‘Thrift-shopping’, as the name suggests, refers to shopping from stores that sell used or second-hand clothes for dirt cheap prices. ‘Fast fashion’ on the other hand, refers to clothes that move quickly from the runway to a consumer’s wardrobe to the garbage. This is because trends keep changing and new clothes have to be manufactured to keep up with them. Large retailers such as Pantaloons and Westside manufacture clothes such that they are relatively inexpensive and ephemeral.
Part of fast fashion’s appeal lies in its fleeting nature. You snooze, you lose. Fast fashion brands also tend to use unethical methods to meet manufacturing deadlines and maintain low prices. They try to optimise on the means of production involved and often become exploitative as a result. For instance, underpaying and overworking labour in developing countries. So, I view thrift-shopping as a sustainable alternative to fast fashion.
Thrift-shopping has a lot of benefits. One can find branded clothes or even vintage ones for less than half the price. I consider myself to be a proponent of the concept because not only is it budget-friendly, it is also environment-friendly as clothes are being reused instead of being disposed of. One also has access to a diverse assortment of unique clothes, in terms of aesthetics. A lot of thrift stores in the USA partner with charities such that part of the proceeds is directed towards a worthy cause. So, one can help oneself look good and help someone else out in the process. What’s not to like?
Indian brands like Anokhi and FabIndia claim to promote sustainable couture. Their efforts to revive traditional textile skills and employ adroit artisans are certainly commendable. But, such brands end up catering to a niche population by virtue of their limited inventory and therefore exorbitant prices. This means that only some people (the elite, such as me) have access to them. So, they are discriminatory because they produce luxurious products which not everybody can afford. I view thrift-shopping as an accessible alternative to fast fashion and even sustainable couture.
Can thrift-shopping as a concept work in India? I can anticipate the discomfort that some Indians might feel about the idea of owning second-hand clothes, although that is more of a mental block than an actual flaw of thrift-shopping. I live in Mumbai and one of its bustling market places, popularly known as Colaba Causeway, frequented by tourists and locals alike, is home to lots of thrift stores.
I have managed to find several items of clothing for a steal, items which I reckon were pleasantly kooky and bordering on kitsch. This has reinforced my faith in the idea of thrift-ing. After all, isn’t the need to stand out one of the reasons why we choose to self-express through clothes? I would definitely recommend it to people who are on the fence about it.
Note: The author is part of the current batch of the Writer’s Training Program.