Out with the old, in with the new? Not necessarily, as these Malaysian thrift experts will tell you.
When you enter a thrift store, you are greeted with slightly dusty air, clothing racks filled with no two identical pieces—and the promise of great finds, hidden between old sweatshirts. The thrill of the chase culminates in your hunt for the perfect fit, holding your breath in anticipation as you shop in a time capsule.
It is no wonder Malaysia's thrift culture has ignited over the recent years—now, perhaps more than ever, scoring unique pieces at the thrift store is more euphoric than spending on fast fashion brands. It even seems like fate, making your shopping experience all the more magical at a wallet-friendly price.
Curated thrift stores in Malaysia seek to make that thrifting experience a little easier for shoppers. While the concept of luxurious “curated” clothing selections may seem counterintuitive to the concept of pre-owned secondhand clothing, OKGO thrift store in Subang Jaya balances these opposing ideas down to an art.
OKGO’s owners are married couple Zamir Alif and Shakira Isadora, who started their business after inspiration struck during their trip to Japan in 2016. Shakira reminisces: “We were amazed by how cool and aesthetically impressive their thrift stores were, where music, art, and fashion play big roles as part of their store concepts.”
Taking their cue from such Japanese thrift stores, they launched OKGO as a place that combines secondhand and vintage clothing with curated aesthetics. Here, their customers can shop sustainably and get right to the good stuff without having to sort through piles and piles of old clothes.
As someone who has front seats to the evolution of Malaysian thrift culture over the years, Zamir believes that "thrift culture is at its peak."
With thrift culture gaining traction, sustainability in the fashion industry has also become more pertinent. Instead of contributing to a landfill of textile nightmares, pre-owned clothes are re-owned by different people, extending their shelf life. Thrifting also dissuades shoppers from shopping brand new. This reduces the demand for fast fashion and diminish the use of resources needed to produce billions of fast fashion garments daily.
Of course, affordability is also a huge draw. Gone are the days where you have to break the bank to look glamorous. The abundance of thrift stores in Malaysia makes fashion more accessible, with curated thrift stores even streamlining the process to score some good quality clothing.
Thrift culture has also bred a brand new trend: upcycling fashion. Also known as thrift-flipping, this is a practice where people buy secondhand clothes from thrift stores and tailor them into new, more fashion-forward pieces.
An expert at upcycling is the bespoke fashion brand Upsygals, founded by Lau Xin Yi and Ku Li Qian. When studying fashion design at RMIT, the sustainable fashion industry didn’t even cross Lau’s mind. It wasn’t until after her internship with a small, sustainable clothing brand that she decided to start her own line. She enlisted the help of her best friend Ku, whose passion for sustainability also influenced the birth of Upsygals.
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They turn to thrift stores to source the materials they need to make their one-of-a-kind pieces. Since their supply of materials is not constant and reliable in the traditional sense, they often face difficulty in having to sift through piles of clothes at thrift stores to find specific pieces that fit their design. This process might sound exhausting to even the most devoted shoppers but for Lau and Ku, it's what they love about thrifting. "It's the feeling when you find gems you know you won't be able to find anywhere else on Earth!" enthuses Lau.
Not merely riding the thrift wave, Upsygals has a true devotion to upcycling and fashion. From their experience, Lau and Ku upcycling makes fashion even more unique, even providing jobs in this competitive field—all while saving Mother Earth. "We think upcycling IS the future of the fashion industry. What is there to say no to?" says Lau.
We have more than enough secondhand clothes to last us a few centuries!
Exploiting Thrift Culture
Despite its seemingly endless benefits, there is a dark side to Malaysian thrift culture.
Exploiters of peak thrift culture rear their ugly heads, profiting by hoarding quality supply from thrift stores only to resell them at higher prices without any alteration or upcycling.
They prey on consumers' desire for vintage and nostalgic goods, transforming the culture of selling secondhand clothing into a scam.
OKGO’s owners reproach of secondhand scammers could not be more apparent. As thrift experts, they disapprove of overselling secondhand items to thrift newbies as it forsakes the innocence and intimacy of thrifting. "Thrift is a community-based business," notes Zamir.
Shopping That Saves The Earth
As thrifting gains popularity, one can only wonder about the future of fashion consumption. For Lau and Ku, Malaysian thrift culture is the gift that keeps on giving.
"We hope that the thrifting surge gets as big as possible," says Ku. "Each year, the average consumer throws out 32kg of clothing which produces 13 million tons of textile waste globally. We have more than enough secondhand clothes to last us a few centuries!"
While it's cool to thrift (and hopefully, it will be for a long time), go visit some thrift stores and shop upcycle brands. You never know what gems you will find—all while saving the environment.