Monday, September 14, 2020

Second hand: Is there a paradigm shift in Lebanese shopping?

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly
Are the Lebanese finally changing their consumption habits? Signs are exposing cracks in that picture perfect way the Lebanese liked to portray themselves. A middle class that just spent four days in Turkey, got clothes there on the cheap, and eats at McDonald's while eyeing the new Zara collection as they drive in a Nissan they pay on monthly installments.

For several years, I used to dress exclusively from Souk El Ahad, or the low-income Sunday market (which actually was held on Saturday and Sunday hence the misnomer) - and where I would get second hand clothes. I usually went with a French friend, his girlfriend and his brother. It was really wonderful to get things at such discounted prices. Sometimes we would strike gold, like that Dries Van Noten shirt, and other times it was the thrill of discovery. When I moved from Beirut in September 2010, almost all the clothes in question were donated.

But to many, the idea of buying second hand was a total taboo. Which is why my praise for Depot Vente is still enormous, as Nawal showed everyone that second hand meant rarities, one of a kind, and things that fast fashion stores could not compete with (read here). Whereas not second hand, if you aim for deadstock material (which is not new either), you might want to check Vntg Smtng for their pristine stock of sporty goods (their Iril polos are to die for). But now, with Zara increasing its prices to match the black market price of the Dollar, with many such stores changing prices almost daily (read here), and others quitting the game entirely (Adidas is exiting the market at the end of the year), something has shifted deeply in the remnants of the Lebanese middle class.

The explosion of August 4 only made things worse in the sense that suddenly everyone, from all socio-economic classes were affected (read here). Garage Souk which dubs itself a community financial empowerment tool to buy/sell/earn/learn/swap/thrift has been gaining momentum. It is supposed to empower women and students and get them extra income. But not only this, thrift stores (more like pĂȘle-mĂȘle vide greniers) have been mushrooming all over Instagram with mostly girls and women selling barely worn items from their closets - mostly fast fashion clothing and accessories - at discounted prices. But even higher end online stores exist - some with physical footprints not just virtual accounts (Preporter Luxury, Chic Beirut, or Garage Luxe).

The idea of second hand, with current prices soaring and imports estimated to have declined 90%, previously owned items (barely worn, back when people would buy, show off, and discard) suddenly seem a viable option. Am not saying people will go to Souk El Ahad yet, but many taboos seem to have fallen.