A bearded man in his 60s bends over a heap of woollen jackets and carefully makes a selection.
After examining the pieces thoroughly, he either picks them or rejects them. If he thinks there is a need for major repairs in a piece, he would not approve it.
On the other hand, if he thinks there is a button or two missing or a minor issue with the zipper, he puts it on a side among the pieces he has finalised for purchase. This man is a retailer of used, imported clothes and has come to the original Landa Bazar (flea market) situated next to Naulakha.
Once it used to be the hub of used clothing and repeat as well as walk-in customers would frequent the place to buy clothes.
There are still some retails shops dealing in used clothing but mostly the dealers in the bazaar are doing wholesale business here.
The bearded man mentioned above has two choices. If he picks the whole sack carrying 135 pieces of woollen jackets, he has to pay Rs120 per piece. But if he wants to be selective and go for the best of the lot, he has to pay somewhere between Rs190-200 per piece, and the maximum number of jackets he can buy is 40. From here, he shall go straight to the Landa Bazar on Nicholson Road, opposite Haji Camp, and sell these jackets at a sale point on the footpath for Rs300 to Rs400.
If he buys the whole sack, he can sell the pieces from Rs200 to Rs250 each. But in that case, he has to spend time and energy on getting a lot of these pieces mended.
There are other buyers as well who have come from other cities such as Rawalpindi, Peshawar, Swat and Abbottabad. They are distributors in their respective cities and get bulk supplies from here. The wholesalers know their demand and show them samples. Once the samples are approved, they ask the staff at their godowns to load the merchandise and send it to the desired destinations.
The other used products that are available here are jeans, sweaters, dress pants, shirts, working gloves, sports shoes, skating shoes, hats, leather jackets, dress ties, coats, mufflers, and so on. All these products come from foreign countries mostly via Karachi seaport and then supplied there and up country. The best part is that these products are available for too little a cost despite being of a much higher quality than what is produced locally.
It’s a fact that a majority of those who buy and wear these clothes do know where exactly they come from and what exactly are the supply lines.
Usman Farooqi, General Secretary, Pakistan Second Hand Clothing Merchants Association (PSHCMA), tells TNS that the products are imported from countries such as the USA, the UK, Japan, Korea, the European continent, especially Eastern Europe.
“The best products come from countries like Poland and others in the East Europe block.”
As for the supply chain, he says, the primary source is the charity organisations in these countries who receive used clothes as donations. “The people generously donate their clothes that often include branded ones.
“Secondly, as fashions change fast in these countries, the people regularly give their clothes in charity. The various charities auction these clothes to raise funds for their beneficiaries and this way these clothes reach Pakistan.”
According to Farooqi, there are different categories and the lowest quality used clothes come to Pakistan. “Even then they are superior in quality, design and durability to the locally manufactured one. Above all these are affordable as well.”
Shafiq Nizami, whose family runs the Nizami Hotel in Naulakha Bazaar, relates that the bazaar was once called “Musafari Bazaar, because of the huge influx of travellers as the General Bus Stand was situated here. The trains of Pakistan Railways were the other major mode of travel and would bring in passengers who frequented this bazaar quite often.
“The number of walk-in customers at our hotel used to be so high that five to six maunds of milk would be consumed in making tea every day,” he adds.
Nizami says the retail sale of used clothes has decreased here over time. Now the traders are mostly the wholesale dealers of used cloth or importers of new but low-cost products from China.
Besides, he says, there are people — mostly Pathans — who rent places here and deal in used, imported leather jackets. After mending these jackets and polishing them they sell the best ones at upscale shops and the other ones are sold by vendors or at shopping centers like Panorama on the Mall.
It is quite often that valuables are recovered by staff of wholesale dealers while they sift through the piles of used clothes and look for the repairs that need to be made. There have been cases where goal chains, watches and coins were discovered, says Nizami who has rented out space in his hotel to some wholesale dealers.
There were times when the people were reluctant to visit Landa Bazaar but over the last few years many have started using second-hand clothes and other items rather openly. “They have now become regular customers,” says Muhammad Zahid, a retailer of used important clothing.
“They leave their phone numbers with us and ask us to call them when their favourite brands arrive in the market.”
There are still those who send others to make purchases on their behalf. Atif Bashir, a student of an elite business school in Lahore, says his driver goes to the Landa Bazar and brings him a large number of clothes after depositing a security amount. “I select the clothes that I want to buy and send the payment and clothes I am not interested in back.”
PSHCMA General Secretary Usman Farooqi appeals to the government to remove the heavy import duties and enhanced sales tax applied on the used clothes imported from abroad.
He doubts the excessive duties and taxes have been imposed by the government at the behest of local manufacturers who are selling them at exorbitant rates. “They are depriving the poor of their right to cover their bodies, especially in extreme cold,” he says.
The worst part, according to Farooqi, is that the evaluators do not agree with the exact price of the containers they import and apply taxes after multiplying the price with four.
Explaining the point, he says, the goods he bought for $2,000 were evaluated wrongly by tax officials to be worth $8,000 and taxed accordingly. “If this injustice continues, this cheap source of quality clothing will soon become extinct.”