The Sukawati store in Samakhusi, Kathmandu, which sells second-hand items at nominal prices, has recycled 40,000 kg of clothes since its launch in 2014. These clothes would otherwise have ended up in the Sisdol landfill which is already flooded with waste of the valley. There are many other thrift stores in the valley and many other online accounts, including Facebook and Instagram, selling all sorts of second-hand items, from clothes and accessories to gadgets and furniture. Savings, once something of a social taboo, are now seen as a sustainable and eco-friendly option for shopping.
Samita Rana, program manager at Sukhawati, explains that when they started, their main goal was to make quality clothing accessible to low-income families. People who did not belong to this category were hesitant to enter the store because the items there were all second-hand. But there has been a shift in that mindset over the past two years. Now their customers are not just those who cannot afford to shell out thousands of rupees for a dress or sweater. Many young people also buy second-hand because they know that it has a low impact on the environment and that it has also become trendy. Rana says that the new generation, those between 20 and 35, seem to be particularly fond of savings.
“People have a lot of stuff they’re looking to get rid of in an environmentally friendly way. Social media has made it easy to sell these things by just posting a few photos online,” Rana says. Hiroshi Khanal, who will soon be launching the Instagram store Thrift Capital Nepal, testifies to this. He says he and his sister want to sell things they don’t need anymore. The money from it, says Khanal, will be donated to an orphanage they support. “Savings is a great way to make money from your junk. We’re done collecting the things we want to sell. Now we’re going to do a quick photoshoot and start uploading them,” he adds. he.
Rana believes that buying second-hand things is the only way to reduce consumption and possibly decrease production, limiting the devastating carbon footprint of fast fashion: the fashion industry contributes around 10% of emissions global greenhouse gases. According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, by 2030, emissions from textile manufacturing are expected to increase by 60%. Fast fashion is also labor and resource intensive. It takes 10,000 liters of water to produce one kilogram of cotton or about 3,000 liters of water for a single cotton shirt. There have also been numerous reports of forced and child labor in the fashion industry in Bangladesh, China, India, the Philippines, Vietnam and Brazil, among others, countries that make the garments available on our market today.
In 2013, an eight-story commercial building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, named Rana Plaza, collapsed, killing 1,134 workers and injuring more than 2,500. The building housed garment factories of American and European brands. A 2015 documentary, “The True Cost”, shows the events leading up to the incident. Apparently, just before the Rana Plaza collapsed, workers were forced into the factory despite a crack in the walls. The documentary reveals more horrors of exploitation in what is a labour-dependent industry. According to manager Andrew Morgan, employees are subjected to humiliation and live on low wages in addition to working in toxic environments in dangerous buildings.
Buying used items keeps products in circulation longer, which can eventually reduce overproduction and waste. Manish Jung Thapa, founder of Antidote, says you extend the life of an item when you buy second-hand and as more people do it, it can have a huge environmental and social impact. These days in Nepal, it is certainly not only those who cannot afford it who opt for second-hand items. Women working in the development sector, well aware of the implications of their actions, seem more inclined to save. Then there are also those who want to save money. “When you can get something for Rs 500, nobody wants to spend four or five times that amount,” Thapa says, explaining the current allure of savings.
However, there must be strict quality control to ensure that second-hand doesn’t literally mean rubbish. Otherwise, people will quickly lose faith and be hesitant to shop at thrift stores. Aavas Rajkarnikar, who sells used vintage electronics, says customers often ask lots of questions before making a purchase. This, he says, is because the products do not come with warranties. It’s not uncommon for thrift stores to also have a no-return or exchange policy. Thapa from Antidote says they have a 100% money back guarantee if an item they sell is not as specified on their page. “This kind of approach to saving can make it risk-free and help popularize it even more,” he says.
Sunaina Shrestha, founder of Thriftmandu, says many thrift stores in Nepal sell quality items, including branded items, and people really shouldn’t be shy about shopping second-hand. She thinks the problem is that many of these stores are limited to online platforms, and having physical outlets would make things easier. That way, she says, people can check an item before buying it and be sure it’s in good condition. Thapa, on the other hand, believes that the media should talk more about savings and familiarize more people with the idea and its importance. Social media influencers and celebrities could also play a pivotal role in promoting this sustainable behavior, he says.
Savings has long been a popular culture in Western countries, with Oxfam, Goodwill and the Salvation Army running charity shops where people can buy a variety of things at affordable prices. In Nepal, books and furniture have always had good second-hand markets. Narayan Sapkota has been selling used books in Bhrikuti Mandap, Kathmandu for over 30 years. There are others like him around. Second-hand furniture stores are a dime a dozen in the valley.
Yet people are still skeptical of second-hand clothes and other personal items like shoes and accessories. But reusing clothes can contribute to a circular economy like no other: the fashion industry, according to the World Economic Forum, produces 150 billion pieces of clothing a year worldwide, nearly three-fifths of which end up in landfill within a few years. “People are slowly starting to realize that reusing and recycling clothes is kinder to the planet and are starting to donate or sell their clothes instead of throwing them in the trash. But there are still far too many who don’t care. Rana says.