With multiple thrift stores springing up on Instagram, are we finally bidding adieu to fast fashion?
It has been seven years since the eight-storey Rana Plaza garment factory in Dhaka collapsed killing over a thousand people in what was considered one of the greatest structural failures in human history. Seven years later, images of garment workers working, protesting and dying in the middle of a global pandemic surfaced on the Internet. There is an estimated revenue loss of $6 billion according to Reuters in 2020 in the Bangladeshi garment industry, which is home to manufacturing units of brands like H&M, Zara, Primark and Walmart. Photographs of these two events and the dawning realisations of a socially and morally conscious generation in between, marks the beginning of the heartening decline of fast fashion as we have known it.
Fast fashion is defined as being the economical imitation of runway couture and has managed to feed the fashion frenzy of the upwardly mobile middle class. However, it comes at a cost so steep that it is disturbing that the world didn’t wake up to its detrimental consequences a tad bit earlier. It is famously known that the production of a single pair of jeans requires anywhere upwards of 2,000 litres of water and the industry produces almost 10 per cent of global CO2 emissions (4-5 billion tonnes annually) according to a study conducted by Nature Reviews. With synthetic being the main component of the goods produced, choked landfills with no form of recycling are what we get in the form of waste from this industry that manufactures 50 times a year as opposed to the traditional cycle of twice a year. Dana Thomas, in her book Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes last year wrote extensively about this phenomenon without addressing the pressing cost concerns associated with wanting to appear ‘fashionable’. How does one explain that the middle-class can’t afford couture?
Enter thrifting — an age-old concept that is now finding resonance and appeal amongst Gen Z. A series of studies and articles flooding the Internet since last year and the added repercussions of the pandemic has resulted in people using Instagram to start their own thrift store. While some are selling their own clothes (hardly worn or never worn), some are sourcing second-hand clothes from various physical stores and selling them on the extremely-visual, communicative platform that Instagram is. Building up a client base that runs into thousands, these individuals or teams are joined by their thoughts on being environmentally conscious fashionistas. With the world more connected than ever, social media is slowly fuelling a journey that is normalising owning and loving
The thrifting world of Instagram is a bright and colourful place where one can find every form of clothing under the sun. Think branded jackets, corsets, bags, shoes, tops, dresses in multiple sizes. Pre-owned or second-hand is no longer a negative thought and instead, they are now labelled as ‘pre-loved’. And building a business on Instagram is a self-sustaining system where demand is driven by the visuals found on the platform itself, which are then provided by thrift brands that are trying to sell similar products.
“By switching to second-hand shopping, the money you spend won’t go toward supporting an industry that is characterised by water and air pollution. A lot of us are tired of looking like clones of each other. People want to look different and unique, they want to be able to have clothing that enables to channel their creative expression,” said Divya Saini, a celebrity stylist who runs one of the best resources of vintage collection of outfits through her website Bodements and her Instagram page of the same name. Dividing her time between Paris and Mumbai, her gorgeous vintage collection is filled with luxury items with unique stories associated with them, sourced from all over the world.
Closer home, Rema Narang from Ziro, Arunachal Pradesh, started her thrifting journey by visiting flea markets, of which you find plenty in Delhi and Mumbai. Stitching and mending old clothes and making them new again was a childhood passion that slowly developed into a brand that is Repose in its nascent stages. “Little did I know that with each repurposed piece, I was actually contributing towards making a better world! Now that we are all aware of how poisonous fast fashion is for our planet, I want to continue my passion and make it adaptive to bigger and better changes in the future,” said Rema.
Extra clothes piling up in the closet also turned out to be a huge concern that led to thrifting for Mary Marak who runs the immensely popular thrifting brand Posh Past with over 11,000 followers. Working towards a garage sale and realising the hassle of booking a venue led to an Instagram page in January 2020.
Thrifting vs. Vintage
Thrifting has been a concept in the West for a while now but it reached India in all its glory in 2017. “Like in Europe, some accounts choose to be ultra specialised (only sneakers, only jeans, only jewellery and so on). Some will be choosing quantity over quality and therefore source through China that stocks a lot of domestic but also Korean and Japanese second-hand clothing. Very recently we have noticed emerging Indian platforms that allow you to sell pieces of your wardrobe, quite similar to what Vinted does in Europe,” said Divya whose Bodements is considered a pioneer in India. She joined hands with Martin Letellier Merida from Paris and started running Bodements together. Having styled the likes of Swara Bhasker, Anoushka Shankar, Radhika Apte, Kiara Advani and Mallika Dua, Divya brings a sense of aesthetics to the brand that separates vintage from thrift. Not every thrift piece is vintage while all vintage pieces are a form of thrifting, we find out.
The art of style
The only reassurance one has is the word of the seller when it comes to this business model. Photography and styling of each visual becomes a key factor for the clothes being sold. These sales on thrift platforms on Instagram are pre-planned at a given day and time and interested buyers are expected to log in and comment or send a direct message to the brand. Products, whether on the grid or on stories are all sold on a first-come-first-serve basis with some brands even facilitating a resale of your product in case of a bad fit. However, aesthetics of the grid remain top priority. For Linno and Lumri Jajo, from a small town Ukhrul in Manipur who run the wildly popular FolkPants, the process is tedious and exciting at the same time. “We start by physically going out to source from second-hand stores, after which we restore and clean the items.
Prepping them for the shoot involves ironing and steaming the pieces and segregating them into ‘edits’. We try to have a theme for the shoots whether in the way of colours or a style or a trend,” said the sisters.
Storytelling becomes extremely important with the true value of each piece being realised in the story behind it. “We believe in the power of storytelling and each image had a story behind it just like each of our garment does. For our website we chose a more commercial approach, with highly stylised shots on a plain background,” said Divya.
The Shipping Headache
It is a constant method of trial and error until you find the perfect shipping partner, we find out from the sellers. For the Jajo sisters, working out of a remote area is the cause of their troubles. “We use India Post as it’s the only courier service available in town. We have to schedule our dispatches according to the arrival of the mail van from Imphal, which comes only twice a week. There is also the problem of the server not working at our local post office, so the tracking details that we send to our customers don’t get updated until it reaches the destination post office,” they said. Packing and shipping unanimously remains the most tiring part of the selling process. “At Repose, the hand-picked clothes are first washed (dry-cleaned in some cases) and then ironed. We always make sure to send out a handwritten note along with every package. Since we are not yet a registered company, we have to rely on India Post and orders are shipped out three days after a drop,” said Rema.
Building A Community
For any social media platform that allows two-way conversations, be it Reddit or Quora or Facebook or Instagram, there is a sense of community that inevitably gets built with like-minded people constantly interacting with each other. These thrift stores are building each other up, constantly cross-promoting each other. It’s a complete loop with the buyers putting up pictures of having styled their thrift finds and posting back again on Instagram. Surprisingly, as in any other brand page where there would be negative comments that will have to be addressed, the thrift community is a positive space with everyone working towards a common goal of sustainability. A single tag search of ‘thrift’ on your Instagram will reveal thousands of such pages and communities that have mostly mushroomed since March 2020 and it is all about finding your loyalty to a couple of them. While the journey ahead is long and arduous and getting rid of fast fashion and our collective affinity to it may not diminish overnight, but it is heartening to see change occur through little steps that eventually go a long way.