In India, the last three years alone have seen the emergence of thousands of online thrift stores on Instagram, with a follower count of a few hundred thousand.
Due to this trend, India has one of the fastest growing second-hand clothing businesses, holding 18.2% of the second-hand clothing market in South Asia. Globally, the second-hand clothing market is expected to grow three times faster than the apparel market as a whole.
While second-hand or “pre-loved” clothing makes up the majority of thrift store products, some stores also sell export discards and surpluses. Used clothing goes through several rounds of quality checks and cleaning before being listed.
While physical second-hand stores are popular in other countries, thrift in India mostly happens online, especially on social media. There are currently over 6,70,000 Instagram posts tagged under “Thrift India”.
Many stores have become famous through Instagram’s “reels” feature, which collects content from creators on users’ feeds, based on their interests and past engagement.
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“One of my reels blew up and overnight I gained about 6,000 subscribers,” says Shubhra Vaity, a 20-year-old Mumbai thrift store owner who has sold 2,500 pieces of clothing through the platform over the past of the past year.
Most sellers schedule “drops”, when they open reservations for new products at a specific time. The demand for second-hand clothing can be so high that once posted, an item can be sold in less than 30 seconds.
“I need to set a reminder for deliveries, so I can reserve the item I want. Because there is only one of each product available, there is a lot of pressure to get the item whatever you want,” says Shruthi V, a regular steward.
With most buyers and sellers under the age of 22, these stores have become a space that curates current niche fashion trends. For many, operating thrift stores provides additional income in addition to their main job.
Shubhra points out that it is the distinctive style of the clothes that attracts customers. “People are looking for unique, one-of-a-kind pieces that match their style,” she adds.
Thrift stores are thriving due to a proliferation of different aesthetics among Gen Z and some young millennials. Several online stores cater to specific styles and eras of fashion. There are stores dedicated to ‘Y2K’ or 2000s style, streetwear, ‘cottagecore’, country aesthetics and even disco-themed clothing.
Gaura Sharma runs one such store, dedicated to swimwear, which now has more than 16,200 subscribers.
“I saw that interest increased after the pandemic. People may be trying to save more money and brand prices just go up,” she says. “While a brand sells a top for Rs 1,299, I sell the set for Rs 699. Affordability is a motivation for many people,” she adds.
Ritika Bhushan, a fitness instructor who regularly shops on Instagram, agrees. “The same tops that cost around Rs 800 in stores can be found in thrift stores for Rs 300,” she says. “The savings are also really sustainable, because the clothes are not mass-produced,” she adds.
As awareness of the impact of fast fashion increases, consumers are looking for sustainability. According to a recent report, 84% of consumers choose to buy environmentally friendly products, as long as they are affordable.
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“We only use about 20% of the clothes in our wardrobes. Overconsumption and hoarding are of particular concern in light of the climate crisis,” says Ashni Pripathi, one of the co-founders of EcoDhaga, an online thrift store, which resold and recycled 2,000kg of clothes in less than a month. year.
She adds that “thrift has potential as a sustainable solution, as clothes can be resold and fabrics recycled.”
Although saving brings many advantages, there are also disadvantages. Size inclusion is a pervasive issue. “Most often we get each piece in one size,” says Gaura. Although her store has a return policy, most thrift stores do not.
“The issue of sizing is a major concern. When I first started saving, there was a lot of trial and error. Since I couldn’t return these clothes, I reused them or gave them away,” explains Ritika.
Despite these apprehensions, savings have been found to have displaced nearly a billion new clothing purchases in 2021, making them a sustainable and accessible alternative to big brands and fast fashion.