Vintage clothing – a little known industry putting the UAE on the global stage

Katharine Budd Katharine Budd 23rd Jan 2020

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You might be forgiven for thinking the owners of these shops comb through car boot and junk sales every weekend to find stock, but in reality, successful vintage stores turn over far more stock than they could source from just those. They need a regular supplier of quality, undamaged second-hand garments in reasonably large quantities.

Enter NOW Money client, Sofi International. Muhammad is the 3rd generation from his family in the second-hand garment supply industry. 15 years ago, he and his brother, who had grown up working in the family business in Pakistan, expanded their company to the UAE and have been sourcing and supplying the world’s vintage clothing requirement ever since.

The majority of clothes they source come from the United States. 35 shipping containers per month arrive at the Sofi sorting warehouse full to the brim with a huge variety of clothes, as well as curtains, bedding, and accessories. To give you an idea of the scale, each container weighs around 20 tonnes and can contain up to 200,000 items from US charity and thrift stores that have been aggregated into a big load, or even brand-new unsold stock from American brands. It is swiftly unloaded and sorted by Sofi’s skilled staff on production lines to specific “GRADED Bales” of women’s dresses, boy’s t-shirts, men’s shorts, pants, etc.

This means Sofi’s clients are able to order correct stock for their shop’s demand: there would be no point in receiving mixed bales where lots of the stock was inappropriate and subsequently wasted.

Between 50 and 70% of their import load is exported, mostly to entire African Countries but also to Europe, India, Pakistan, Thailand and Korea. The Sofi team know what type of clothing and brands are appreciated in each market and ensure the right bales are shipped to each as per order, but some vintage clients will go one step further and travel all the way to the UAE warehouse to hand-pick each item until they fill a container, which could take up to 200,000 garments. A seemingly overwhelming task is simplified by being able to choose from neatly sorted piles and bags arranged by the Sofi staff.

Not all the items are good enough to be sorted into categorised bales. Lots will be too damaged, scruffy or big (American sizes!) to be sent to their second warehouse where they are shredded and transformed into car polishing pads or printer cleaners. No waste in this sustainable company!

The remaining clothes are sold in the UAE market. Many premium items are sent for retail sale in Sofi’s Dubai store, “SUPREME UKAY UKAY USED Cloth Tr LLC based in Al Nahda1, Dubai. A must see what the hidden treasure you can find for yourself… at the bargain price of AED21 per kilo,” Fashion you can buy at an Affordable Price” what’s not to like?!

Vintage Levis anyone… yes, please!

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