“Earned Rs 70K in a day” thrift store trend rages on Instagram

Online thrift stores in India go beyond selling affordable clothes, with patrons often looking for ethical sourcing, size inclusivity, and sustainability.
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Thrifting, once looked down upon as buying second-hand clothes, has undergone a makeover amid the Covid-19 pandemic. With sustainability and ethically sourced products gaining popularity in India, Gen Z is increasingly moving towards buying what is now called pre-loved clothing.

Gone are the days when college goers would haggle with shopkeepers selling cheap clothes in thrift markets. Today, young people with an aesthetic fashion sense are curating their Instagram feed with chic and trendy clothes. 

For most patrons of the new trend, the reasoning seems to be— “Why buy a new pair of ZARA, or any other brand, jeans for full price when you can buy it from someone who has worn it sparingly and is willing to sell it at half the price on their thrift store?”

For the uninitiated, a pair of jeans from the fast-fashion giant ZARA retails in India for about Rs 3,000 while pre-owned ones can cost anywhere between Rs 800  and Rs 1,500. 

While thrifting has been around for quite some time in other countries, in India, the trend only picked up in the last couple of years. And, it has taken a pandemic for online thrift stores to find serious takers. 

For young entrepreneurs, thrifting has opened new business avenues, with online store owners earning as much as Rs 70,000 a day. 

Joining the hustle culture

The nationwide lockdown induced by the pandemic saw several people taking up cleaning projects around the house. While some of us begrudgingly completed these tasks to avoid boredom, others saw decluttering open a business opportunity. 

Ishita Singh, 19, founder of the thrift store Oakark, says that she started her store with the clothes she found unused in her wardrobe. 

“When the countrywide lockdown happened, I thought of decluttering my wardrobe and I found many clothes that were in great condition but weren’t my style anymore. That’s when I decided to start an Instagram account where I put the pictures of those clothes for sale. I started by selling them for very cheap. I didn’t think it would go anywhere but when I saw the response, I was flattered,” Ishita tells HerStory.

Ishita is preparing to become a pilot and the lockdown gave her some time before her flying session resumed. 

Thrift stores in India go beyond selling affordable clothes. Patrons often look for ethical sourcing, size inclusivity and sustainability.

She opened Oakark in 2020. As the number of buyers increased, she decided to go beyond her own clothes and connected with wholesalers in Delhi to bring in more stock. 

Today, Oakark has over 34,000 followers and Ishita has started two more Instagram stores – Oakark 2 and Oakark beauty – which she runs along with her mother. The price range for the products in her store lies between Rs 500 and Rs 3,500. 

“I had never imagined the kind of response I got. My store has pre-owned or surplus stuff from major brands like Calvin Klein, Nike, Bershka, French Connection UK among others. I get stuff which I like and are my style and I believe that resonates with others as well,” Ishita says.

Like Ishita, Delhi-based Megha Luthra, 23, along with two of her college friends Yashvika Ghai and Devyani Mahajan, launched Rerunn in the middle of the pandemic in 2020. 

What also began as a decluttering project soon evolved into a popular online store. The trio then decided to reach out to various wholesalers and resellers to bring trendy clothing to their Instagram thrift store. 

“It wasn’t supposed to be a big deal but just three friends getting together to sell off the clothes they didn’t want to wear anymore. We put out nine clothes and six of them got sold out within two-three days and then gradually the other three were also taken. It was then that we realised we could pursue this as a side hustle,” Megha recounts. All of them have full-time jobs and they run Rerunn on the side.

Rerunn currently has around 23,000 followers.

Another entrepreneur, Afreen Akhtar, who started Ismat Store in 2020, celebrated her venture's first anniversary in early October this year, with a vintage collection drop on her store.

While Shop With Loveee, run by Ashtha Chettri, began its journey in November 2019.

Shop with a cause

Thrift stores, for several young shoppers, are more than just cheaper clothes. Patrons often look for size inclusivity, ethical sourcing, and sustainability. 

According to Afreen, she usually adds clothes in plus size up to XXXL. Sustainable packaging is also on her agenda. The clothes in her store usually cost anywhere between Rs 500 - Rs 1000 with an occasional clothing item going beyond Rs 1000. She also brings vintage jewellery to her store sometimes.

“Our motive when we first started the store was to sell art and literature along with vintage clothes. That’s why we share handwritten poetry, locally sourced art in the form of stickers along with whatever clothes we sell. Apart from this, all our packaging is also sustainable as we don’t use plastic wrapping and only rely on paper packaging and I think that echoes with our followers who also want to give back to the environment,” Afreen says while adding that she works hard to get clothes made of pure fabrics but is struggling in that department as polyester has taken over the market.

Setting up an online shop

Originally from Darjeeling but living in Delhi for the last four years, Ashtha has always been into thrifting to upgrade her wardrobe. So, when she decided to start Shop With Loveee on Instagram, she already had an idea about potential sources. 

“I was an air hostess, so I have always been into fashionable clothing, and I thought when I can get clothes for myself then I can also start selling them. After being inspired by one or two Insta thrift stores running in 2019, I decided to get a few clothes to start my own store. The entire process is quite tedious as you can’t post pictures of clothes right after you bring them home. These clothes aren’t always in great condition. They are mixed up in piles of hundreds of clothes so one really needs to dig in to find gems of clothing,” she says.

Once the clothes are picked, Ashtha sends them for laundry and ironing. The clothes are then photographed in natural lighting to give potential buyers an idea of the true colour of the product. 

“After the pictures are clicked, we decide when to make the “drop” and at what time of the day so the posts get maximum traction. It’s quite a process but we’ve come to stabilize it now,” Ashtha says, who has recently opened an offline store in one of Delhi’s posh markets, Hauz Khas. 

Shop With Loveee has a following of over 53,000 which makes it one of the most followed Indian thrift stores on Instagram.

As these thrift stores are run mostly by young people in their mid-20s, a natural question arises – is it profitable to run thrift stores as a full-time profession on Instagram? 

Ashtha, who left her air hostess job and has taken up Shop With Loveee full-time within a year, answers, “I started making as much money as I was earning from my job within a few months of starting it. Of course, there are all kinds of days but I have made between Rs 60,000 - Rs 70,000 in just a day selling corsets. It was quite a huge drop for us and it was very fulfilling to see the response.”

Afreen, who has 2,500 followers on Instagram, agrees with Aastha.

Ismat Store, she says, was always a serious venture for her. “I didn’t think it would do so well but I’ve made around 12 lakhs in one year and that itself tells you how successful it has been,” says Afreen who was struggling with her expenses before starting her thrift store and had just quit her full-time job.

Opportunities and challenges

HerStory also reached out to Instagram officials on how the platform looks at the trend of thrift stores. “Thrift culture is based on the ideals of sustainability and reusage, and a lot of young people are imbibing it in their lifestyle choices. They’re using Instagram to share more about this passion, by either creating a community around it or leveraging it as a storefront,” Archana Vohra, Director, Small & Medium Business, Facebook India, says.

While online thrifting is picking up pace, store founders warn against fake accounts on Instagram.

Megha and the others tell HerStory about how they have to keep an eye out for fake listings to protect their brand image. “Some people copy our images and post it on their account to attract consumers and then dupe them by asking for money and never sending the product. It’s a constant struggle,” says Megha. 


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Edited by Affirunisa Kankudti

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