The impact of the second hand garment industry on Malaysia’s economy

The impact of the second hand garment industry on Malaysia's economy
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The majority of its vendors are from South Asian regions such as Malaysia, as evidenced by online marketplaces like ATC, eBay and Greylod. Many buyers have expressed concern about Malaysia’s dominance in second hand garment industry. Nevertheless, the sellers’ answer is straightforward – demand and supply are key factors.

The impact of the second hand garment industry on Malaysia's economy
The impact of the second hand garment industry on Malaysia’s economy

In recent years, whether as a result of the Covid epidemic or increased environmental awareness, or both, the trend of second hand shopping has increased. Currently, the secondhand apparel industry is one of the fastest growing industries in the world. As an alternative to fast fashion, consumers prefer eco-friendly and durable clothes at affordable prices. Many readers may be surprised to find out that celebrities are choosing pre-owned outfits to wear on the red carpet these days.

We all have an idea about what second hand clothing is. According to a 2021 report by re-sale platform ThreadUp and analytics firm GlobalData, sales of used clothing will reach about 77 billion by 2025. This year’s sales totaled 36 billion.


Most of the time, secondhand clothes are sold through online platforms like ATC, eBay and Greylod. If you visit these sites with enough time, you will see that most of the vendors are from the South Asia region; more precisely, Malaysia.

“We noticed this when we went shopping at ATC,” said Rachel Tashjian, a fashion critic at GQ. Meanwhile, Sarah Brown, a designer at a Manhattan jewelry store, said, “I was looking for a secondhand Agnes B cardigan and saw that it was all Malaysian.”
Malaysia’s dominance in second-hand clothing has raised questions among many buyers. But the sellers’ answer is straightforward – demand and supply are the main reasons.

The impact of the second hand garment industry on Malaysia's economy
The impact of the second hand garment industry on Malaysia’s economy

Bundle shopping and bundles of old clothes

Second hand shopping in Malaysia is popularly known as ‘bundle’ shopping. From street-side hawkers to corporate chain-operated warehouses, there are thousands of thrift stores or second-hand clothing stores throughout Malaysia. One such company is ‘Jalan Jalan Japan’. They mainly import Japanese products and they have six stores across Malaysia. Another company called ‘Family Bundle’ has numerous outlets in Kuala Lumpur alone.

Over the past decade, buying second-hand goods has become popular among the general public, and in the words of Naeem Azhar of Kuala Lumpur, this is a great thing! Naeem, 26, works for a cybersecurity company in Kuala Lumpur. She went viral in the internet world in 2019 for luxury fashion by buying expensive branded clothes from Thrift Store.

Naeem said of his experience, “I just lay in the old clothes shop for hours. And that’s how I found some trench coats, such as Burberry trench coats.” The word ‘bundle’ is used here to mean a large quantity of cloth, which local merchants buy from wholesalers. The term ‘salam bundle’ is used to describe Malaysian thrift culture, meaning ‘diving into the sea of ​​cloth.’

Bundle shopping and bundles of old clothes
image: The NewYork Times

Amirul Ruslan, a 31-year-old musician from Kuala Lumpur, said that occasionally Malaysian thrift shops would bring out huge bundles of clothes for an event. “A man went and cut the face of that huge bundle of cloth with a knife and people jumped into it to find the desired cloth,” he said.

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Personally, Ruslan prefers stores that do not run campaigns on social media, but only give location on Google Maps. She recently shopped at the Family Bundle store in Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur. In addition to the Japanese brand Edwin, there were also products from Adidas, Nike and Levi. The store had products ranging from a minimum of 1 dollar to a maximum of 23 dollar.

Then Ruslan’s choice is the roadside stall ‘Maxstation.’ The location of this shop is in the area where the working people of Malaysia live. This shop sits in 4 tents made on the wall of Triple. Ruslan said he came here a few months ago and saw the shop on fire.

But Nur Mohammad Mat Nur, the proprietor of MaxStation, still doesn’t know exactly what happened that day. Mohammad, who has been in the business for 10 years, said: “There was no one in the store at the time and the fire service could not find any clues.” It is known that they are sold more through the online site ‘Greylod’ than in the local market.

Bundle shopping and bundles of old clothes
Image: The NewYork Times

American Market

Mohammad decided to sell these clothes in the local market seeing the demand for vintage clothes and band t-shirts. In 2016, he started supplying these abroad and opened the shop after three years. He currently sells 10-15 items online every month. The garments from the Japanese brands Como des Garso, Yoji Yamamoto and Capital are the biggest gainers.

Mohammed spends three hours a day looking for old clothes. He selects various products by visiting wholesale outlets that import foreign brands of clothing. Mohammed said he prefers American and Japanese clothing brands because they are the most likely to get good quality products. The price of a high quality garment can often be equal to the price of a whole bundle of garments, he said.

Mohammed looks to various media and magazines to understand the consumer demand for American brands. He also regularly follows stars such as Kenny West, Vivienne Westwood and Malaysian influencer Wake Doyok.

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Mohammed went through a lot of hardships after being damaged in a fire in October last year. He then reopened the shop last December. When a reporter visited his shop in January this year, he saw Mohammed unpacking a few bundles of shorts and a denim apron.

“Each of these bundles contains 300-400 pieces of cloth. It takes me at least an hour to pick the cloth from here. We have to see “, said Mohammad.

second hand garment industry In Malaysia
second hand garment industry In Malaysia

Picking up a vintage leather varsity jacket, Mohammed said, “It’s a jacket from a very good Japanese brand, Janbul. So I’ll pick it up online.”

Last year, Mohammed lost about 10,000 dollars in a store fire. “I picked up some expensive clothes online, including a 180 dollar barbour jacket and a 590 dollar bapy jacket. But it all went downhill,” he said.

Where do the donation clothes go?

For those who donate old clothes, most of the time they are replaced by Goodwill or the Salvation Army. Adam Minter, author of Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale, said: “Only one-third of the clothes in American Thrift stores are sold. The rest are exported to countries like India, Pakistan and Malaysia. And makes it for sale online. You can even get a good brand of clothing out of hundreds of clothes if you’re lucky! “

Suppose a Nike hoodie is made in a factory in Taiwan or Bangladesh and is sold to the United States. Once used it is again donated to Goodwill; It then moved to Malaysia and again sold in the United States through online platforms. Straightforward calculations are that people in the developed world will buy products at higher prices just by looking at the brand name, but wholesalers in developing countries sell these in huge bundles at kg.

The United States was the largest exporter of used clothing in 2019, according to the Observatory for Economic Complexity, an international trade body. In 2019, the country exported a total of ০ 720 million worth of used clothing. Top importers include Ukraine (203 million dollars ), Pakistan (189 million dollars ), Ghana (18 million dollars ) and Kenya (185 million dollars ). In the same year, the import of Malaysia was 105 million dollars.

In particular, there is a huge demand for second-hand clothing from Western countries in some parts of East Africa. Although people often say that America is giving poor countries their ‘Felna’ clothes, but according to Adam Minter, the reality is more complicated. Because people in these countries really want second hand clothes.

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“They need these clothes. They are being bought wholesale and distributed,” said Adam

second hand garment industry In Malaysia
second hand garment industry In Malaysia

However, there are also complexities and obstacles in the secondhand garment industry. In 2015, Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda jointly announced that they would ban secondhand clothing imports by 2019. They made this decision to develop their own garment industry. Because second hand clothes are available in the market very cheaply.

According to the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association, a US-based organization, 40,000 Americans could lose their jobs if those countries stop importing clothing. At the same time, the loss in exports will be 124 million dollars.

In response, the Trump administration threatened to raise tariffs on those countries, with the exception of Rwanda.

Whether people will be able to sell their secondhand clothing abroad depends on the logistics related to the transportation and sales of their country’s goods.

Adam Minter said, “In some poor countries you can see old clothes all the time. But they are not making much profit. Suppose a huge bundle of clothes is gone in Nigeria and there is a pair of Levi’s pants in it. But no one in Nigeria will probably try that pair. To sell on online platforms like ATC. Because there is no such structure or logistics. But there are in Kenya or Malaysia. E-commerce is very popular here. “

Apart from Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Ukraine and Latvia are also participating in the business, Minter said. According to him, the people of Malaysia are very interested in the global fashion trends and they have a disposable income to do such business. The World Bank estimates that in the next two to six years, Malaysia will move from a middle-income country to a high-income country.

Not only that, Malaysia is also important as a manufacturing base for companies like Dell and Intel. These companies send a lot of products to America. Moreover, Japan also exports a variety of rare and in-demand products to the region. The lion’s share of secondhand clothing in Malaysia comes from Japan.

second hand garment industry In Malaysia
second hand garment industry In Malaysia

Julian Neo, managing director of DHL Express Malaysia and Brunei, said they work with more than two and a half hundred vintage clothing sellers who ship goods from Malaysia to the United States. The number of buyers of vintage clothes has been increasing every year since 2013.

Yopi Ardianto, a retailer in Bandung City, Indonesia, says the second-hand apparel business has created a huge opportunity in many countries, and he welcomes this competitive market.

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