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Sun, Feb 07, 2010
China Daily/Asia News Network
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When old is vintage
by Wu Chen and Luo Lan

Wang Jing logs on to the Internet every day to give fashion advice to her customers.

The 26-year-old fashionista has established herself as a reputable purveyor of style--but almost half her clothes are second-hand.

Her fashion philosophy is: "Be different".

While mass produced products and brands increase the chances of wearing identical clothes, the chances are less when you wear second-hand clothes.

Six years ago, while living in Guangzhou, Wang became interested in second-hand clothes thanks to a stylish friend.

"I like 1960s and '70s clothes. Fashion is like a circle--many elements, with continuous updates, never out of date," says Wang, a freelance designer. "Old clothing is really vintage."

She has an online-shop at, China's fast-growing e-commerce hub, named Outer Space Store. It sells seven items a day when business is good.

"Many young people like second-hand things, not only clothes, but other daily items," she says, adding that there are just not enough places to buy these things.

This was Jin Yan's experience too. The general manager of newly opened Beijing New Qicai Shopping Mall, has been in the second-hand industry for about 10 years.

He opened a second-hand commodity market, Qicai, in 2002, and developed it into the biggest of its kind in Beijing. As it mainly sells second-hand hi-fi, digital products and office facilities, in the beginning the customers were predominantly middle-class.

This January, the market was moved to Chaoyang district, in the expanded Central Business District (CBD). Jin saw the opportunity for long-term development.

According to a survey Jin invited a professional consultancy company to conduct, among 3,000 white-collar respondents who work or live in the CBD, about 90 per cent wish to exchange second-hand goods with others, but most don't know where to go.

China's second-hand markets have been developing rapidly in recent years.

The Chinese government started developing the second-hand market in 1996, establishing the first batch of 100 large-scale markets nationwide.

Since then the number of registered markets has increased to 2,000, which employ nearly 5 million people, 60 per cent of whom are migrant workers. The trade volume in 2008 hit 150 billion yuan ($22 billion).

However, unlike their foreign counterparts, many second-hand markets in Beijing and other cities are in the suburbs, or less developed parts of cities, often giving the impression of being dirty, disorderly and offering poor quality goods.

In the past most Chinese people lived frugally and used things until they were broken.

With the improvement in the standard of living after China adopted the reform and opening-up policy in 1978, people bought more and therefore had more things that could be reused.

There is an old Chinese saying--"without discarding the old, the new cannot come in".

Some Chinese connect using second-hand goods with poverty, and are ashamed to buy such goods, said Yang Dianzong, chairman of the China Resale Goods Trade Association (CRGTA).

"That's why the main consumers of second-hand commodities currently are still low-income groups," Yang says.

A new potential consumer group has formed in recent years. Young, white-collar workers who fall in love with second-hand goods, especially branded goods.

Also in the CBD, V2 specialises in second-hand luxury brands, such as Prada, Louis Vuitton and Gucci. Rather than discarding old bags, glasses and clothes, people put them in the shop to sell in order to help finance new items. In turn, young white-collar workers with a yen for big brand items can realise their dreams for relatively little money.

Ruby Jing, an administrative assistant with a State-owned company, often visits the shop, once buying an LV bag at almost 70 per cent off the original price.

"It's still nearly new. My female colleagues all admire it, and think it a good deal," she says.

Wang Jing's enthusiasm for second-hand clothes is about them being environmentally friendly.

She said there are already enough clothes in the world and people can exchange with each other and stop producing new items to preserve resources.

"If we start to wear each other's clothes from now on, we wouldn't run out of clothes to wear," she says.

Zhou Denglin, project manager of the China Youth Climate Action Network, agrees with Wang.

"Reuse can reduce waste. It's 'low-carbon' living," he says.

Zhou, 25, said he bought second-hand books on campus and uses second-hand furniture and home appliances in his apartment.

"It helps me to save about 50 per cent in terms of living costs," he said, adding that in recent years, environmental protection has also become a trend.

His organisation is also calling on the public to reuse things to the extent possible.

In early March last year, the commerce ministry urged local governments to promote the development of second-hand commodity markets to stimulate economic growth and increase employment.

Although the main purpose of the policy was to help reinvigorate company inventories and increase job opportunities and raise the incomes of migrant workers and laid-off workers in cities, Yang believes it will help to develop the sector.

As a guideline for the industry, it asked the local authorities to build big second-hand commodity markets, promote the circulation of second-hand goods and encourage home appliance companies and large retailers to engage in second-hand commodity trade.

It suggests people engaged in the second-hand goods trade should have professional training and adds all second-hand goods being sold must bear special marks from the CRGTA, in order to ensure quality and after-sales service.

This is meaningful to Wang Jing. She says since buying second-hand goods is acceptable to young Chinese, the only factor that may hinder progress is mistrust between people.

"I don't have a good solution to dispel doubts. All I can do is to wash and sterilise the clothes before selling them, and the customers will trust me after some time," she says.

Jin Yan's market is planning a special area, about 5,000 sq m, in June, for white-collars to sell and buy second-hand goods.

People will have their belongings examined and tagged by professional evaluators before entering into the market for free during weekends.

"I want to bring our second-hand market up to a higher level," he says.

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