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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Secondhand Stores Offer Fashion by the Kilo

With the boom in Moscow of fancy boutiques selling expensive brands like Versace and Boss, secondhand clothing shops are hardly big destinations for Russia's fashion-conscious young urban hipsters the way they are in the West.

Still, for many Russians, the used clothing stores which are slowly springing up in Moscow are filling a niche long left vacant. Although used clothes could once be found in Soviet consignment stores, such stores no longer carry used clothes because they are not profitable. So, in the late 1980s, secondhand clothing stores began appearing in neighborhoods outside the center, frequently sharing space with cash-strapped institutes or even movie theaters.

"I often come here to shop because it's cheap, and the quality is better than at the bazaar where all the goods are Korean or Chinese-made," said Valery, a 37-year-old engineer standing in an attic room full of used clothes above the Almaz movie theater, located at 56 Ulitsa Shabolovka near metro Shabolovskaya.

Valery, dressed in used blue jeans and a sweater, is among those Russians for whom secondhand shops have become an attractive way to buy cheap Western clothes shipped from the Netherlands, Germany or Finland -- where they sell for $10 per kilogram.

The Almaz shop was opened one year ago by a small trading company and offers a large selection of clothes ranging from German-made wool sweaters to old-fashioned tweed jackets, some bearing the names of famous Western manufacturers like Stafford and Sergio Valente. Some articles of clothing are sold by the piece, while others are sold by the kilo. Shoes, too, are in abundance and range from baby shoes costing between 5,000 rubles ($1.10) and 7,000 rubles a pair to used Nike sneakers priced at between 30,000 and 40,0000 rubles a pair.

"Our customers are not only low-income people. We have people from all walks of life, including artists and intelligentsia and even businessmen. They come here because they can find something special," said the cashier, Natalya, as she weighed the purchases of an elderly woman who had selected some children's clothing.

At Almaz, children's goods are by far the best bargain here and can be found in cardboard boxes scattered around the store. They usually sell for around 5,000 rubles per kilo.

"Our children are growing up fast, and they don't care about fashion," said 21-year old Irina, as she rummaged through a big box filled with child-sized sweatshirts and 2,000-ruble "Fruit of the Loom" T-shirts featuring Mickey Mouse and Pluto.

Aside from the small kids with their babushki, teenagers account for the majority of secondhand store patrons. Most of them are in search of 70,000-ruble British-tailored sports coats and old Calvin Klein jeans costing between 40,000 and 50,000 rubles.

Another Moscow store with a strong selection of used clothing is "Odezhda iz C.Sh.A." (Clothes from U.S.A.) store, which is located in a basement on Ulitsa Butlerova about 50 meters east of the Horseshoe Casino near metro Kaluzhskaya. There, like prospectors looking for gold, shoppers young and old can be found searching for deals.

"I can't wear it outside, but for home it looks perfect," said 24-year-old Irina, after finding a used woman's cardigan sweater in one box. "It is not ordinary, and it still has a spirit of America."

The store's location next to the swank casino makes for an odd juxtaposition of the Russian extremes of excess and thriftiness.

"Our clients would never go there even for fun," said Oksana, 27, a casino employee who said she had visited the clothing store once and found it distasteful. "Clothes there are in such poor condition that you can only wear them for gardening work."

Unsurprisingly, most of the used-clothing stores' patrons are vocal in their support of the need for outlets for cheap clothing of better quality than poorly produced items from Asia.

"I came to the secondhand store to buy stylish things. I don't feel disgusted wearing them. Buying here allows you to avoid looking like everybody else," said 18-year-old Yulia, a student.

Her boyfriend, Artyom, wearing a coffee-colored, double-vented blazer highlighted with gold buttons, chimed in: "It is a great place to stop. You can make your own style by combining different brands."

Of Moscow's three best-known and biggest used-clothing stores, the one with the best prices is Amerikanskaya Odezhda (American Clothes), located on the top floor of 7 Mozhaisky Val, which houses public baths and is a short walk from metro Kievskaya. Here, clothes are displayed on racks, giving the store the look of the Salvation Army outlets found in the West. Clothes here cost 30,000 rubles a kilogram.

Despite its name, Amerikanskaya Odezhda has slim pickings when it comes to genuine American clothes. Shoppers are more likely to find items from elsewhere in the world than the United States. And, according to more than one shopper, the prices hold up poorly when compared to the rest of Europe.

"It is like going back in time, since prices here are so unreal compared to the West. Stuff like this would cost a penny there," said Natasha Milshtein, a 25-year-old English tutor who used to shop in used-clothing stores in London.

Still, by Moscow standards, there are deals aplenty. A woman's sundress sells for just 3,000 rubles, as Pavel Guzenko, 71, found as he was shopping for his wife.

"Now we have a prayer of buying something cheap here. But it is difficult to find something worthwhile, because of course there is a lot of junk, said Guzenko.

"When the kommissionniye existed it was a lot easier," Guzenko added, referring to the days of the used-clothing stores known in the West as consignment shops. The state-run chain of stores allowed citizens who were tired of gray-looking goods produced in their own country to purchase something special -- secondhand clothes manufactured beyond the Iron Curtain and brought to Russia by more mobile comrades. Like most stores which changed their profile in post-Communist Russia, kommissionniye no longer exist in their traditional way and now sell only handmade carpets and china.

"We used to sell clothing, but is not profitable anymore. Now we deal only with expensive dishes and souvenirs," said consignment shop employee Galina, who said she buys her dresses at the bazaar.

An official at the Moscow city government's department of consumer affairs said he did not know how many second-hand stores exist, although they seem to have popped up like mushrooms after a rain.