As winter arrives, one sees walls on the roadsides in many areas of the city displaying warm clothes — coats, sweaters, mufflers, woolen caps and so on. Besides, there are vendor carts or mobile stalls dealing in similar merchandise. These are found mostly in congested locations frequented by people from middle- and low-income groups.
On inquiry one finds that the prices are very much on the lower side and there is a lot of space for haggling as well. If you succeed in getting a good deal and are also purchasing in bulk, you may even get a couple of goods for free as a ‘goodwill’ gesture.
The chances of finding globally renowned branded products are also there and many brand conscious people head to such markets. But they have to keep their calm and hide their excitement when shopping. If they don’t, the seller will get alert and raise the price tag immediately.
The reason why this stuff is low priced is that it is second-hand and imported from abroad where it is normally donated by people to different charities. These charities sell this stuff in auctions to raise funds for their welfare work and it reaches different countries like Pakistan through businessmen dealing in second-hand items.
This is not a new phenomenon and the practice has been going on for decades. The flea markets developed to sell these products in different cities are known as ‘Landa Bazaars’. About the origin of the name, there is no surety but some people believe it was derived from “London Bazaar,” established in Karachi in Bhutto’s era when a ban on import of used clothing was lifted for the first time.
Today we see countless, mini landa bazaars across Lahore that has grown manifold both in terms of population and territorial expanse. So, what is the exact nature of business going on in the main Landa Bazaar located on the stretch between the Lahore Railway Station and Delhi Gate is worth exploring.
A visit to the bazaar reveals that it houses businesses of all sorts and is not only confined to trade in used clothing. There are hotels, steel merchants, sellers of tents, sofa cloth and curtains, furniture shops, importers of new clothes and shoes from China, sale points of loose cloth cut pieces, school bags, electronics shops and what not. Besides, there are business activities going on at the encroachments on both sides of the road that makes it difficult for people to pass through.
Muhammad Hussain, a middle-aged stall owner, has been selling used clothes here for good five years now. He says it is becoming increasingly difficult for him to sustain because property prices have skyrocketed and the shop owners prefer to rent these out to organised businesses with regular and big turnovers. “Our investments and sale proceeds are low, and we make far less profit than big businesses do,” he tells TNS. “This is one reason why sellers of used clothes are switching to stalls and pushcarts, and finally, even moving out.”
Hussain buys stuff from big importers who are wholesale dealers. He can get this at a low price if he does not open the sack he is buying; he ends up paying a lot more if he chooses to inspect the packs inside. He has to be careful in his selection, as his regular customers are unable to make expensive purchases. The highest he can go for the coats he sells is between Rs300 and Rs400; it’s between Rs200-250 for trousers.
He finds trading in school uniforms more viable because “it’s what every school-going child needs, and because they are growing up, their size keeps changing.” Hussain has developed a small system whereby he collects used outfits (school uniforms), makes the required fixes, and puts these up for sale.
Some shopkeepers say their traders often come from Anarkali Bazaar, Panorama Centre, Gulberg, Defence, and other places — albeit secretively. They examine the stocks and pick the best available stuff in order to sell it as ‘new’ pieces at their outlets.
The shopkeepers also speak of receiving unused clothes from abroad. But that’s a rare incidence.
Landa Bazaar is a poor sportsman’s go-to place for shopping. Here, they can get good quality sports shoes at affordable rates.
Swat Khan sells such shoes from the original brands such as Adidas, Nike, and Reebok for prices as low as Rs500. On occasion, he also increases the price, going up to Rs1500 or so for a pair of shoes, depending on the quality of the product.
Khan’s most dependable tool is a cutter with the help of which he can remove the studs and spikes if the buyer wants to use the shoes for casual wearing.
Naeem Badshah, General Secretary, Anjumam-e-Tajran, Landa Bazaar, Lahore, says that due to the huge burden of taxes on imports, the shopkeepers (at the bazaar) have to suffer a lot. “We purchase second-hand items from abroad at low prices but the tax authorities levy huge customs duty on the containers. There should be a distinction between how to tax new clothes and the old ones.”
There is a perception that this is being done at the behest of local producers of clothing who fear losing an important share to sellers of used stuff. According to Badshah, the main bazaar consists of around 500 shops while the business of old clothes is being run at only 100 outlets; the remaining shops deal in new stuff which is imported mostly from China.
Additionally, he says, landa bazaars have spread across the city in areas such as Samanabad, Shadman, Township, and close to Mayo Hospital “because it’s become difficult for people to come to this congested place.”
He also says that women used to be their main customers but due to the encroachments and blockade of roads they do not feel comfortable visiting them: “We’ve held meetings with the DCO and the Lord Mayor of Lahore regarding these encroachments. Unfortunately, they seem helpless and have been able to do nothing so far.”
Finally, there is good news for those who are too shy to visit the bazaar, for fear of being ‘spotted’: now you can search for your desired stuff on the website khazanay.pk. Set up by two chartered accountants, this website deals in used clothing and shoes that can be delivered to buyers all over Pakistan at their doorstep. The pictures are uploaded on the site and products are searchable according to the specifications mentioned in dropdown menus.
The added advantage here is that the clothes and shoes have already been washed and the buyers can wear them the minute they receive them.