Young Indians snap up second-hand clothes as more seek unique, sustainable alternatives to fast fashion
- Many Indian thrift shops on Instagram began with users decluttering their wardrobe, who gave away or sold cheaply the clothes that they no longer used
- Second-hand, vintage shopping gained traction in India after Covid-19 kept people home and closed shops
“I love the thrill of finding a unique piece like a corset or a blazer, and scoring a bargain. Recently I got a smart trench coat for just 1,500 rupees (US$18).”
“There has been a perceptible perception shift. In the past there was a lot of stigma attached to wearing hand me downs because of the belief that it carries the old energy of the previous owner. Ironically, Indians have been always thrifting and upcycling- converting old saris into kurtas or dresses and passing down saree collections to the next generation,” says Prakash.
Over 80 billion pieces of new clothing are purchased globally every year. About three in every five of these clothing products end up in landfills within years of production.
Global interest in preloved and upcycled clothes, which are seen as more sustainable and help reduce carbon footprints, has risen. The second-hand clothing industry is expected to grow by 127 per cent annually by 2026, according to a report by resale platform Thredup.
Many Indian thrift shops on Instagram began with users decluttering their wardrobe, who gave away or sold cheaply the clothes that they no longer used. Response was good as many people aged 18-24 became more aware of the perils of fast fashion and sought sustainable alternatives.
Pune-based Shreya Jain, 30, the owner of GON Vintage says, “Having grown up in a joint Indian family with lots of siblings, hand-me-downs were never something I looked at with shame. Growing up, most of us have worn clothes that came from an older sibling that were in too good a condition to be thrown away.”
“When I moved to Milan for work, the flea markets and vintage stores had better quality items that were unique,” she said.
Second-hand clothing stores also have their roots in charity, with Chennai-based Instagram store @theRelovecloset beginning as a project in April 2020 to raise funds for India’s Covid-19 relief efforts. Proceeds of sales were then channelled to NGO ‘The Kindness Foundation’. The business model “grew organically” from there, said store owner Sruti Ashok, 31.
In addition to buying and selling second-hand clothes, the business also charges sellers a small sum for listing items for sale on its platform. It also continues to work with fundraisers for various social causes.
Ashok acknowledges that the concept of buying second-hand clothes remains “nascent” in India despite its rapid growth in the last few years. She continues to see the potential in the industry, as “we’ve had so many customers who have been first-time thrifters, and are thoroughly convinced now to continue buying used over new”.
Thrift stores also began as consumers felt bored with fast fashion’s mundane, repetitive offerings and sought more unique options.
Divya Saini, 28, started Bodements in 2018, selling designer clothes, footwear and accessories bought from vintage stores and flea markets across the world. “I always had a strong and unique sense of style, and after five years of working in the fashion industry, I felt there was a need for ‘cooler’ clothes in India.”
She admitted to not fully understanding the background and environmental and social repercussions of fast fashion, in addition to growing “tired” of it. “I had a wardrobe full of clothes, many that I had never worn, and wanted to focus on making conscious choices. I wanted to promote slow fashion,” Saini said.
Mumbai-based fashion stylist Riya Rokade, 25, also started Vintage. Laundryy in 2020 as she found fast fashion boring, and wanted clothes “with more character and soul”. Thrifting allowed her to express her creativity in an environmentally friendly manner.
Prices of “gender-fluid clothes that can be worn by anyone” are kept in an affordable range of 650-1,700 rupees (US$8-21). Rokade also pointed out issues at the start, that consumers in the then-fledgling second-hand market were slow to trust the quality of items she sold. But more young Indians came on board with buying second-hand clothes and her business took off.
Other issues with second-hand clothing include hygiene, a lack of sizes and potential defects. Stores typically dry clean and disinfect clothes before putting them for sale but it remains a leap of faith for buyers to purchase something without a return policy, a common practice in second-hand stores.
Diya Rao, an 18-year-old student in Bangalore said, “Sizes in preloved clothes are not inclusive. Since I am slightly bigger built, I rarely find preloved clothes that fit me.”