There is never a dull day at Landa Bazaar, Lahore’s answer to many thrift shops one has seen or known round the world. A second-hand (mostly cloth) market on Nisbat Road, Landa happens to be a vibrant and busy place surrounding the Mayo Hospital footpath, near Anarkali. But you can hear the vendors yelling out to attract the customers, from quite a distance.
Lahore has had an intense bout of winter recently and Landa has benefitted from this the most, providing thousands of people with a cheap alternative. The business is so lucrative that it operates like an industry now. And the clientele is not just the poor and needy, but almost everyone who can get his or her hand on a suitable piece.
The stalls sell undergarments, open cloth, bed sheets, socks, pants, shirts, neckties, shoes and bags. But the majority, in winters, sells sweaters and jackets. They come in all colours and sizes, most of them are imported and used.
In summers, some of the vendors return to their homes in northern areas, while others start selling T-shirts and accessories.
Exchanging or returning clothes at the stalls can be a hassle. Firstly, you won’t remember which vendor you bought it from. And, even if you do, he will deny it. The best bet is to buy several dresses of different sizes and try them on at home. Discard the ones that don’t fit. The Landa shops don’t return what they sell in wholesale, but they do accommodate individual customers if they return within a few days.
Two women were trying a dozen or so children’s sweaters. One had six children, the other had four. They had bought the whole stack for a hundred rupees and said it was their ‘debut’ dig in this ‘goldmine’. They went back to haggle over the price of a small jacket hanging behind the vendor. They smiled on being asked if the clothes didn’t fit. “They will fit at least one of my six kids,” joked one.
Small businesses buy material from the Delhi gate or the grand old Landa Bazaar near the Railway Station. The biggest chunk, however, comes from Karachi. The bigger vendors, who also rent shops in the bazaar, buy materials worth Rs2 to Rs200 million. Each carton has a different cost per kg, depending on the quality of the material. On an average, a 100kg can cost something around Rs30,000 and their transportation by truck or train can cost another rupees two to three thousands.
The material is usually from the UK, the US, Korea or China. The excess is stored in a warehouse where the space is rented. Winter material is bought in summers and vice versa.
“This time the winter was not severe enough and we have a leftover,” said a 20-year-old stall vendor, Arif. “We will return to Abbottabad and store the unsold material in godowns.”
In the shops, however, the price of each sweater is Rs100 or more, whereas outside on the stalls, one can buy a dozen or so sweaters within the same price. Don’t forget that the quality goes down with the price.
The shops sift through the piles to discover the best material to buy and display.
The stalls are encroaching on the Mayo Hospital wall and the road outside as well. No one pays the rent. Most of the stalls have material owned by the shops in the market and the vendors are on a daily wage. Some of them have their own stalls. The owners usually take two to three months off, during the low season in summers and Ramzan, to visit their families in the north of Pakistan. They complain of having little or no space to stand and being removed from here every six to seven years.
They are out of business when moved, for however short a time. The stalls keep the road busy and affect the traffic. However, if they had to pay the rent, the price of the Landa might go up.
The vendors keep a close eye on their goods, but some material is stolen nevertheless.
Some of the vendors have been around for 25 years. Another said this was his family business for more than six decades. Clearly, they are not removed often enough to start considering an alternate career.
Just across the road is the Allah Malik Market which has roughly 400 shops that sell Landa. These shops are mostly owned by the people from the Hazara division. But a small minority also belongs to people from other Northern Areas, including FATA. Usually the stalls outside are owned by these shops. They complained that the tax on Landa alone is roughly 17 percent. It is charged when they purchase the material at the Karachi port.
They also spend roughly one to two thousand rupees every day on funding a generator or UPS for their shops. All the clothes are put in a machine called dryel that washes them and charges Rs10 per piece. They are then pressed to clear the wrinkles and make them presentable. When the business is doing well, they need the dryel for 24 hours.
Since there is load shedding, they cannot clean and display their material on time which causes a loss.
One of the shop owners claimed that many big stores, including those in Krishan Nagar, Mughalpura, Anarkali, Fortress and the basement of Siddiq Trade Centre, pick materials from them. Businessmen also come from as far as Mirpur and other parts of Kashmir, where the well-to-do people seek imported material. They are, in fact, in touch with these shops to update them on any new arrivals. These shop owners import material from abroad and then mix some used bags, sweaters or jackets with the fresh arrivals.
“We often receive young boys and girls who want to look fashionable in school,” says Ikram Mughal who has a shop in Bharat Building.
“Some people don’t buy anything for themselves but a lot for their children. But the majority of our customers are women. The little money they get from their husbands they come here on their way to the grocery store and quickly buy a piece or two. Without women, we would have no business,” he laughed.