K. Manikandan examines the economics of the popular road-side stalls where crowds stream in to pick up used clothes
Ponni Raji opens her shop on a pavement at Sholinganallur intersection every Sunday at 7 a.m. A mother of three, Ms. Ponni is a third-generation hawker of used clothes. “We are from Chinna malai (Little Mount, Saidapet). I can no longer walk around exchanging plastic and stainless steel vessels for used clothes,” says Ms. Ponni as she sells a crisp cotton sari and a synthetic sari for just Rs. 80 to a customer.
Ms. Ponni is among the several hawkers who open their pavement shops and sell used clothes along Rajiv Gandhi Salai – Information Technology Corridor every Sunday. Their customers are mostly migrants from other States who are engaged in various construction sites along the IT Corridor as well as massive apartment complexes in the southern suburbs along this stretch.
“Including overtime wages, I earn Rs. 12,000 a month. My family is back home and I cannot afford to spend on new clothes,” says Harka Bahadur, a native of Tinsukhia District, Assam. Harka has been working in the city for nearly 10 years and is now employed at Sithalapakkam.
On Sunday, he bought a shirt, shorts and a pair of trousers, all for a bargain price of less than Rs. 100.
“Most of our clothes are priced below Rs. 50. The only exceptions are some shirts and trousers that are in a very good condition. Even then, they do not cost more than Rs. 150,” explained Bikash Mallick, a school drop-out and a native of Kolkata.
He works for a Perambur-based wholesale procurer of used clothes during the week and comes to sell his wares at Navalur on Sundays.
Lucky customers can get unused towels, saris and white dhotis for as low as Rs. 20 and Rs. 40. These items are collected by the merchants from families who dispose a huge pile of clothes. Young men on the lookout for used branded denim jeans often land a pair at Rs. 30.
The used clothes arrive in godowns located in different parts of the city. Severely damaged ones are rejected, while the others are washed and ironed and also stitched if they need be and then, sold. A good number of the hawkers are construction workers, who switch to selling clothes on Sundays. “The prices are very low, but that does not stop people from bargaining,” said Jayanth Mistri of Malkangiri, Odisha, who has studied till class VI.
While the men have plenty to choose from, there is very little choice for their women relatives, the traders point out, adding that not many men brought their wives and daughters here from their hometowns.