When I lived in London, some of my best clothing purchases were from charity shops. The place is inundated with them and you can find the most amazing bargains. So when I moved to Dubai five years ago it was a bit of a shock to the system to find that the only place I could really go shopping for clothes was mainstream shopping malls. Earlier this year, I made it my mission to discover where in the UAE you can find second-hand clothing that you actually want to wear.
And not just for myself – for the environment too. According to Planet Aid, a US non-profit that collects used clothing for charity, every year, 12 million tons of clothing ends up in landfills across the world. Landfills lack the oxygen needed to break down clothing materials, so once there, clothing decomposes through anaerobic digestion. This results in the emission of dangerous greenhouse gases that, in a landfill, are largely uncontrolled and end up escaping into the atmosphere, and playing a role in climate change.
If we can reduce the waste by recycling or reusing clothes we are subsequently doing our bit to help the environment, and today there are lots more options to find second-hand bargains – and you’ll be pleasantly surprised to know many of them are very affordable. What is perhaps even more surprising is that around half of the items I found have never been worn. I won’t say it was easy to find stylish items – weeks of scrolling through apps and traipsing around the flea markets to find the good stuff was hard work, but there really are some great pieces out there if you take the time to look. It’s so good, we were able to put together an entire fashion shoot!
Here’s our guide to the best-stocked second-hand locations in the UAE.
Dubai Flea Market
Dubai Flea Market now has five locations around the city including Zabeel Park and JLT. There’s no way to play it down – whether you’re buying or selling the markets are crazy busy but you really can pick up some amazing finds. Good presentation of a stall doesn’t always mean quality so don’t be put off by the stalls that are just messy piles of clothes rather than the carefully merchandised areas. The trick is to rummage. Operations manager Mohammad Al Hamwi told me the market is so popular they are planning to expand into more locations after summer, including in Abu Dhabi. Dubai Flea Market takes place every week at various locations. dubaifleamarket.com
My Ex Wardrobe
My Ex Wardrobe was set up by British expat Sian Rowlands when she couldn’t find any pre-loved clothing in the UAE. Sian invites women to bring unwanted clothing to her warehouse in Al Quoz where she organises and stores it all. She holds an event every few months where women are invited to come and shop the pieces she and her team have collected over the previous months. ‘I am very specific about what I accept,’ says Sian; ‘all the items have to be in good condition and the pieces have to be affordable.’ So you won’t find any super high-end brands here. ‘I’ve been doing this a long time now and I have a good idea of what will sell and what won’t so I know what to accept. Although sometimes items do surprise me!’ Sian said. Most of the My Ex Wardrobe events coincide with a ladies night so it’s a great opportunity for women to get together, socialise and shop. Myexwardrobe.com
So Chic was founded by European duo Alex Bouvy from Belgium and Emma Di Rito from France. The spend months collecting unwanted second-hand, and in many cases, unworn, clothing from women here in the UAE (and also from France) before holding a twice-a-year sale with thousands of items. They also have a shop where you can go and shop a limited amount of their collected pieces all year round. The style of So Chic is very specific and the founders are very fussy about the type of items they select. Everything must have a European, and in particular, Parisian, feel to it and be in very good condition. Alex and Emma will visit the homes of the ladies that are donating to help the select suitable pieces. Everything in their warehouse really is so chic (excuse the pun) with many designer brands and one-off pieces. Because of that you can expect to pay slightly more than other outlets but there are some incredible bargains. Sochic.ae
Second Hand Dubai
If you thought we were alone in our second-hand quest, think again: The Second Hand Dubai Facebook group has over 260,000 members in the UAE. This social media platform was started by Dubai residents and is for locals to sell their unwanted goods. This can be anything from clothes to household goods. There’s a lot to sift through but if you go onto the page at the right time you can find some amazing bargains. The only problem with this group is that you do have to go and pick up your items so be careful to check where they person you’re buying from is located.
Shedd was created by the founders of Dubizzle as a platform for users to sell unwanted clothing to other users. It’s pretty simple – you scroll through the hundreds of items on the app and arrange to meet the sellers personally to collect your goods and hand over the cash. Some items are also available to be delivered, which can make things a lot easier. You’ll find some great bargains and there are a lot of sellers also selling new items (many of which are imported from other countries). The only issue with Shedd is having the time to meet users to buy your items. It can be a little difficult to arrange but if you can, there are some great second-hand bargains.
The Luxury Closet
This company sells pre-loved designer clothing on its UAE based website at a fraction of the original price. When it launched in 2011, it mainly focused on bags and leather goods but it has since expanded hugely and stocks an extensive range of products. The site is updated daily with new items and prices are often reduced further. You can find some truly amazing bargains on the site. We found a Stella McCartney skirt for just Dh150 and a Prada top for just Dh281. You can pay online and all items will be delivered to your door within 2-3 days within the UAE. Theluxurycloset.com
Dubai Charity Centre
One of Dubai’s oldest charity stores, Dubai Charity Centre in Karama doesn’t just sell clothes but books, household items and everything in between too. You can pick up clothing from anywhere between Dh5 and Dh25 but you’ll never pay much more than that. Admittedly it does take some searching through rather bad quality stuff to find stylish pieces but they are in there, trust us! We found high-street branded pieces for Dh10 and less.