On a budget — or not

February 13, 2022

Thrift shops, now moved largely online, are gaining traction, especially amid the pandemic induced lockdowns and people isolating themselves

On a budget — or not

A global pandemic has transformed human lives in a myriad ways. One such change has been an increase in the number of online thrift stores and other clothing resale websites.

Thrifting — which loosely translates to buying “pre-loved” (second hand) and sometimes unused, resold items at discounted prices from thrift stores and flea markets (like our local Sunday bazaars or the good old Landa Bazaar) — is not a new concept. It has existed forever, but it gained significant popularity over the past two years during the pandemic-caused lockdowns. With reduced incomes and other constraints faced during this time, the consumers have come to realise that thrift-buying is simply a sustainable way of living and dressing themselves and their spaces on a budget.

Second-hand shopping has often been tagged with lower- and middle-income groups or collectors of vintage items. But, with the introduction of e-commerce, and with more and more people getting into the business of virtual thrift stores — mostly online but also, occasionally, having a physical space — it has become less of a niche activity and more of a need-based one. The younger generations, in particular, seem to have taken to online buying. Among them, the ‘woke’ generations have already been advocating the need to reduce our carbon footprint and the idea of living sustainably.

Nazish Hussain, the founder of Secret Stash, an online store that deals in pre-owned luxury items, tells TNS: “I launched [Secret Stash] in December 2014, so I’ve been in this business for a long time now.”

Hussain, who has earlier worked with Unilever, recounts how she got inspired on her many travels to the US for her ex-corporate job. She remembers feeling amazed to find affordable, pre-loved luxury items being sold at thrift stores in San Francisco. “There were so many high-end thrift shops, but they were
all physical stores,” she says.

The market has evolved since Hussain launched her store, and today many others are jumping the bandwagon. Social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook have helped them turn online ‘thrifters.’ Online stores such as DusraHaat use these platforms to reach a wider customer base.

On a budget — or not

With reduced incomes and other constraints faced amid the pandemic, the common consumer has come to realise that thrift-buying is simply a sustainable way of living and dressing themselves and their spaces on a budget.

However, several businesses have physical stores that one can visit to buy a good-quality, pocket-friendly piece of clothing. YBMB is one such store that has been in the business since 2017 but has only recently opened its first physical store in DHA, Karachi. The prices listed on the website are too good to be true. However, the quality is something one can only determine after visiting the store.

In the case of Secret Stash, Hussain insists that quality is her utmost priority: “We curate all our products and sell from high-street to high-end item, so authenticity and condition are very important to us.”

The process of curation is multi-tiered and a complete trade “secret,” says Hussain. The buyers and sellers remain completely anonymous, if they wish to. In order to authenticate an item, sometimes they have to bring in third-party verifiers.

“Our climate does not help much. Leather items begin to crumble,” Hussain adds. “It is better to sell loved items before they are rendered useless due to humidity, and provide another an opportunity to enjoy them too.

“At the same time, one can make some money and gain a chance to buy another product.”


oor Faiz (real name withheld), 25, working in the corporate sector, was first introduced to the concept of pre-owned and gently used stuff as a teenager. “I was visiting some relatives, and they decided to take me to a Sunday (read flea) market.” She says that she felt somewhat uneasy but soon realised that “you need to have a good eye to spot gems amongst broken items.”

A regular thrifter, Faiz is an advocate for the pre-loved: “Online shopping always comes with a risk, but that definitely has not dissuaded me.”

She confirms that the pandemic has given a boost to online resale market, and happily reports to have found good quality branded wear online. However, she wants the newbies to be cautious and buy only from trusted stores and pages.

As the pre-loved items market expands and becomes more profitable, Hussain predicts a brighter future for online businesses. She credits Gen-Z for popularising and supporting the thrift culture: “It took us time to normalise the concept. And the Gen-Z have made it a cool idea.”

The writer is a staff member

On a budget — or not