Thrifty Shoppers Head For The Back Alley

Lanes and lanes full of shops that give you deals, vintage finds, unique objects of desire, and generally satiating the shopper's soul. Isn't it a dream most of us want to live every now and then? I am a proactive seeker and pursuer of this shoppers' dream, and so, thrift shopping features prominently in my retail therapy. All smart shoppers now think nothing of browsing through things that have seen previous owners, but are worth finding a new place in someone else's closet, shelf, or home. And it boosts their consumer conscience, knowing that oftentimes, the proceeds from these slaes go to a worthy cause. It's a win all situation and people are flocking to these pop-up events. 

BreakfastProjekt gives you a lowdown on this trend, as we chat up the founder of Back Alley, Radhika Dhawan, who has been pulling off immensely successful thrift shopping events, and playing a central role in familiarizing the average shopper with the concept. Read up after the break to know the insider's point of view on thrift shopping.

BreakfastProjekt: What inspired you to start Back Alley? 
Radhika: Back Alley was started on an impulse. Maya and I have always wanted to do something to help in terms of education for the underprivileged and disabled. So about a year ago, when in a conversation both of us realized we wanted to do something we just went for it. To me, with my trunk show and pop up shop background a Thrift Shop made most sense and with Maya’s PR, Marketing and Visual Merchandising skills - we had a winning mix right there. Thanks to our excessive shopping habits we had enough to start off with and then we coaxed people we knew to donate stuff as well. It’s pretty much a win win for everyone involved – charities receive money (which they can use more than donations in kind), customers get a great bargain, contributors got to de-clutter and the two of us get the satisfaction of having made a contribution (in terms of time and effort besides money) towards uplifting someone.

Also, there is a rise in people’s acceptance for pre-owned and vintage products. If people are looking to be sustainable in various ways why not clothes and home stuff, right? So we brought both these things and our strengths together and Back Alley was born.

BreakfastProjekt: Can you share a brief outline of the quality controls that take place from the time an item is donated, to the time it lands up at the shop?
Radhika: To begin with we request people to only give us products that are new or barely used. This helps eliminate any damaged or worn out products people might send. We tell them that people like them will be rebuying it hence they should consider that and try and send them in a condition they wouldn’t mind buying.

Once, the stuff is in, both of us go through each and every piece of clothing and product received  to make doubly sure it’s in good quality – nothing broken, torn or damaged. We want things to look as good as new for the end buyer. Whatever isn't in good condition we simplyput to either donate and to throwaway.

BreakfastProjekt: What are the biggest challenges you face with running a Thrift Shop? 
Radhika: Quality Control!!!! We want people to leave the sale happy. We don’t want to sell rubbish but in fact want to curate a selection of stuff that can be reused. We have to make sure that it isn’t damaged.
And to do that it takes a lot of time and effort. Back Alley is a pet personal project for both of us. So making time in our work schedules is also a challenge but we always have managed to do it.
The other thing is putting up the event on the sale we do, however I have to say that so far people have been generous – the venues, our  family and friends everyone. Everyone has pooled in time and effort to help us make this a reality.

BreakfastProjekt: You've got some wacky finds in your collection. Any favorites? 
Radhika: <3 the shirts that we have got from Massimo Dutti, Karen Millen tops and dresses!
Joseph trousers - <3 the feel
Some vintage looking jackets and crop tops.
Dior and LV shoes.
Come scrimmage and find all these and more awesome finds!

BreakfastProjekt: Your store is beautifully curated. To what do you attribute your wonderful aesthetic?
Radhika: It helps that we curate the products very carefully. The d├ęcor however is usually Maya’s creativity at play. We think of a theme and her brain immediately goes into play. She envisions the whole look and we try and make it happen.

BreakfastProjekt: How long have you yourself been thrift shopping?
Radhika: Personally, was introduced to the concept when I moved to London for a bit about 9 years ago. There was something thrilling about getting a beautiful item for a bargain or used books (imagine first editions) at a great deal. Although as kids we always had hand me downs from cousins and I guess that’s when I was introduced to the concept of pre-used.

BreakfastProjekt: What have been some of your best finds? 
Radhika: We had a tequila lab – which was a hand painted set with test-tubes for people to have shots out off!
We have gotten some great designer wear – which excited us – because it is a steal – esp. with the prices that we work with – Cavalli shirts and TarunTahiliani blouses and dresses at R. 1200 – If it isn’t s steal what is it J

BreakfastProjekt: What should you never buy secondhand? 
Radhika: There is something very wrong about secondhand underwear or swimwear for that matter. It’s not very hygienic. Although some thrift shops in Australia do resell used underwear as well or so I’ve heard. It makes me cringe.

BreakfastProjekt: What kind of items sell most at a thrift event?
Radhika: Non size bound items for sure like home stuff, books, accessories and jewelry, DVDs but clothes are usually a huge chunk as well.

BreakfastProjekt: What are the best tips for shopping at a thrift event?
Radhika: You need to dig!
Initially when things are set-up at the thrift shop everything can be seen properly, once the crowds come in things get buried under heaps o f clothing – esp. with the products we stack up (ie. Bottom-wear, shirts, dresses, tops under 200) We tend to keep those on tables and the rest of the products are hung.
So the key is to DIG coz we know that most of the stuff I nice since we go though each and everything thing – if you don’t DIG you might miss out. 

Head to the Back Alley Event, "SHOP FOR A CAUSE" at the THE VINTAGE GARDEN, Patkar Bungalow, 34D Turner Road, Bandra West, on 19th and 20th April, 2014, 11 am to 8 pm on both days. 

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