Dubai expats tap into demand for second-hand clothes

After losing their own jobs, two Pakistani expatriates decided to open a second-hand clothing store, anticipating that others would also have squeezed budgets.

Sibtain Malik and Waheed Nasir at the Light House used clothes outlet in Al Quoz, Dubai. Reem Mohammed / The National
Powered by automated translation

DUBAI // When Sibtain Malik and Waheed Nasir lost their sales and marketing jobs last year, they decided to roll up their sleeves and start a business selling second-hand clothes.

The Pakistani friends, from Lahore, have known each other for more than 20 years and realised that second-hand clothes would be in demand at a time when people were losing their jobs and budgets were being squeezed.

So, they opened their shop, Light House Dubai, in Al Quoz four months ago.

“With the way financial challenges have crippled the world, including Dubai, such concepts are bound to get public acceptance,” said Mr Malik, 50.

He said there were estimates that up to 70 per cent of the world’s population used second-hand clothes, so he and Mr Nasir, 55, thought it was time for the concept to be introduced to Dubai.

“There are people, like sales representatives, who have to do lots of public meetings every day but can’t afford to spend a lot on their clothes,” he said. “Used clothing is the best solution.”

A study last year by Dr Sheng Lu, of the University of Delaware’s department of fashion and apparel studies, found that Europe generated 1.5 million to 2 million tonnes of used clothing a year.

The US generated 1.4 million tonnes and exported 800,000 tonnes.

With items costing from Dh2 to Dh12, Light House has served more than 7,000 customers, who spend an average of Dh20, said Mr Nasir. The most popular items are jeans, shorts, T-shirts and office shirts.

“Not everyone in Dubai can afford to spend Dh1,000 or, for that matter, Dh300 on shirts, yet they want to wear a good brand,” Mr Nasir said.

“Places like ours provide them an opportunity to wear their favourite brand at an affordable price.”

Mr Malik said Dubai was not only a haven for high-end retail, despite popular perceptions.

“Almost 40 per cent of the population is from the labour and low-income sector, and they are not the immediate target group for most retail start-ups,” he said. “We feel much more can be done for this segment.”

Victor Ayala, 52, who works as a maintenance technician in Dubai, said he shops at the store for himself and for his family.

“My family is happy to see the tags of big brands,” said the Filipino. “They don’t care if the clothes have been worn earlier, as long as they are in good shape.”

Manoj Rajak said he could not afford to buy even a basic T-shirt from well-known brands.

“Because I work in Dubai, my family and peers back home think I am a millionaire, and it’s very difficult to make them understand that everyone in Dubai is not rich,” said the 33-year-old Indian, who works at a security firm.

“Second-hand clothing helps us save face and use quality clothing at a cheap price.”

Mr Malik and Mr Nasir said their second-hand store was not a charity.

“We don’t accept donations,” said Mr Nasir.

“We buy clothes from second-hand clothing dealers in the USA and European market and sell them here.”

He said each item was individually inspected and checked for quality and cleanliness. Most are pressed before they are displayed and, when necessary, dry-cleaned.

“Using second-hand clothing is not shameful,” said Mr Malik.

“It is known as intelligent shopping.

“Spending endlessly on products like clothing is not a wise thing, especially during financial crises.”