“Do you have any idea how many litres of water go into making a pair of jeans,” shrieked my 20-year-old Gen-Z sister when I told her about my shopping plans for Diwali. I wasn’t aware of the gravity of the question. And I had no idea how this discussion would spark a change not only in how I thought about thrifting, but also in how I viewed my finances, and the world around me.

According to a 2021 pan-India survey by a fintech company, 71% of Indians between the age of 18-30 spend their income on shopping, and this expenditure makes up nearly a third of their income. Now take all this shopping, and picture 70% of it ending up in landfills or being incinerated every year. Startling, isn’t it?

When I analysed my own expenses, I noticed that I was spending approximately 40% of my income on retail therapy. That got me thinking, what if I thrifted this year. What if I changed the way I shopped? So, I enlisted my sister’s help, scoured thrift stores far and wide, had in-depth conversations with my newfound thrift-buddies, and here’s what I learned.

Thrifting makes one a conscious spender

The thought of thrifting used to put me off initially. Until that discussion with my sister, that is. We started with looking back on the past twenty years.

Birthdays and Diwali were two occasions when my mum would take us shopping. Nothing matched the excitement that the activity brought with itself because it happened only twice a year. For any other important family event, we’d be like the Weasleys, stuck with hand-me-downs.

As the years went by, and as shopping became more digital, we evolved. The plethora of choices available to us increased manifold. My family’s disposable income grew. Consequently, the frequency of our shopping sprees went up. It became more about buying what we wanted, as opposed to what we needed. I would find myself adding items to shopping carts of different e-stores. This constant build-up of stuff I wanted to own served as a nagging reminder for me to save more for temporary, materialistic happiness. Deep down, I knew this was leading to an unhealthy obsession, one that I needed to break.

When I began exploring the idea of thrifting, I noticed that there were fewer options to choose from. Shopping seemed to have a purpose. I was only looking at items that I needed. I also started considering putting up some of my own clothes on apps like This for That to swap items with others like me. The whole process of buying second-hand, swapping and choosing pre-loved clothes rather than brand new ones has made me more conscious of the everyday choices I make. Moreover, it has made me acutely aware of the money I’ve been spending unnecessarily. Instant gratification was replaced by thoughtful purchases, and that left me feeling more in control of my finances.

Get a curated wardrobe on a budget

Fashion is ever evolving. If you look at your wardrobe, you probably use only a third, or even less of it regularly. The rest is a case of hoarding due to fashion FOMO. Occasions and festivities can call for a wardrobe overhaul too, and this takes a toll on your budget.

Team Rupiko spoke with Tanvi Chandawarkar, a Bangalore-based chef, and a shopaholic turned avid thrifter, about her thrifting journey. “It always felt good to have a new wardrobe. Shopping for new clothes used to give me a lot of joy,” says Tanvi, letting out a chuckle at her younger self. “Back in 2009, I was living in Australia, and I happened to discover a thrift store. That’s when it started. The thought of getting a good bargain rather than buying something new was exciting. It gave me a new kind of high. Finding pieces that catch your fancy and that are in your size is like a treasure-hunt. In the one and a half years I spent there, thrifting became a way of life for me.”

When Tanvi got back to India, thrifting was quite unheard of. But the pattern had set in. She found ways to get her hands on pre-loved items, be it by borrowing from friends or by swapping with cousins. Tanvi adds, “Thrifting has really helped me shape my bad habit of shopping and spending too much. Now, I first look far and wide to find something second-hand rather than buying something brand new.”

What I learned from my chat with Tanvi was that thrifting can minimize your closet clutter tremendously. At the same time, you get to choose unique pieces of clothing at reasonable prices. Now if that isn’t a wonderful way to create a one-of-a-kind wardrobe without having to splurge, what is?

The value of money and a more sustainable world

A Business Insider survey revealed that in 2014 the average person bought 60% more clothing than in the year 2000, however, they kept each item of clothing only half as long. Discarded clothes add up to over 1,000 crore kilograms of clothing going straight to landfills globally every year.

With every piece you thrift, you shrink your carbon footprint by reducing the natural resources used to create new clothes. Not just this, buying second-hand prevents violation of labour rights in more ways than you think.

It is estimated that 98% of workers in the fashion industry do not earn enough to meet their basic needs. Low wages, long working hours, exposure to toxic chemicals, and questionable safety standards of the factories contribute to the unethical practices that this industry is infamous for.

Now that I’ve started thrifting, I know that I am not adding to the exploitation of these factory workers. It might seem like a drop in the ocean, but doing my bit not only makes me value resources better, but it also makes me feel like a more responsible citizen of the world.

Let’s embrace thrifting

The meaning of the word, “thrift”, is “the quality of using money and other resources carefully and not wastefully”. So naturally, thrifting implies opting for previously-owned, aka pre-loved items. Talking to my sister, I realised that many of us have qualms about second-hand things, be it clothes, furniture, or even vehicles! What I also realised is that it’s not difficult to let go of this acquired mindset and go back to the basics.

When you choose to thrift, you choose to de-stigmatize second-hand consumption for society and be gentler on the environment at the same time. By embracing it, you create a cycle of fashion that is restorative and sustainable, and the clothes don’t end up in landfills.

Madhulika Umapathy, Co-founder of the slow-fashion brand, Pomogrenade, says, “We want our fabrics to live a long life, so we’re always striving to do our bit. When we introduced the pre-loved section on our website, we started with upcycling scraps into small bags and accessories. The response was great. What also made us happy was customers approached us for ideas on upcycling their own beloved pieces. From ideas to preserve memories of a special day to thoughts on how to save the precious pieces of a family member who is no more.” It would be great to see more people and more brands think this way.

I’ll come back to the point my sister raised. It takes approximately 10,000 litres of water to make a pair of jeans. This is equivalent to an average person’s water consumption for nearly two full months. So before you give in to that Diwali sale or that End-of-Reason-Sale, think again. Thrifting embodies the virtues of affordability and sustainability, making it a gift that keeps on giving – a win-win situation for our pockets and the planet.

About Author Amisha

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