensively by publications like Firstpost, Vogue India, and The Hindu, thrifting has skyrocketed in popularity among millennial and Gen-Z shoppers. Since the last time we counted, at least 50 more Instagram-first storefronts have popped up against the country’s online shopping landscape. And that’s a conservative estimate.
At the time of writing this article, the #thriftindia hashtag returns over 75,000 posts on Instagram, already up from 40,000 in January, 2021, as reported by Livemint. Recent research by Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP) and Worldwide Resources India (WRI) estimates that ‘Indian citizens who love shopping also love pre-loved clothing’ with 91% of those surveyed saying they would be interested in trying the re-commerce model from a brand they like. It must be mentioned here that the sample is skewed towards wealthier, urban Indian citizens, and that data about the country’s secondhand fashion market is still fairly limited. However, globally, it is expected to touch $64 billion in the next five years, according to a report by ThredUp (the world’s largest online thrift store) and research firm, GlobalData Retail.
Which begs the question: are we at the beginning of a fashion revolution? SUSS spoke to three thrift store owners — in Mumbai, Manipur, and Noida— to understand how they source their pieces, the work involved in running an online, secondhand clothing business, how the pandemic has made us all review our lifestyle choices, and the future of thrift in India.
For the uninitiated, these online thrift stores typically announce limited-piece ‘drops’ — or curated edits of clothing and accessories sourced from many places (including flea markets, export surplus stores and vintage stores around the world) — on Instagram. Buyers are encouraged to turn on notifications so they can browse-and-buy before pieces sell out (sometimes within a matter of a few minutes), and bookings are usually placed over Instagram Direct Messages. Sisters Linno and Lumri Jajo, who co-founded their thrift store, Folkpants in 2019, believe that the social media app has made the whole process of uploading a drop incredibly easy. In addition, it allows them the flexibility to seamlessly connect with potential customers, building a community through engaging, creative content.
While Folkpants was always Instagram-first, the coronavirus pandemic led stylist Vaibhavi Javalkar and photographer Akshay Tambe to re-imagine their thrift store, Aimée, as an online shop. Javalkar says,
“Akshay and I ran a hostel in Delhi, and many times people just gave us stuff (they weren’t using any longer).”
Aimée, she explains, began simply as a way to find people who might have use for their increasing pile of clothes, but it was only when travel restrictions were imposed that they decided to try the online thrift shop model. Given their professions, Instagram seemed like the obvious choice. Meanwhile, Dame Rynjah shares that while the social media platform bolstered the initial success of his thrift shop, Acid Rags, it became a challenge to handle orders over time. “Then,” he says, “came the web shop.”
The business of thrifting on Instagram
While not a full-time profession for any of the thrift store owners we spoke to, running a secondhand fashion business can take up a large chunk of your day. Once the pieces are sourced, they have to be cleaned, laundered, and checked for defects. If repairs are needed, they typically happen at this point. Then measurements of every single item are taken, before being prepped for shoots and segregated into drops (like ‘satin shirts’, ‘cardigans’, ‘florals’). Lumri says, “We try to have a theme for the shoots whether in the way of colors or a style or a trend.” After this, the individual Instagram posts are created and uploaded, and orders begin to be placed and fulfilled. Is this a sustainable model? Linno says yes.
“We make a curation of at least 20 items for a drop/collection which we source locally from second-hand shops mostly owned by women. We contribute to the circular economy by reducing waste and reusing or up-cycling unique or rare clothing and accessories, and no resources are spent on production.”
The hardest bit? To constantly come up with new and fresh ideas to make Folkpants more engaging. Lumri explains, “We do a lot of research in terms of content creation and follow-up on current clothing trends. We try to curate pieces that people can easily incorporate into their wardrobe and look fashionable — even if they are secondhand and vintage.” For Rynjah, it’s the logistics of processing and delivering orders. “I haven’t overcome this obstacle yet; I’m still trying to figure it out,” he says. That, and constantly scrubbing the notion that pre-loved fashion is unhygienic or only meant for those that can’t afford first-hand clothes.
The future of fashion in a post-pandemic world
Lumri and Linno share that there were only a handful of thrift/vintage stores when they started, but they have noticed a lot more mushrooming post the lockdown. “Whether this is because people wanted to get rid of extra stuff in their closets or they finally had the time to set up shop, we’re not sure. However, there certainly seemed to be more awareness about thrifting,” Linno says. In addition to practical reasons for the uptick in the sale of secondhand fashion over the last year (possibly led by these virtual thrift stores) like affordable prices and ease of home delivery, Javalkar believes that the lockdown triggered the need for consumers to make more deliberate, conscious choices. “We actually saw a rise in people who wanted to turn to thrifting as opposed to buying fast fashion,” the 27-year-old says. Linno says that Folkpants’ followers and customers have definitely increased over the last year (especially in comparison to 2019). Lumri adds,
“In this period, there was a huge increase in people purchasing from thrift shops and making the shift to more conscious spending or swearing off fast fashion completely, so hopefully that’ll remain or continue to grow even when in-store shopping resumes.”
So is thrifting the solution to the problem of fast fashion? Rynjah says, “It could be, but we’re years away from it. Fast fashion is a parasite that never dies. The sudden influx of online thrift stores is a good sign though.” While thrifting is not the only solution, Lumri says, it plays a huge role because it gives people alternatives to conveniently explore sustainable ways of consuming clothes. She explains, “Thrifting becomes an alternate form of conscious consumption for people who want to take a step away from fast fashion but can’t afford sustainable and ethical brands.” Thrifting on Instagram, the founders of Folkpants believe, provides the added benefit of being a space where you can engage with like-minded, sustainability enthusiasts and have honest conversations about other experiences, intentions, and responsibilities.
However, it’s important to consider choices in their entirety and not just because they ‘look’ like they’re better-for-the-environment. In an interview with Firstpost, Aliya Curmally, head of strategy of the Indian chapter of the not-for-profit global movement Fashion Revolution, says.
“From the broader perspective, things can get contradictory if, for example, the garment is being shipped over tremendously large distances (and is building up a large carbon footprint), or if the maintenance of the garment is chemical-heavy and needs a lot of dry cleaning.”
Moreover, given the instantaneous nature of thrift store drops, some believe that they encourage impulse-buying. Javalkar says, “The real answer to solving fast-fashion consumerism would definitely consist conscious decision-making and letting go of frivolous short-term purchases, making way for timeless, well-made pieces that stand the test of time.”
In other words? The future of fashion is mindful.
This article has been written by Maanya Sachdeva, a full-time journalist who also leads marketing and communication for SUSS.
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