They were not made yesterday, but were made to last. Vintage clothes made in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s are making their way back into shopping carts, thanks to online thrift stores that flourished during lockdown
It sounds like a treasure hunt, when Bengaluru-based entrepreneur Aparna Balasubramanian describes her routine of looking for the right clothes to sell.
“The vendors bring in clothes by weight: huge lots of hundreds and thousands of pre-loved pieces that they sell gradually over months,” she explains over phone. From these mounds, she digs out stylish pieces regardless of how old they are; once in a rare while something leaps to her eye that is clearly vintage.
“Stuff from that era just stands out,” says the NIFT graduate, “The style is distinct and you can tell it was made to last: to be cherished and passed on to someone you love. It shows in the structure and stitch, and the quality of its buttons. Even brand labels and tags — the way they are stitched in — are enough to make it clear.”
At Aparna’s nine-month-old Instagram page The Fine Finds, vintage is not the sole focus. For other brands, it is the raison d’ etre. For instance, model Carol Humptsoe’s Carol’s Shop And Tea Room in Dimapur, Nagaland has been sourcing and selling vintage fashion over five years now. Part of an original, rare breed of brick-and-mortar vintage thrift stores in India, Carol’s also puts up pieces on Instagram, and has a clientele that ranges from students to celebrities.
And then there is the fleet of vintage stores that have blossomed on social media, as a niche within the broader thrift movement.
Online thrift stores are trending again during the months of lockdown, especially on Instagram. With weekly or fortnightly “drops” of limited stock, they make used, branded clothing in good condition available at far lower prices.
They are tapping into the ever-present market for online shopping that has lately been reined in by budget constraints. Shoppers’ guilt is assuaged by letting them know they are saving clothes from piling up in landfills and aiding a solid shift away from unsustainable fast fashion. The key, however, still lies in the low prices of high end, still-wearable products.
Lumri Jajo, co-founder of Folkpants in Ukhrul, Manipur, explains, “We look for classic, staple and also statement pieces that can be worn for years to come. Pieces that are in good condition, fashionable and also functional in terms of how easily people can incorporate them in their wardrobe. Our price range is from ₹350 for simple tops to ₹3,000 for shoes or leather jackets. Most of our items consist of tops and dresses, which are priced between ₹600 and ₹1,600.”
Lumri, 26, started Folkpants with her 30-year-old sister Linno in 2019, as a way to spread among the neighbourhood their own love for thrift shopping and the slow fashion movement. Now, their clientele has extended to Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Kolkata.
She says, “It is a space where we can incorporate our interest in fashion and also at the same time embody the values we have learned growing up: our mom’s style and creativity (she would sew us dresses and knit sweaters, which would then be handed down to whoever is younger), and our grandparents’ knack for mending and re-using clothes for years. Our town has a lot of shops that sell second-hand clothes, we grew up wearing them and over the years, we have been shopping from them as we find so many unique and rare pieces.”
Finding a rare piece at a thrift store is a thrill unto its own. Lumri recalls a particularly interesting discovery: “We recently found a vintage Hanae Mori blouse, and while researching we got to know that she’s a Japanese fashion designer: one of only two Japanese women to have showed her collection on the runway in Paris and New York. There were other vintage pieces from her collections listed on Etsy and we were able to compare pieces to help us list the item at a competitive price.”
The chase is not always for the rare or famous pieces. Often, simply picking out clothes that do not look run-of-the-mill can be a fun quest, and turn into a habit. So much so that Aparna, who has been thrifting for a while, realised that every compliment she received for her style was invariably directed to her pre-loved clothes, and rarely at ones bought at regular stores.
That, she says, is what inspired her to start The Fine Finds, picking and sorting everything from bikini tops and chunky belts to jackets and sweaters with her mother’s help before donning them for a quick — albeit faceless — photoshoot and putting them online. — clearly, there is scope for individualistic statements in thrift fashion.
Lumri and Linno agree, and understand that their personal preferences and style need not apply to what they thrift. As Lumri puts it, “We wanted Folkpants to be a space for others, who don’t know or have access to pre-loved or second hand items. We come across items we wouldn’t necessarily wear, but are nice and unique, so the best thing to do would be to make it available to other people.”