By Aiza Nadeem
The featured image of an Itwaar Bazaar was taken by Muhammad Phaseeh ul Haque, @phaseeh on Instagram.
The recent explosion of online thrift stores is a curious development. A simple search on Instagram or Facebook with the keywords, ‘thrift’ or ‘pre-loved’ confirms the multitude of online pages available for procuring everything from clothes, jewelry, sports gear, and more. The expulsion of these stores during this time, in particular, can be attributed largely to the pandemic which has made online modes of shopping popular.
As the owner of the online page, SisterhoodPk and LUMS MBA Student Hira Tariq describes it, “People criticize these stores for being too expensive but the reality is even if people sell their stock at 200, 300 % margin, people will buy it. There is a huge demand in the market amongst those who are convenience-oriented.”
What Hira discusses here is accurate. Most of the stock available on these pages is sold out in a relatively short time frame, sometimes even seconds. A lot of Instagram pages even recommend their subscribers turn on post notifications. While this shows there is a clear demand for this type of shopping, it also highlights the type of income bracket which these pages attract, namely, upper-middle-class or higher.
Similarly, the owner of the online store Revolve Pk Dua Zehra Rizvi ’22 describes how her store makes shopping user-friendly. Her forum connects buyers and sellers and hopes to reduce the stigma surrounding pre-loved clothes. Dua believes her page is especially beneficial for groups such as students who are on a budget and so, rely on cheaper options for clothing. According to her, these online thrift stores are a great development and she hopes to see more of them in Pakistan.
Pages like Hira’s and Dua’s market themselves on the basis of being sustainable, an alternative to the fast fashion industry. It is vital to acknowledge, however, the reselling of clothes is not a new concept and has been native to us for far longer than the advent of these stores.
Markets like the Zainab market in Karachi, Anarkali in Lahore, and city-wide Landay and Sunday bazaars have been providing affordable clothing to people for generations and for many are an irreplaceable resource. While these markets have never been restricted to a particular type of buyer, one cannot deny the difference in demographic of the buyers of stores like Zainab Market and new online thrift stores. While one generally buys these clothes as an added leisure, the other relies on these clothes.
Student Amna Rizvi frequently shops from local landay bazaars. Drawing on her experiences and conversations she has had with sellers, she describes how online thrift stores have damaged local businesses. Amna narrates how when she went to the local store Playhouse she found they “had a sale and were selling most of their stock at such reduced price which is devastating since their clothes are already cheap. All their best articles had already been bought by the owners of online thrift stores who after buying it from the stores at a lower price were selling it at 300% the original price. The owners of Playshouse, meanwhile, were probably selling at loss”
The impact of online thrift stores on local businesses, as demonstrated, can be drastic. When prices rise to cater to a new richer demographic and trends, the people who truly relied on landay bazaars will find it hard to afford the new prices. If we assess the long-term effects for the majority of thrift store owners we see a far less drastic projection. If these businesses are part of a trend, they will eventually wane since trends are fleeting. However, their effects on the wider community may be more permanent.
“I have been shopping from local thrift stores since I was a child,” Rameen Saad’23, Instagram fashion blogger (@flormence) told The Post. “These types of prices are unprecedented. They are selling clothes one might buy for 50 rs for 2500 rs. I do not believe their business is sustainable at all. They are simply profiting off marketing their brands as sustainable and benefiting off an already lucrative market.”
If the purpose behind these thrift stores was the promotion of a sustainable mode of shopping, their success remains debatable. Undeniably, they connect people with a variety of options with which to browse and are convenient, but they are not necessarily sustainable.