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Trending: Young India's shift to thrift

Gen Z entrepreneurs of Instagram thrift stores are meeting youngsters' need to be mindful shoppers

Vintage clothes by Folkpants.
Vintage clothes by Folkpants. (Instagram/Folkpants)

After completing his graduation in French literature from Delhi University in 2018, Ngahon Tungshangnao returned to Manipur to be with family and plan a career. One day, while scrolling through his Instagram feed, he had a Eureka moment: Why not combine his love for fashion, vintage and contemporary, and turn it into a business that enables a sustainable life?

On 20 February 2019, he opened Mirinwon (named after his mother; it means “everlasting flower”), a thrift store on Instagram. Offering clothes and accessories—from vintage Levi’s jeans to Superdry sweatshirts and the occasional Prada bag—Mirinwon has since garnered close to 10,000 followers on the app, many of them whom have become loyal customers. “It started as a pastime, but in the past 10-11 months, more people have started buying. It’s now a serious venture,” says Tungshangnao, 27.

The Ukhrul resident is part of a small but growing group of youngsters who are using Instagram to offer curated collections of low-cost, trendy, sometimes vintage, pre-owned and upcycled items that are just a phone click away.

They source products from the places they travel to, vendors (even flea markets), wash and sanitise the items, ask friends or professionals to model them for photographs, and then post these on Instagram, detailing the product, price and damage, if any. In some cases, you have to DM for the price.

Thrift shopping has always been popular, with places like Delhi’s Sarojini Nagar market and Mumbai’s Fashion Street garnering a cult following, but it’s becoming a trend now owing to the increased time spent online and the growing awareness among Gens Y and Z about how wasteful fast fashion can be. An appreciation of the need for a more mindful life post covid-19 has given such a boost that many of the online thrift stores are likely to turn into full-time careers.

Mirinwon’s Ngahon Tungshangnao.
Mirinwon’s Ngahon Tungshangnao. (Courtesy Ngahon Tungshangnao)

While there’s no official data on the growth of these stores, a look at the recent 46,000-plus posts with #thriftindia on Instagram gives an idea of the rise in interest in second-hand items.

Globally, the second-hand apparel market, valued at $28 billion (around 2 trillion) in June, is forecast to hit $64 billion within five years, says a report by ThredUP, the world’s largest online thrift store, and research firm GlobalData Retail. By 2029, 17% of a person’s share of closet space will be second-hand; the figure was 3% in 2009.

Thrift shopping is definitely not a passing trend, insists Rina Singh, creative director-founder of the Eka label. “With so much awareness built across repurposing fashion, thrift stores are a huge hit and are here to stay. In fact, they will be further reinstated, organised and personal.”

In the past six months that Delhi’s Vaibhavi Javalkar, 25, has been in business as founder of Instagram thrift store Aimée.loved, she has processed at least 1,000 orders. Among them were orders for mohair coats, velvet pants, silk skirts, beach dresses and an embroidered jacket. On average, her products are priced in the 800-3,000 range, with vintage pieces being more expensive. “In terms of numbers, a lot of people who follow us have converted into buyers over the past few months of the lockdown, bringing the cumulative average of our sales up,” says Javalkar, who started the brand in June and now has 6,000-plus followers.

Tungshangnao, too, saw a rise in orders post-lockdown. “The increased conversation about sustainability, upcycling, reusing—it’s helping our business. In fact, much of our growth happened after March (2020),” he says, refusing to share numbers.

a circular lifestyle

Mumbai’s Ritika Sachdeva, 21, turned to thrift shopping last year. “I started doing it mid-2020. I wanted to change my lifestyle but buying from sustainable brands becomes expensive. So thrift stores are a good option.”

For Kolkata’s Nikkon Balial, 24, it is the uniqueness of second-hand clothes that drives her to online thrift shops. “Some are old styles and have rare prints. I really enjoy the entire process of finding new thrift stores online, reaching out to them, and forming connections with people I am buying clothes from. The best part is that I am not hurting the environment.”

To stay true to its claim of making sustainable fashion a trend and discourage people from hoarding, some pages, like Mumbai’s Vintage Laundry, bar the purchase of more than a certain number of items at a time. “You also have to ensure that everybody gets a chance to buy something,” says Riya Rokade, 23, founder of Vintage Laundry, which has over 10,500 followers.

The most enjoyable part of running an online thrift store, she adds, is curation. And perhaps the worst, haggling. “People do not ask twice when they go to the mall or shop online from bigger brands. Since we are accessible through DMs, people try to bargain, which is disrespectful because we are all small businesses trying to make things happen.” Rokade eventually wants to create a website for pre-loved clothes.

Like her, Mumbai’s Pearl D’Souza, 28, also enjoys curating clothes for her store Aima Vintage, which has over 4,000 followers. “A lot of thinking goes into creating a collection—what’s going to be the theme, colours, types (of garments),” she says. “I source my vintage from all over. Most of my vendors are people I have been shopping from for years. I also source items from flea markets when I am travelling.” Since she wasn’t able to travel during the pandemic, she couldn’t present a collection for two months—that obviously led to a drop in income. “It’s much better now,” she says, without divulging details.

It’s an art too

Last year, when most thrift shop owners couldn’t source products, many shifted their focus to keeping their followers engaged. Bengalurean Ravi Rajpal’s three-year-old non-binary thrift store disco >ery, which offers disco-inspired pieces from the 1970s and 1980s, was one of them. “We upped the social media game as a means to service customers during challenging times. This is to say that it wasn’t planned to increase sales but rather, to be present in a relevant manner in view of the times,” he says.

Photographs are a crucial part of selling items online. That’s why the team at Folkpants, a Manipur-based thrift store that has over 10,000 followers, includes a fashion consultant who oversees the detailed shoots. “Photos are key when it comes to selling on Instagram since it’s a completely visual medium,” explains Lumri Jajo, 26, who runs the store with her sister Linno, 31. Their brother, Rin, is in charge of the shoots. “Besides the visually appealing ‘campaign’ shots, close-up detail images of the fabric, fastenings, any defects, need to be properly highlighted to stay true to your followers and grow.”

Most of these thrift store owners are planning their own websites. “We would like to soon have a website which allows our users to search and filter product categories,” says Lumri. Javalkar of Aimée.loved plans on “having a space where people can walk in and see the curation. We aim to move back to physically touching, feeling clothes, besides the digital space.”

Tungshangnao’s eyes are also set on growth. “We are planing to have physical stores as well as do pop-ups in Mumbai and Delhi.We want to grow bigger.”

Shubhanjana Das is a freelance journalist.

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