How second-hand is becoming first choice for fashionistas
Thrift stores, swap meets, pre-loved designer sales, new old favourites. Indian fashion is finally doing right by the Earth. Are you?
There used to be a time when they were called hand-me-downs, when people were too embarrassed to admit they wore them, and when they would give them away secretly. Now they are called pre-loved and are celebrated. People wait for thrift-store pop-ups, raid the shelf for their size, and gleefully browse the other shelves too. They are happy to buy designer lehengas someone wore to one season of weddings, and boho dresses worn exactly once for an influencer’s photo shoot in Greece. They know what sole damage, label-intact and nearly new mean. Some are even setting up thrifting circles among same-sized family and friends.
Even Pernia Qureshi is on the scene, with her newest venture, Saritoria. A stylist, fashion icon and serial entrepreneur, Qureshi co-founded the online marketplace, in 2021 with Shehlina Soomro, a London-based investment banker and hedge fund manager. Here, people sell their pre-loved designer outfits, giving them a new lease of life in a willing buyer’s wardrobe.
Of course, Qureshi is neither the first person to see the value in pre-owned clothes, nor the only one exploring the market. But as one of the better-known names in fashion, she epitomises all the new-age entrepreneurs who see merit in a circular economy. Especially in a world that, due to humankind’s polluting excesses, is coming apart at the seams.
A stitch in time
None of the thrifting battle cries are untrue. When people buy pre-loved outfits, they do help save the world because the fashion industry is one of the most polluting. Every new garment that arrives in a store has already stressed limited water resources, will perhaps affect soil fertility, and may well end up in a landfill. And when people buy, wear and then chuck a garment, they add to that stress.
A systematic, pre-loved fashion economy has just begun to take root in the country. Thanks to Qureshi and her fellow entrepreneurs, Indians may be able to turn this vicious circle into a virtuous one.
“We wanted to create Saritoria as a solution to empower 1.8 billion South Asians to promote a circular economy,” says Qureshi, who had begun questioning the ecological effects of fashion during the 2020 lockdown. “Many of us de-cluttered our wardrobes at the time, which also served as a much-needed mental detox. In the process, I learned that South Asian clothes take up a lot of closet space compared to Western outfits and are rarely re-worn, despite the huge amount of human and environmental resources that went into their creation.”
Some 85% of textiles ultimately end up in landfills or are incinerated, Qureshi learned. But having bought pre-loved clothes since her college days, and raided her mother’s and grandmothers’ closets for vintage pieces, she knew she could provide a solution.
“After selling Pernia’s Pop Up Shop, I wanted to continue to do work that was relevant for the future of the fashion industry,” says Qureshi. “I’m a restless person, always trying to create the next big thing. Saritoria was born from a dream to redefine luxury couture with pre-loved pieces that tell a story. It provides younger and eager consumers easy access to beautiful and authentic garments from all the biggest South Asian designers at an amazing value.”
Qureshi and Soomro’s website has ghagras, dresses, even bridal wear by Manish Malhotra, Shantanu & Nikhil, Rohit Gandhi and others. On the website, a seller can upload images of their outfits, fix a price, and a buyer can log in and purchase them. Saritoria refines the process with quality checks, customer service, a concierge service and shipping.
The most crucial aspect of the business of pre-loved fashion is quality checks. “Customers look for the authenticity, ease of purchase and the condition and price of the clothes,” says Qureshi. So each garment featured on Saritoria has the brand’s seal, which ensures that the product has been through a rigorous process of authentication and quality control.
Double or nothing
Just as popular as Saritoria is economist Komal Hiranandani’s online social enterprise Dolce Vee. Launched four years ago, Dolce Vee initially sold outfits pre-loved by celebrities like Alia Bhatt, Disha Patani, Gauri Khan, Anushka Sharma and Virat Kohli to raise money for charity. (This feature still available on the Dolce Vee website.) Now, it is also an online marketplace for clothes from people from all walks of life, and accepts non-designer clothes.
“We set out to change how India shops, and make the economics of pre-loved fashion really work,” says Hiranandani. To educate buyers and sellers, the website has an environment-impact calculator that works out how much eco-damage they avoided by opting for a pre-loved product. By their own estimates, they’ve avoided wasting 19 million litres of water used to manufacture garments, and suspended over 30,000 kilos of carbon in the environment in the last 18 months, says Hiranandani.
Relove, another pre-loved fashion marketplace, follows a similar model. Co-founded by Kirti Poonia, it recently tied up with Okhai, a crafts and sustainable fashion company, to sell pre-loved clothes.
Indians have been thrifting or buying pre-loved clothing for decades, but this went out of fashion in the 1990s. It wasn’t until the pandemic that the trend picked up again, as people started questioning their consumption patterns and young fashion enthusiasts, mostly college students, set up thrifting stores online. Instagram pages such as Bombay Closet Cleanse, Curated Findings, Amalfi, which directs its profits to charities, and Vintage Laundry have found a small but dedicated fan base.
As time passed, some people decided to exchange outfits that were sitting in their wardrobes for outfits that were just sitting in other people’s wardrobes. For example, urban farmer Manasvini Tyagi, 42, got seven of her friends to exchange outfits they weren’t wearing anymore.
“I have outgrown so many clothes size-wise or emotionally,” says Tyagi. “The same with my friends. So I set up an informal thrifting pop-up to put our ignored outfits to better use.”
You can’t just empty your closet at Tyagi’s events. You need to pick up stuff in exchange. At her first pop-up, Tyagi exchanged Western outfits she no longer wears, for shirts and T-shirts for her father and son. Her next pop-up will be bigger, she says.
First time shopping second-hand? Start here:
*Shop from a marketplace which has stringent quality checks, especially for higher priced items.
*Try to find outfits with labels and receipts intact.
*Remember that some garments may not be pre-loved but sourced from surplus stores and consignment warehouses. It’s still a good deal for you and the Earth.
*If you’re buying from a pop-up, check the outfit carefully for damage. In sunlight, if possible.
*If a platform guarantees authenticity of a designer label, get a receipt for it when you buy.
*Look up the original price of the product you are buying, study the condition of the outfit and then determine the price. You might get some bargaining leeway.
*Some sites, such as Saritoria, invite bids for the outfits. You might get a great deal if you bid.
*Know your size across different brands. Pre-loved shopping doesn’t have size exchanges.
*Check the return policy carefully. Many will allow you to resell pre-loved clothes too.
*Remember why you are thrifting: To help the planet. So don’t stuff your wardrobe with items you won’t need.
From HT Brunch, February 25, 2023
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