Adaora Nwangwu and Michael Aromolaran
Eat a plate of rice at a bukka somewhere in mud-muddled mainland Lagos and you’d have only had an ordinary, forgettable meal. Place the same plate of rice on a table in any restaurant in Victoria Garden City and marvel at the miracle of parallax that’ll unfold. It suddenly becomes Frenchified, shedding its bush Anglo-Saxon name, “plate of rice”, becoming “assiette de riz délicieux”. Naturally, that French moniker means you are paying triple—a good name is worth more than silver and gold, the aphorism goes. The same principle applies to attires, hand-me-downs in this case. Sell them at Tejuosho Market, spread on the tarmac like you want Palm-Sunday Jesus to tread them, and they are called bend-down-select or okrika, carrying with them the dual stink of mothballs and low social value. Sell them on social media and they go by an innocuous, bourgeois-sounding monosyllable: Thrift. Prettify the venue and watch the product shoot for the moon.
Thrift is the new cool, and social media has ordained it so. Social media is a kind of public relations officer, with its nigh-infallible way of rebranding things often associated with the proletarian side of town, painting over their tawdry reputation, inserting swag where shame had once been. Very few in the pre-Internet years were proud to tell you they cleaned houses for a living. These days, announcing online that you’re a house cleaner will earn you retweets, not class snobbery. DStv’s Africa Magic has long made the abode of juju-men look like a ghetto Hogwarts, a place to be dreaded, mostly visited by unlettered superstitious humans in search of life turnarounds. Juju peddled on Instagram, by kayanmata merchants, for instance, wears a glossy nail varnish, the dangerous metaphysical wearing harmless make-up, people untroubled by it as they would be in an offline circumstance.
On why people opt for thrift, store owner Serbia Wilson says it’s because “they find nice stuff that is designer at a good price.” To add to Wilson’s words, it’s also because thrift stores, with their social media marketing, ease the process, as you can simply order items online, without the hassle of getting off your couch. Favour Okoye, a student, says she doesn’t mind that thrift items are second-hand clothes. For her, the ease of online shopping overrides the qualms of them having had previous owners. “I shop at thrift stores because it is convenient. All I need to do is place an order wherever I am. It is cheap and eco-friendly,” she says. But it’s not a sentiment shared by another student and entrepreneur, Tracy Ofoka, who worries over “the part of it being pre-owned”. “I don’t know who had this and who was in this. That part creeps me out,” she says. Nonetheless, she adds that “thrift is my go-to for quality pieces. I can easily find clothes that I like and are authentic for a reasonable amount”.
Since newly made clothes and thrift are almost indistinguishable, the underside is that certain online sellers resort to trickery, marketing secondhand stuff as unworn products, a sleight of hand with an end goal of inflating the prices of the clothes. The sellers smile to the bank, and the customers wear their new clothes, unaware of the scam. “Most of the thrift clothing online are from bend-down-select, that is the whole point of Instagram marketing. Everything is packaging in the streets of Instagram,” says Tracy.
Due to the current state of the economy, thrift may not be as affordable as it used to be decades ago. Occasionally, the prices of thrift items are extremely ridiculous for thrift and the hike in price has taken a toll on the low-income families who only survive on thrift for clothing. The lives of people who used to afford thrift or could barely afford thrift just got harder.
“Thrifts, as we speak, are even expensive but trust me it is still the best deal ever and assured of quality items if you shop from the right vendors,” Serbia says. “It’s still cheaper than brand new items but not as the way it usually used to be because of the dollar rate and the business is really a clear definition of the survival of fittest,” adds Serbia.
In the future, thrift will always remain relevant as more people make donations and declutter their wardrobes. Many people are dependent on thrift to survive. Favour Okoye can’t predict if there will be a change in the thrift industry, however, she feels thrift is not going anywhere. Serbia believes thrift will be relevant in the future and hopes to stay in business. She is anticipating the increase in more thrift stores.“I see thrift as a thing that will still exist in the future. Hopefully, I will still keep running my thrift business as a side hustle and honestly, new thrift stores will still come up eventually.”