What's the best way to recycle used clothes in Pakistan?

In status-obsessed Pakistan people judge us for buying second-hand. Can we ever recycle fashion? I decided to find out.

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Updated Jan 06, 2017 12:00am

A new year calls for spring cleaning, right?

Except, after organising my closet, half my possessions lie stacked on the floor like a molehill and the only question on my mind is: what do I do with this pile of unwanted clothes?

Ordinarily, I'd give my hand-me-downs to domestic help. However, this time around I decided I needed to branch out to other alternatives.

Before I trigger 'haws' and 'woh bhi zarooratmand hain' thoughts, allow me to say this: I realised that previously, I was directing all my giveaways to one channel instead of thoughtfully picking and choosing the best possible medium for them.

I hoped to direct my clothes towards those who'd benefit most from them, otherwise it's an aimless attempt at getting rid of my clothes.

So what's the best place to park your used clothes? As part of my investigation I asked this question on Facebook. Soon a stream of responses from good Samaritans directed me to the relevant people.

I realised I had two options: either donate and/or sell.


Selling


I'll be honest, selling used clothes seems a bit ambitious to me, because really, does anyone in Pakistan buy second-hand? Labels CEO Zahir Rahimtoola echoed my sentiments.

"It's unlike England here, they have a process of renting and buying vintage from clothing stores," he said. "I toyed with the idea of a vintage shop but it won't work here because people won't buy second hand."

Zahir explained that "people in Pakistan don't want to be seen wearing old designer brands."

Why not in Pakistan though?

"It's more about lawn here. It's a Rs40 billion business in Pakistan. Every season women must have something new. Plus, we don't have designers like Lagerfeld who've been in the field long enough for people to want to wear vintage," he expanded.

Challenge accepted! I set out to see if I could bust this myth.

I was directed to two online websites notoriously famous for selling second-hand products; secretstash.pk and Sheops -- both can be found on Facebook.

1) Sheops

This women-only online shopping hub first started out as a WhatsApp group, shifted to a Facebook group (44,617 members) and soon after started operating as a full-fledged website run by Nadia Patel Gangjee, CEO of Sheops.

While Sheops was initially created for the purpose of selling used items, "It is no longer limited to pre-loved things. We're basing it on home-made entrepreneurs or women who want to start a business," explained Nadia.

While the online store sells a vast array of items like clothes, bags, food, arts and crafts, I turned my attention to the pre-loved (i.e. second hand) items.

The owner explained that Sheops doesn't require a specific quality criteria or price limit to display products on their website. However, they must be of 'decent quality' before being put up, if the quality is compromised, then the seller is removed along with the product.

"The authenticity of the product is checked before it's put up, if it is counterfeit, we have a policy of returning the full money to the buyer, but so far nothing as such has happened," she said, citing plagiarism as a big no-no.

To become a seller on the website, the waiting period usually lasts around 7-8 weeks before signing a contract with Sheops; first, the team does an intensive Google search on the seller, then scans her Facebook profile and lastly, all available info online for further details on the individual and the product(s) she's selling.

However, since I'm not an official Sheop seller on contract, I could just head to their Facebook group, click on the sell button and put up my products, right?

'Sell Something' button has been provided by Facebook, not a feature by Sheops.
'Sell Something' button has been provided by Facebook, not a feature by Sheops.

Not so fast, warned Nadia.

The 'Sell Something' button is a default feature provided by Facebook for all market groups on the social networking site. But now, in hopes of curbing non-registered members from selling products, Sheops will soon only approve registered sellers on its group.

The CEO insisted that sellers only use the website to market products, this also helps buyers seeking authenticity as the sellers are under contract with Sheops and their items are checked and approved before they're put up.

Nonetheless, each individual who hopes to join Sheops' Facebook group goes through extensive search before gaining access, she stressed. "We check their profiles -- hand scan them, based on mutual friends, activities, likes, and once we're satisfied, the person is then allowed to be part of the group."

Ah, that explains why it took more than two weeks to become a member of Sheops' Facebook group!

Once a product has been bought, it goes through a three-people process: 1) the seller, 2) the Sheops team and 3) the buyer. They have a delivery partner on board who picks up the product from the seller and delivers it to the buyer. The payment then stays with Sheops for a week till the buyer is satisfied with the products, only then is it transferred to the seller.

Contrary to my belief, people in Pakistan do buy second hand and in multiples! The list of sellers and buyers for both has increased since Sheops started out in May. They even have shipments made to UK, UAE and the USA. Well, international reach works for me!

Now on to my next option, secretstash.pk. Point to note: it's a niche market, and functions differently from Sheops as it doesn't require membership, nor does one need to be an entrepreneur. If there's a designer item to be sold, secretstash.pk is the place to go, whether it's a one-time or regular thing.

2) Secretstash.pk

Founded in 2014, this online portal is run by Nazish Hussain, CEO of secretstash.pk. It is a curated online marketplace where one can buy and sell original designer items, used and brand new.

Here's how Nazish puts it: "You bought something and either you’ve used it and you’re done with it or it's not your style or you don’t like it, for whatever reason you don’t want to just give something away because it's taking up closet space, you come to me."

The process "requires you to send the product to us in Karachi (since it's a Karachi-based business). Nothing is put up without it being sent to us first."

It’s a bit dicey buying designer labels online. Come on, we've all had thoughts race through our minds, like "What if this is jali?", and I'm no exception. Do people trust the website enough to buy my designer stash on secretstash.pk?

"We look at the condition and authenticity of the product, it has to be of a certain criteria; it needs to be in good condition. Of course, there is wear and tear and we mention the problem with it on the website,” she clarified.

"Nothing on the site can be more than the original price - we check the prices online,” she says. “So everything on the website is available on a discount, written and verified. You order online, and if you’re in Karachi and you really want to see something, you can make an appointment and come see it.”

Nazish works on commission and 90% of her sales are online. Payments are made through cash-on-delivery and/ bank transfers.

They also have a policy to double check before delivering any product. The customer is called within 24-hours of the delivery to verify and confirm the order before it is shipped to its destination. So far she hasn’t faced any issues or complaints from customers.

Recalling what Zahir told me, is there really a market for second-hand in Pakistan? Because I'd too think twice about buying second-hand designer labels.

"It's anonymous, secretstash.pk," said Nazish. "Plus, people are a lot more open to it now, it’s not like abroad that it’s [seen as] vintage. Here [through the website] no one knows if you bought it or sold it. That’s the point of it being a secret."

And it has since burgeoned, serving people in all corners of Pakistan. "We’ve definitely seen growth and orders coming in. There’s awareness of high-end brands. In fact, I just shipped an order to Nowshera and KPK, even to places like Larkana and Sargodha."

"There was a misconception on my part and the people that it's only Karachi and Lahore where the orders come from - which, yes, they largely do - but people from other areas also want to own designer labels,” she added.

So my products will stay on the website till they're sold, right?

"We give a product around 4-6 weeks, if it’s not sold within two months then we take it offline. Within the first week or two you know whether something is going to sell or not."

So depending on the type of clothes I wish to give away I can juggle them between these two.

Disclaimer: There are numerous other groups online which sell second hand items but these have been the highest rated and they're trusted by buyers and sellers, hence they are on the list.

Moving on to my next option: Donations!


Donating


So there are options of donating to specific fundraisers or donating to the needy directly through organisations or even as easy has hanging donations on the Wall of Kindness.

Let's start with the fundraiser.

1) Bargain Basement Sale

As the name suggests, Bargain Basement Sale started out as a sale in a basement in 2005, taking donations from designers, celebs and charitable citizens to help fund various local charities. It has since taken flight and no longer takes places in a basement.

This once-a-year sale only accepts donations if they're designer wear. The item has to be brand new, unless you're donating to their newly introduced Vintage section, for those wishing to donate their second-hand designer wear.

The fundraiser organiser, Nuria Rafique said, "This is the first year that we have taken second-hand items and only for our Vintage section. We thought there are plenty of people who purchase designer items and then for some reason they don't use them or if they have, then only on a random occasion. However, these items are beautiful and expensive, so we thought they deserve a second home."

She said that they "almost sold out of everything [in the Vintage section] and it contributed a large portion towards our Rs10,000,000 total."

But that's owing to the strict check on second hand donations: Once a pre-loved item is sent to the organisers, it is sent to the Vintage team for inspection and inquiry. For e.g., if it's a designer bag the team would like to know where it was purchased, see evidence of the serial number card to ensure it's an original. Only if they are satisfied that the item is an original and in good enough condition does it make it to their Vintage section, otherwise it's returned with a 'thank you.'

She explained, "We were very particular about the items that we put up for sale - they had to be high end designer, not high street, and they had to look as if they were new. We felt this was important to ensure that we generated good sale and we also didn't want shoppers to think we were like a thrift shop."

Prices of all donated items sold at BBS were slashed by 50% or less than the ticketed price. The Vintage section however, saw some major cuts, with prices less than 50% of the product's original price -- products which are not sold find their way on BBS' website.

This annual sale takes place in November and is marked by all those who are BBS loyals, added the philanthropist.

A few of the causes BBS funds are Pink Ribbon Pakistan, RS Foundation, Bali Memorial Trust, Lahore Hospital Welfare Society, Todds Welfare Society for Animals and The Giving Tree Foundation. Nuria explained the distribution method: The total monies were distributed between these six charities in differing amounts depending on their size, annual expenses and regular donor base,

The good thing though is I won't have to wait till next year to donate to the sale, I can do it online and even if my clothes don't sell, they store them away and sell them online through their website. Relieving me of a headache!

There are also a multitude of charitable organisations one can choose to donate to, these can be shortlisted depending on what you're giving away, based on those I checked out the following options:

2) Edhi Foundation

They take donations in the form of money, food, clothes, medicine and animal hide. So why not give to a trust worthy place where you know the donation will go to those in need?

Just recently Edhi's son Faisal Edhi revealed that donations to the Edhi Foundation have decreased dramatically since Edhi's death. Granted that this donation is not monetary, but it will help clothe people living in Edhi shelters.

As easy as making a bundle and dropping it off at the nearest Edhi centre.

3) The Orange Tree Foundation

Photo: The Orange Tree Foundation/Facebook
Photo: The Orange Tree Foundation/Facebook

This NGO aims to educate children who come from families struggling financially. These children are provided Montessori education a year before being admitted in to mainstream schools.

Though donations can be made in the form of money, and one can even sponsor a child, what many don't know is that this little school hidden in Khadda Market also takes clothes as donations. The donations go to the mothers of children enrolled in the school.

So I'll just need to drop in between 9am - 2pm and hand them the giveaways.

Now my last option, perhaps the most easiest and convenient of them all:

4) The Wall of Kindness

Photo: Wall of Kindness/Facebook
Photo: Wall of Kindness/Facebook

It's unfortunate that such a kind initiative is now dead. What started with high hopes at the beginning of this year and garnered tremendous response from the public, failed to keep the people hooked overtime.

Borrowed from the Iranian initiative 'deewar-e-mehrbaani' or 'Wall of Kindness', our local Wall of Kindness was initiated by Ismat Ali, a lecturer by profession, who decided to bridge the gap between the less privileged and those who wished to donate.

A few months ago it fed and clothed Karachi's homeless living near MT Khan Road. Now, the venture has all too soon faded in the minds of the people and if you happen to pass by that road, you'll see a barren Wall of Kindness.

In the words of House Stark, "winter is coming," and it will only do the underprivileged good by hanging a few clothes up there for them.

Time to divide and conquer and send clothes where I feel they fit best!

This list only includes a few among many, many organisations which accept donations for the needy and if you happen to know about any trustworthy operations which strive to provide clothing for the underprivileged, feel free to comment below.