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From Post to Cart: How Instagram thrift stores are making millennials think about ethical fashion

By using social media to conduct closet purges to sourcing second-hand clothing, here's why thrifting is all the rage.

September 26, 2020 / 04:04 PM IST

The concept of selling stuff she no longer wanted appealed to 23-year-old Saisha Nagpaul, who started her own thrift store, Neki Aur Pooch Pooch (NAPP), after a friend pointed out that with Chinese fashion e-tailer SHEIN being banned in India, she could sell her own pieces that she no longer used from her own instagram. “I noticed that a lot of people were willing to pay a decent amount of money for things that I’ve just had in my closet for a long time,” Nagpaul recounts.

The idea of finding a good deal for scarce products is part of the appeal of thrifting. Several branded clothes, like Champion sweatshirts, which would normally be priced at a premium of Rs. 3,750 are being “thrifted” on these stores for around Rs. 1,000, which makes customers feel like they’re getting a good deal. Being previously owned, these purchases reduce waste, a key bonus for many environmentally-conscious buyers.

According to a research paper by the University of Pennsylvania, the fashion resale market has been expanding 21 times faster than traditional retail over the past three years. Millennials and Gen-Z are driving these numbers by shredding the last remnants of social embarrassment about pre-owned clothes. By frequenting thrift and consignment stores, this generation is remaking their image into trendy shopping destinations.

Social media has also had a hand in driving this trend. Recognising that there is a market for thrifting, several Indian millennials are using social media tools, particularly Instagram, to sell either what’s in their closet or to source second-hand clothes all from home, in a simple process that involves clicking a picture, commenting to book the product, and snapping it up by a digital transaction.

How do these stores operate?

Since most of these outlets are Instagram-based, the process to open a store is relatively straightforward. The Thrift Shop, based in Bengaluru and run by eco-conscious 28-year-old Vinayak Gangopadhyay and 26-year-old Rupa Kudwalli, runs on a simple business model. The owners post pictures of clothes they receive after which potential customers can simply post a comment to book the piece, and make a payment digitally to seal the deal.

The Thrift Shop runs on sourcing their clothes from peoples' closets. According to Vinayak, those wishing to sell their clothes on their platform can reach out to them and share a few pictures of the item, which gives them a general idea about the condition of the product.

The store then examines the product and provides any necessary cleaning and strengthening required to make it better, after which it is put up for sale. “Along with the clothes, we often ask owners to tell us a little story about the piece so that we may share it with the person who has bought the product,” said Vinayak.

However, not everyone follows this model. For instance, Thigs Thrifts run by 18-year-old undergraduate student Arthi Gunaselan, focuses on selling clothes that are either owned by her or are sourced from the closet of her close friends. This is also the case with Neki Aur Pooch Pooch, which sells their pieces in thematically curated “drops”.

While most thrift stores use government-run India Post to deliver their products at a flat fee or offer discounts for customers who buy products, some also opt for private courier companies based on how far their operations extend.

“We determine a shipping rate based on the fixed prices given by India Post for packages around 150gm to 250gms, which is usually the average weight of a package,” says Ann Mary Jacob, the 23-year-old owner of Thrifty Much, which sells vintage or thrifted pieces. On occasion, they would offer a discount if a customer asked for it, she says.

When it comes to mark-up, many of these stores rely on either the owner’s knowledge of fashion, or the brand and condition of the clothing. “I ask myself whether I would pay this amount for this piece,” says Jacob. The condition of the product and the brand also play a part in determining the price. ​

What’s so intriguing?
Thrift stores often have pieces that are unique to their store. Akanksha Nene, a 21-year-old working professional, who's been thrifting over the lockdown period, got into it as a way to be more ethical about her shopping, and went on to start a thrift group to discuss leads on where to buy pieces.
What makes thrifting attractive to Nene is the fact that she is able to own pieces that match her singular style. “Thrifting is not just cheaper, but also since there is a limited choice where you aren’t lost in a sea of products. Because there is only one of each product, it feels like it's special,” she says.
Other retail models/fashion labels have been successful in profiting off this perceived uniqueness. Luxury clothing brand Supreme has previously used “limited edition drops” to feature one-of-a-kind pieces of clothing that cannot be found again, usually resulting in a high resale value.
While thrifting operates on the lower end of the bargain, since most of them carry an affordable and reasonable price, the competition to grab a piece is higher. “I’ve seen some pieces sell out in 8 minutes after they were put up,” Nene recounts.
Mohana Gopinath, another 21-year-old who works in an investment banking firm bought her first thrifted piece almost a year ago, says she quickly figured out that some pieces on certain stores sell quickly and turned on post notifications for that store to receive alerts about when they upload a new product. “I also began to learn about when they post about a new product so that I can make a purchase quickly,” she says, saying that each product is exclusive since it is usually sourced from different wardrobes.

The affordable price point of most of these items also makes it easier for potential customers to continue to experiment with their own style without burning a hole in their pocket. “While my parents are still slightly uncomfortable that I’m buying second-hand, I like that I’m able to explore my style without spending a lot of money,” Gopinath adds. ​

Maintaining a social community is key
Since these social media stores rely heavily on people gravitating toward their platform, a large part of their time is spent on conceptualising the look and feel of their page. Many stores say they spend most of their time in planning photoshoots, since pictures are the primary medium through which purchases are made.
This is because building a community is essential to having a thrift store, with many thriving off repeat orders. According to data shared by The Thrift Shop, over 40 percent of people who shop with them are repeat customers.

“The thrifting community is very welcoming,” says Saisha of NAPP, adding that many of the larger thrift stores on the platform are even open to collaborating and sharing shout-outs to several pages in order to build a larger network for their own store.

Should you buck the trend?
Bhargavi Sridharan, a 21-year-old communications specialist who started her own thrift store 'B’lore Thrifts' to experiment with the model says yes, since it is a free medium. “Thrift stores have essentially defied the algorithm, and clothes are the best way to break that chain,” Sridharan says.
Sridharan admits there could be some hints of greenwashing, particularly as the fact that several of these outlets use social media campaigns that pre-exist in the fast fashion model to popularise their concept. But there is still some higher ground that thrifting holds because many of these stores emphasize sourcing uniquely and only selling pre-owned fashion, delaying the journey of the piece from factory to dump like fast-fashion, she says.Vilina Liyan, the 27-year-old owner of Ipza Ki, which has raked in over 7,000 followers within a year of operation, agrees that the drive to be more conscious about the origin of clothes will keep the trend alive. “I think the majority are slowly understanding the problem of fast-fashion affecting our environment and learning to chuck fast-fashion to make conscious choices. So yes, I do see it as a potential growth and the number of stores mushrooming in Instagram is evident that the market has taken over,” she says.
Akanksha Sarma
first published: Sep 26, 2020 09:06 am
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