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March 3, 2021

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The ‘virtuous circle:’ Good stuff is worth buying twice

Déjà Vu, a secondhand shop on Anfu Road in Shanghai’s Xuhui District, is part of a burgeoning trend of recycling clothing, books, electronic gadgets and other goods that one person may no longer want but another person might treasure.

It’s one way to contribute to a cleaner, more sustainable environment by preventing usable commodities from simply being dumped as garbage once their owners no longer have need of them.

Mao Zhu, founder of Déjà Vu, said people are rather fanciful about the shop. She said used items always carry the memories of previous owners and “destiny” ties the memories of the two owners.

Whether it’s destiny or not, online platforms like Xianyu and Zhuanzhuan have popped up for people to sell and buy “idle goods” — from the mundane to luxury items. The trend is a shift from traditional Chinese skepticism toward buying secondhand commodities, particularly clothing.

Mao said the idea of Déjà Vu sprang from a stall she set up at her university’s flea market to sell books and video disks she no longer wanted.

“My products sold well,” she said. “And that got me thinking about ways we can develop to recycle durable consumer goods and reduce costs for budget-conscious consumers or provide places for people who simply like to browse through secondhand markets.”

She calls recycling “a virtuous circle.”

Déjà Vu started out online in 2017, selling used books. It quickly became popular, and Mao opened the company’s first offline store two years later in Beijing. In December, she opened the Shanghai shop with a new clothing section.

The shop is located next to the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center in a building that used to house a camera museum. Under the painting of a fluffy white cat sleeping on a floating board, a narrow passageway leads to the shop.

The second floor of the shop is reserved for used books; the third floor houses secondhand clothing.

On the second floor, the sun shines through traditional Shanghai-style steel windows with green frames, giving the room a cozy ambience. The books are organized by genre, and all of them are clean. Some are almost new in appearance.

“I like the shop’s slogan that good stuff is worth buying twice,” a 25-year-old woman shopping there told Shanghai Daily. “I enjoy browsing through used books and vintage clothing.”

Another customer, surnamed Ding, said he learned about the shop online. Bookworms like him rue the decreasing number of used books stores in Shanghai, he said. It’s exciting to browse through the books, sometimes finding volumes in traditional Chinese characters, which are not widely available in common bookstores.

“The books we collect are first sent to our two warehouses in Tianjin and Kunshan to have a professional check whether they are legal or illegal copies,” said shop manager Si Fan. “We never sell any pirated books.”

The warehouse processing is quite thorough. Staff evaluate the condition of books and may do minor repairs if necessary. The books are also disinfected before being placed in an ozone sterilization cabinet for further disinfection. Then they are wrapped in biodegradable plas­tic laminated sheets.

The third floor of the shop is roomy and neatly organized, unlike some secondhand clothes stores filled with a musty smell and disheveled stock.

Many of the clothes bear de­signer labels such as Comme des Garcons and Acne Studios. They are mixed in with affordable mass market labels like Zara, H&M and Uniqlo.

Si said current stock features about 1,500 pieces of clothing from 400 brands. Prices are about 75 percent off the original prices. There are six fitting rooms where buyers can try on clothes.

The clothes, like the books, have undergone thorough cleaning and disinfection.

“I found that many things in our family were used only for short periods of times but were still of good quality,” said a 31-year-old woman surnamed Fan, who has a 1-year-old son. “I think these items can be recycled, so that I come here.”

A shop assistant told Shanghai Daily that the clothing industry produces pollution, so it’s mean­ingful to recycle clothes.

“Some of the clothes we receive are new, with the tags still on them,” the assistant said. “We don’t want clothes like that dumped as garbage. We need to create a clothing industry where people’s wardrobes are recyclable.”

Before setting up Déjà Vu, Mao visited secondhand stores in big cities like Tokyo and New York.

“Some of them are very old and a bit smelly,” she said. “Others, though, have very good selections. But you can feel a bit intimidated. For example, if you pick up a shabby item, then look at its price tag, you may find it extremely expensive and not know why. And if you stand there looking perplexed, you may see the shop owner staring at you as if you aren’t very savvy.”

She visited a secondhand bookstore chain called Book Off in Japan, where books were cheap and clean. The Japanese term tachiyomi is used to describe people standing and browsing through books in such a store, she said. They may spend a whole day reading there.

Mao said she would like to open a similar shop in China, a shop where the atmosphere is relaxed and bookworms feel welcome.

According to Si, the Déjà Vu shop in Beijing was a sort of pilot project used to get familiar with goods displays, staff training and installation of billing and stocking systems.

After one year, Mao said it was all systems go to open a second shop. Shanghai was a natural choice because of its enlightened population.

“After our online platform opened a ‘department store’ function for people to trade things like bags, electronic products and household items, many people asked us to expand into clothing. So that’s what we have here.”

Déjà Vu isn’t the only retailer involved in secondhand goods in the city. The Reclothing Bank on Changshu Road in Jing’an District is another vendor.

Located in a traditional Shanghai back lane, the shop resurrects used clothing through redesign and alterations. It also sells clothes made from recycled materials.

Zhang Na, a fashion designer who established the shop, displayed a waterproof coat made of crushed plastic bottles. The fabric is made using new technologies that can turn recycled waste into usable materials.

She wore a sweater made from the threads of 48 plastic bottles, mixed with wool.

“Our shop is a place for circulating, storing and exchanging,” Zhang said. “Old things come in and go out as new things.”


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