Young Dubai customers are swapping mall shopping for thrifting

I got into thrifting because I was a broke student, says the founder of Digg It

Kathrine Hamdan 3 Min Read 4 Min Audio

From taboo to must-do?

Vintage Nike and discontinued Juicy Couture – the gems you might find shuffling through your local thrift shop. The taboo around thrifting (shopping for used items) among the older generation in the UAE has certainly not been passed down to Millennials and Gen Z. Young Dubai shoppers are switching from mall shopping to thrift-hunting, and with good reason. 

While cost effectiveness and sustainability have enticed Millennials and Gen Z to turn to hard-to-find thrift stores, they’re also in it for the thrill. 

When asked about the purpose of thrifting, 8 out of 10 students at the American University in Dubai (AUD) tell Frankly they relish the challenge of looking through piles of pre-owned items in hopes of hitting the vintage jackpot, or simply to “making a day out of it,” some students say, while others say they enjoy the excitement of searching for thrift shops.

Meanwhile, other students say they thrift because it has a significantly lower carbon footprint than that of fast fashion stores. And they’re right – the fast fashion industry is responsible for 10% of carbon emissions, with almost 2 million tons of textile waste every year, according to the Ellen Macarthur Foundation.

One UAE thrift store that is growing among Gen Z specifically is Dubai-based Digg It. It was founded 7 years ago by 24-year-old Moroccan dance graduate Taoufik Shanderly, who found a large thrifting community while living in Singapore as a dance student. 

“I got into thrifting a lot more because I was a broke student,” he tells Frankly, explaining how the idea to open a business in the UAE first came to him.

“It began from personal interest and from there, it went into actually being part of the thrift community and trying to find the old 90’s and 80’s t-shirts. When I came back to Dubai, there were no thrift stores, so it sparked the idea of starting a thrift store to bring to Dubai what I had in Singapore,” Shanderly says.

Having a large dance community, who he says appreciate the occasional thrift hunt, Shanderly knew who to target, and was able to build up the store from an online presence on Instagram to a brick-and-mortar shop in Dubai that continues to attract Gen Z and Millennials via TikTok, he 

While Shanderly says the taboo around thrifting is slowly fading in the UAE, the reluctancy to buy used items still remains among the older generations.

“This kid had seen our store on TikTok – probably about 11 years-old or so,” he says. “He had asked his mom to check out the store, and his mom didn’t know it was second-hand clothing. When she did, though, she was clearly very disappointed and was telling her kid “Do u think we can’t afford real clothes?” Shanderly says. 

He reassures us that cleanliness and the sanitation of every piece of clothing, footwear and accessories is a big part of the business that every thrift store must adhere to. 

Digg It, like many thrift stores in Dubai, sources its clothes through factories that receive second-hand clothing, and factories that have large quantities of leftover clothes, Shanderly tells us. 

They also sources clothes from the US, the largest exporter of second-hand clothing, according to a 2020 report in online data platform, The Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC), as well as from Korea, Japan, and Singapore.

And while many youngsters have shifted from seeing thrifting as a taboo, and consider it a must-do, particularly when it comes to sustainability, some remain uncomfortable with the idea of wearing a piece of clothing that previously belonged to someone else.

However, Sarah Al Basheer, a second-year journalism student, puts a positive spin on the idea. “A person before me owned this. They had so many memories in it but decided to let it go and now I can make memories in it,” she says.

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, the word thrift means careful management, especially of money. “Gen Z isn’t just about the TikTok,” one student tells us. “We thrift because we want to be smart about money, too,” she says. 

Indeed, we could all learn a thing or two from Gen Z, starting with thrifting.