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The “Yassification” of Thrift Clothing in Nigeria

The “Yassification” of Thrift Clothing in Nigeria

Thrift - Okrika - Yassification - Afrocritik

The term “Okrika” describes the thrift market culture in Nigeria. For individuals raised in modest homes, donning thrift clothing both as daily attires and for special occasions is commonplace.

By Abioye Damilare Samson

There is a singular truth in the fabric of existence that remains constant: the inevitability of change. Everything undergoes reinvention. Our perception and engagement with the world are shaped by the relentless cycle of evolution, from technology to culture to music to commerce and fashion. An integral element within Nigeria’s fashion panorama, thrift clothing – also known as “Okrika” – has firmly entrenched itself in the country’s culture and commerce. It serves as a vital support system for numerous individuals hailing from middle-class homes who find it challenging to afford expensive branded clothes. “Okrika” offers a cost-effective alternative, allowing individuals to explore diverse styles and trends without straining their budgets. 

The term “Okrika” describes the thrift market culture in Nigeria. For individuals raised in modest homes, donning thrift clothing both as daily attires and for special occasions is commonplace. Growing up in Ibadan, “Okrika” played a role in shaping my fashion journey. Due to budget constraints, my closet didn’t boast the latest designer labels or brand-new outfits. Instead, some of my weekends were often spent accompanying my sister to the Dugbe market. We would check out “Boskoro”, a colloquial term derived from the phrase, Bọ́ sí kòrò kóo yèéwò in Yoruba, meaning “Move to the corner and check it out”. The phrase describes the ritual of sifting through piles of clothes and trying them on in a secluded space. Another moniker often used is “bend-down-select”, a term that perfectly captures the essence of the process. Clothes are spread on the ground, inviting passersby and shoppers to “bend down” and select their preferred choices from the variety.

An alternative term, “Tokunbo”, translating to “From the sea” in Yoruba, is also a descriptor for second-hand clothes. However, its usage extends beyond “Okrika” clothing. It is also a term employed to describe imported second-hand items, particularly products like vehicles. This multifaceted lexicon reflects the cultural richness in purchasing thrift items, which captures the various dimensions of the thrift market experience in Nigeria.

The “Yassification” of Thrift Clothing in Nigeria - Afrocritik
An Okrika market | Peoples Gazette

The term “Okrika” originates from a titular tribe, Okrika, in the Southern part of Nigeria. This island is situated south of Port Harcourt. The connection between Okrika and secondhand clothes can be linked to a period in the 1950s when the town served as a thriving commercial hub and had a recognised port. During this era, despite Nigeria’s exit from colonial rule, interactions with Europeans persisted. Consequently, secondhand clothing from European countries was transported to the Okrika port, establishing it as a central hub for acquiring such garments in Nigeria. Over time, the name of the port became synonymous with the product.

The perception towards second-hand clothes has varied among individuals and sub-cultures. There are those who view it as a cost-effective way to dress, going so far as to encapsulate this sentiment in the well-known pidgin phrase, “Na mumu dy go boutique” (translating to “Only a fool goes to the boutique”). This phrase underscores the bias that second-hand attire is a sensible choice. On the other hand, some associate second-hand clothes with negative stereotypes and consider it a compromise in terms of quality. 

Another aspect of second-hand clothes is the foul smell they carry. This scent, often a mix of laundry detergent and fabric softener, makes the cloth easily identifiable. There’s also a hierarchy of quality, known as ‘Grade A’, ‘Grade B’ and ‘Grade C’ in the thrift clothing business to differentiate the condition of the cloth. Most clothes in the ‘Grade A’ category, have little to no defect, but you might occasionally notice slight stains or fabric wear. ‘Grace B’ clothes may have visible stains, while ‘Grace C’ always contain multiple visible and large defects, which makes the cloth less appealing to wear.

Bend down select
Source: Vanguard News

As the years passed, the Okrika clothing business has undergone a rebranding, not just changing its name but also embracing a novel approach to branding, marketing and sustainable fashion. The “yassification”, in this context, is the intentional “glow-up” and rebranding of “Okirika” as “Thrift Clothing”. This reflects a strategic move to shed the negative connotations of the term “Okirika” and provides a certain comfort for classists who may feel irritated by being linked with the idea of wearing second-hand clothing, thereby embracing a more inclusive, and trendy identity. 

The transition from traditional marketplaces like the “bend-down-select” to thrift shops and online vendors marks a significant shift in this branding. Social media, as a tool for shaping narratives, has also played a crucial role in the transformation. The advent of social media has not only reshaped people’s perception of “Okrika” — elevating those who wear it to a classy status — but the entire purchasing process also takes on a distinctly fashionable hue. For one, to address the unpleasant smell, thrift vendors use various methods such as thorough washing and using sprays to effectively eliminate the smell. Discerning thrift shop owners have also embraced using visually appealing images of their selected clothes and sharing them on their social media platforms, especially on Instagram, along with corresponding prices. This facilitates nationwide accessibility, allowing individuals to place orders from any location with the convenience of doorstep delivery through logistics services. Some thrift enthusiasts have even established offline stores akin to boutiques, offering a curated selection for in-person visits, where customers can peruse and choose from a diverse array of clothes. 

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The proliferation of online vendors can be attributed to various factors, including economic reasons, but one of the most significant reasons is the paradigm shift towards e-commerce. Businesses have leveraged social media and its convenience to buyers and sellers. Online platforms provide a seamless reach and reduce the stress of people going to the market to source clothes. This “yassification” of Okirika has elevated the perceived value of thrift items. The “bend-down-select” people who go to the market to purchase are now positioned as high-quality fashion finds, challenging the misconception that second-hand clothing is synonymous with wear and tear and only for poor people.

But as the branding of thrift clothing rises, so does its pricing. The packaging has allowed vendors to reevaluate their pricing strategy, moving away from the deep discounts associated with traditional “bend-down-select” locations like Dugbe market in Ibadan, Yaba market in Lagos, or the popular Katangua market where you can easily get second-hand wear at low prices starting at N500. The shift towards a more curated and well-packaged approach allows thrift clothing to justify higher prices as a premium yet affordable option in the fashion market. However, this “yassification” can be viewed differently depending on one’s perspective. While it positions thrift clothing as a premium option, it may pose challenges for those with moderate incomes, as higher prices could be beyond their budgetary reach.

As we continue to witness this yassification, one must ponder: Are we all on board with this rebranding, embracing the newfound coolness and inclusivity, or do some feel it’s an unnecessary departure from the roots of Okirika and bend-down-select way of purchasing the second-hand clothing, considering the increase in prices associated with this rebranding? The simple truth is that while the “yassification” brings a sense of coolness, some may resist the departure from the traditional Okirika and bend-down-select approach due to rising prices, and low minimum wage underscoring the enduring influence of purchasing power in shaping these shifts.

Abioye Damilare is a music journalist and culture writer focused on the African entertainment Industry. Reading new publications and listening to music are two of his favourite pastimes when he is not writing. Connect with him on Twitter and IG: @Dreyschronicle.

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