The first thing you notice when you walk into the landa bazaar is the smell. You can’t quite call it bad, it definitely isn’t good, but it is unique. Strong, almost heady like petrol with a hint of hospital, the smell is a strange one to newcomers and a familiar one to veterans of Lahore’s famous (or infamous depending on where you’re looking from) flea market for clothes and other apparel.
That very particular landa smell comes from the fumigation that the clothes in these markets go through before they come to Pakistan and other developing countries. Most if not all of the clothes you find in these markets are hand-me-downs that have been given away in charity by people in countries like the United States, England, Australia, Japan, and South Korea.
Charities, churches, and community centers collect these clothes, and sell them to second-hand retailers. The clothes are then graded, fumigated, and shipped off to developing countries where they are sold for cheap. The market for this is massive, and Pakistan is one of the major importers of these clothes. According to a 2015 article in The Guardian, most donated clothes are exported overseas. A massive 351m kilograms of clothes (equivalent to 2.9bn T-shirts) are traded annually from Britain alone. The top five destinations are Poland, Ghana, Ukraine, Benin, and yes, Pakistan. Low-income families in these countries then go to the flea markets where these clothes end up and shop for them, particularly for warm clothes for the winters.
This has been happening for decades. But in the past few years, things in the landa have started to change. People from relatively affluent backgrounds, mostly women, have started visiting the landa and sifting through the second-hand but branded clothes and buying them in bulk. They then sell them online through Instagram, marketing themselves as sustainable fashion brands dealing in ‘pre-loved’ clothes.