Braeden Bihag got his first taste of thrifting three years ago in the UK, as a university student. What started out as what he calls “a trendy leisure activity” is now a conscious move on his part to shop more responsibly. He much rather wrestle through a pile of clothes for an hour than snag the latest fad from the racks.
There’s also something exhilarating about owning a pre-loved vintage. If you’ve kept up with the times, then you’ve probably seen the revival of retro looks, from flared jeans to colourful windbreakers from the ‘80s. Braeden’s own best ‘steal’ was a Burberry navy blue bomber jacket dating to 1990s, bought off an Instagram thrift store here in the UAE.
Why should I thrift?
But realistically speaking, why do people shop second-hand? The 20-year-old Filipino expat tells us it’s a win-win-win situation: You pay a fraction of the market price (sometimes as little as Dh2), walk away with a rare item and exert less stress on the already stressed out planet Earth.
We’re not just talking about fashion, but used books, pieces of furniture and everything else that ends up in the landfill. While some get recycled, the rest is lugged to the dump and set on fire. Then there’s the cost of creating the latest trends, till we – the consumers – get bored and move on to something else.
Fashion is the third largest polluter in the world. World Economic Forum’s 2021 supply chain report puts down water consumption and use of synthetic fibres as the reasons. Our towels, bedsheets, carpets and clothes are mostly woven from plastic! Oil-based polyester and nylon are cheaper than cotton, but use a lot of energy and cannot return to the soil, instead entering our oceans.
And cotton is the thirstiest crop around – according to Common Objective (CO), a network for sustainable fashion businesses, a cotton shirt needs 3,000 litres of water.
Gen Z made it cool
The solution is obvious: Why not add life to the shirt, novel or shelf that already exists than buying a new one? Generation Z (people born from 1997 and on) have been on the sustainability bandwagon for the past few years like Braeden. Unethical fast fashion brands and mindless shopping are downright sacrilegious.
“I have made a conscious effort to reduce my spending on new clothing items, only buying pieces that I know I can use for years on end,” said Braeden.
When we spoke to Sarah, a 35-year-old store manager at Thrift for Good in Dubai, she told us how “kids come from TikTok” to shop. Telling people your not-so new pair of Levi’s was thrifted is probably the textbook definition of cool and informed.
So we did a bit more digging on our end with one goal in mind: Where can we thrift in Dubai? From clothing to books, we gathered the intel to help you shop guilt-free, save money and the planet. Here are some suggestions we found on our hunt:
Where to thrift in Dubai
• Dubai Center Souq by Dubai Center for Special Needs
Let’s begin with a thrift shop that’s been around since 1991. Located in Karama, near the fish market, is the Dubai Center Souq that sells donated items to fund the Center’s special needs students. Marjan Salehi, the shop coordinator for the past nine years, tells Gulf News that the Souq was established solely to support their tuition.
In here, you might find anything from clothing and shoes to toys and household appliances. Salehi says donations are always carefully sorted for quality and condition, whenever they’re dropped inside the box at the front of the store.
You’ll spend anywhere from Dh2 to Dh25 at the Souq, but if items are still fairly new they might be priced in the hundreds range. The store is open from 10am to 7pm, daily, and anyone coming in on Fridays gets deeper discounts, adds Salehi.
• Dubai Flea Market
The UAE’s very own homegrown flea market pops up every weekend in public spaces like parks around Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Sharjah. At the time of writing, the Dubai Flea Market seemed to be the most active, so we decided to pay a visit.
This particular pop up was set up right at the entrance of Al Nahda Pond Park in Dubai. Vendors rent table space and sell used items for as low as Dh5. From our vantage point, we spotted sunglasses, branded sneakers and handbags, jewellery on clearance sale and piles of unsorted clothing elsewhere.
Ian D., a Filipino vendor at the market, says his second-hand items come in from different suppliers based in Sharjah and Jebel Ali, who sell bags of unsorted clothing for Dh10 or 20. Sometimes he sorts the pile, but most of the time buyers have to dig through the trolleys in the true thrifting fashion.
That’s how Shipla Sivanand, 31, and her sister scored a pair of branded kicks for just Dh25. “It’s our second time here. The first time I dropped by I thought it was interesting… It’s better in the morning, towards the evening the collection isn’t so good,” she said.
Then there was Indian expat Amreen, 30, at the jewellery stall, who thought the market was far better than the mall. “You get good quality things at a cheaper price, not like the ones at the mall. And I live close by, so it’s more feasible for me,” she said.
All you have to do is check the market schedule on the website for every weekend.
Flea markets are a great way to give away your belongings, if you’re moving out. Our social media editor Evangeline Jose tells us how she once got together with her roommates and sold various household items before they moved out. It was a better option than leaving them out; this way, things go to those who need them.
• Thrift for Good
Not a fan of rummaging? Thrift for Good is a brick and mortar store in Palm Jumeirah and Times Square, Dubai, with racks and price tags. Your finds will not be limited to clothing – there are donated books, shoes, bags and jewellery as well.
Sarah, the store manager at the Palm Jumeirah branch, tells Gulf News that profit earned by the end of day is donated to charity. Young volunteers are also seen helping around the store alongside the staff.
“I thought those who are financially challenged would shop second-hand, but we get a mix of customers. It’s a massive demographic of people who don’t want to waste. Some have been thrifting for 34 years!” added Sarah.
• Pop-up events
Independent stores that are mostly based online hold pop-up events every now and then, around Dubai. Your best bet would be The Ripe Market, a community-based shopping space in Academy Park, and the Urban Market Concept, which houses a second-hand market in Silicon Oasis.
Braeden lists the latter as his favourite: “In the past year, thrifting has become trendy for eco-fashion shoppers, so there have been pop-up events and Instagram stores curating, sanitising and selling pre-loved clothing for a new generation.
“My favourite event to look out for is the Urban Market Concept, a semi-frequent flea market of dozens of small thrift or vintage curators.”
The schedule for mobile events is regularly updated on the respective websites.
• Ukay Ukay
Another much touted brick and mortar store, Ukay Ukay (which translates to ‘Dig Dig’ in Tagalog, says Braeden) is a Filipino-run thrift store in the UAE. You will find many of these around the country, but the ones Braeden frequents are in Al Rigga and Al Satwa, Dubai.
“If I go to Ukay Ukay stores, I could easily lose myself shopping for 30 minutes to over an hour depending on how big the store is!” he said. “Searching through every single item for size, quality (damage, visible age, etc.), brand and style takes time if you really want to find those ‘steals’.”
• Online marketplaces
The fastest way to thrift is via online – no surprise there. Instagram is Dubai’s Depop for vintage finds that often go to the highest bidder in the comments. Your package will come to your doorstep carefully wrapped, fully sanitised and hand addressed.
“Thrift shopping on Instagram is a great option too, where you can buy pieces posted on a page with a direct message offer, or participate in live or timed auctions for specific pieces and collection drops,” Braeden added.
Another social media platform is the Facebook Marketplace often frequented by resellers in the UAE. This should be your go-to for used furniture, but as with everything on the World Wide Web, exercise caution.
Some dos and don’ts for thrifting
1. Do donate
As a rule of thumb, if you’re thrifting, you’re automatically obliged to donate. One of the foremost concerns of thrifting as a trend is that we could be taking away affordable clothing, kitchenware or furniture from those who actually need them.
Braeden donates regularly: “I use my clothes gently and hand-wash sensitive items, so when I no longer want (or no longer fit) some clothes, I send them to my family or friends in the Philippines to distribute. When that is not an option, then to local clothes donation boxes and thrift stores that I have a good relationship with.”
2. Don’t impulse buy
Thrifting is all about mindful, slow consumption. Braeden says it might be tempting to splurge on inexpensive items, but the act itself goes against sustainable shopping. Pick only what you know will stay with you for years, is versatile and will get you a good number of wears.
3. Do wash
Even if the sellers claim that an item’s been sanitised, you must wash it thoroughly before wearing. Braeden says that he sends his thrifted jackets for dry cleaning and washes everything else.
4. Do your research
Unfortunately, counterfeit products can easily dupe buyers on the second-hand market. Check the make of the brand and its signature tells before adding it to the cart.
Happy (responsible) thrifting!