Flea markets, both real and virtual, are gradually finding buyers and sellers in the city, writes ANUSHA PARTHASARATHY

What is a flea market experience? The mouth-watering flavours of parottas and the clinking of tea glasses mingled with the musty odour of dusty books, clothes heaped on tarpaulin sheets and the plodding of old shoes that have found a new pair of feet, the shifting tones of a serious haggle and the monotonous calls of stall vendors, the blinding colours of plastic flowers and the dull browns of antique radios — the list could go on. Transmit these experiences online, with the click of the mouse and the ring of a mobile phone and you have today’s flea market.

Social networking and the growing trend of sustainability and recycling has led to the rise of different kinds of flea markets — online and offline. While they may not be as large, vibrant or have the range that the old Moore Market and other little sandhais across the city offer, they come with their own clientele and set of products.

Reusing products

Take Chennai Shopping, for instance, which now has over 35,000 members, 600 sellers and a plethora of products on sale. A small group in this large shopping community engage in reusing products. “When it became popular, we had a garage sale in February last year, which was a proper second-hand sale,” says Sarah Natasha of Full House Entertainment, “but there were not too many takers. So we had new products as well. Those selling second-hand products sold mostly books, home décor and accessories.”

While Sarah’s garage sale went offline, pages like Moore Market (which as 16,000 odd members), Re-use Sandhai (2,778 members) and Thrift Bazaar (4,569 members) continue to thrive only through Facebook. Says Preethi Sukumaran, who manages Re-use Sandhai, “A few of us had gotten together to mull over the idea of starting a recycling community in Chennai and had envisioned it to be a group dedicated to consuming less of new products and to promote the idea of using used products, in the spirit of leading a more environmentally-sustainable life.” This came up since a lot of products like baby accessories or clothes had a short lifecycle. “There is a lot of value in extending the lifespan of these products by re or freecycling it to someone else who is interested.” Re-use Sandhai was started in February last year and has grown organically. “There used to be a fear that it is both down market and perhaps unhygienic but I am now seeing a lot of understanding around conscious consumption. Social media has made this whole movement extremely accessible and has also added a layer of trust to these transactions. Trust is important in flea markets because you want to be sure about the quality of product you are buying.”

Shopping networks

Shwetha Balakumar started Thrift Bazaar about 10 months ago when she had to move homes and looked at selling a few things. “After I had my baby we had tons of baby stuff that we wanted other parents to be able to buy at a fraction of the cost. So to help others in our kind of situation, we came up with Thrift Bazaar.” She feels that Chennai has opened up like never before thanks to Facebook. These pages sell everything from cars, water coolers and TVs to laptops, crockery and furniture.

Sarah’s company recently started managing Madras Market, a shopping carnival with a flea market area (three stalls), which was given out to different vendors. “We had one carnival in February and the second in August and the flea market section was for free. Since we didn’t want the same people selling the same products throughout the two days, every few hours, there would be new vendors,” says Sarah. “With online flea markets the problem is that what you see is not what you get. Here, everything is in the open. What mostly sells are bags, accessories and furniture.” The third edition of the Madras Market will take place on January 25 and 26.

“Having a physical flea market would limit the number of participants and items put up for sale. In the virtual world, there are no limits to potential choice. Secondly, it is the ease of participating sitting in the comforts of your home/office. As far as cons go, the concept of “touch, feel and see” isn’t available, full information about the product is not disclosed and we have to constantly keep away scamsters trying to peddle fake ‘branded luxury goods’,” points out Shwetha.

Preethi feels that flea markets are more popular online because it is monitored, filtered and also allows for specialised spin-offs. “In time, our group has had other spin-off groups dedicated to certain products like books, RAPO (read and pass on), CTS (Chennai trusted service for recommendations for home services), Zero waste home and more,” she adds. Preethi feels that baby products, antiques and household goods sell better than clothes and electronics. “As the flea market expands to include new-age products like electronics, accessories, consumers are trying to understand the value of what they are getting. And they change, once they do, it is great news for everyone: the buyers, the sellers and the planet,” she says.