When Bijaya Tripathi, 23, heard about a thrift shop her friend enjoyed visiting, she wasn’t expecting anything special. But when she did visit, she found trendy clothes for half the price of any retail store.
After just a single visit, she was sold on the idea. And since the second lockdown, she often finds herself going through thrift pages online. Even when she has no intent of buying, she still asks the price of products in messages, marveling at how inexpensive and accessible they are.
Tripathi isn’t the only one who is surprised by the sudden rise of thrift shops around Kathmandu. Since the lockdown, social media users have been bombarded with sponsored posts from countless online clothing outlets—many of them thrift stores.
“I’d never planned on opening a store,” says Suman Koirala, owner of Thriftilicious. “But I had a lot of unused stuff in my closet and I’d heard people were willing to buy second-hand clothes. So I thought, why not?” In December 2020, Koirala started an Instagram page for her store and it soon started gaining traction.
Since then, she’s been uploading pictures of second-hand clothes on the page almost every day. Like Koirala, Sobiya Shrestha from Reuse 101 and Pooja Tamang from Thrift Luga both discovered second-hand clothing businesses on Instagram.
Roneeshma Shrestha from FeriFeri store had always been interested in fashion. But it was only when she spotted a few secondhand shops around the city that she thought of starting something similar.
“I knew about thrifting from YouTube videos on clothing hauls,” she tells ApEx. “I understood thrifting as an eco-friendly way of shopping and when I started FeriFeri, I had that sustainability in mind.”
The thrift shopping culture began long ago. But within the country, it grew during the global pandemic, as one could see a surge of new thrift shops on Instagram and Facebook. Online businesses of all kinds were booming during the latter half of last year’s lockdown.
These stores usually sell clothes that previously belonged to store owners. “I’ve always been a bit of a shopaholic,” Tamang confesses. But the clothes bought to catch up with the latest trend seldom see the light of day again after the style reaches its expiration date. Most owners ApEx spoke to had opened their thrift stores to get rid of that pile of unused clothes at the back of their closets, and in return for a decent price.
Occasionally, however, thrift store owners also receive goods from friends and family, asking them to sell their unwanted clothes. “I check the condition and type of attire they ask me to sell,” says Roneeshma Shrestha. Some even sell clothes that have been passed down from their mothers—80’s clothes that aren’t their taste but could be of interest to others. “For many who come to our shops, discovering old-school clothes is equivalent to finding hidden treasures,” says Koirala.
Sometimes, attires brought in by other people aren’t in a wearable condition and can’t be sold. But when they are, the stores take a cut from the sales. The price usually depends on the clothes’ condition, material, and newness. The owners are known to cut the price by 35-40 percent and some clothes, if used a lot, can go for 50 percent discount.
But there are exceptions for designer items. “If you deduct the price of designer goods a lot, people will think you’re selling a knock-off,” Roneeshma says.
Overall, the prices are feasible for both the sellers and buyers. Customers get fairly new clothes and accessories at an affordable price and the owners can earn money out of things they no longer use.
“You’re always told that you need to have a model and a lot of investment to run a business,” says Koirala. “But running thrift shops barely requires any investment other than your time.” Since opening Thriftilicious in December, Koirala has already made around Rs 30,000 from the online business.
But the work isn’t hassle-free. Despite the easy spread of thrift culture in the city, there is still an underlying stigma around buying and selling second-hand clothes. After talking to a few consumers, ApEx found that while some enjoyed thrifting and often browsed through these online shops, others were reluctant to even look in.
Says 21-year-old Argav Shrestha, “I’m never buying second-hand clothes. You don’t know where they’ve been or how they’ve been used. I wouldn’t risk it.”
Another issue is lack of menswear. The thrift stores that ApEx spoke to said that they did get queries from male customers, but only rarely. According to them, comparatively, fewer men are interested in trendy, fashionable clothes so there is a smaller market for menswear. They’ve also had a hard time coming up with second-hand products for men.
ApEx spoke to ten men and as many women. Among the men in the 15-30 age group, only four knew of thrifting and among those four, only one had gone thrift shopping. However, among women, nine knew of thrifting and seven had participated in it before.
Tripathi, who’s bought products from two different shops in the past few months and browsed through countless thrift stores online, says that she loves the concept. “Not only am I getting quality products, I also feel good that I am doing something that is eco-friendly,” she says. “I’m not the kind to shop a lot but thrifting makes it fun and affordable.”