The Season of Giving… and Glam Garage Sale Hunting

“Jakarta garage sales, where you can buy secondhand designer handbags for a cool 3,500 US dollars.”

An expat tweeted that last weekend, and I smiled. For the absurdity of it all, for the reality of it all.

The term garage sale and yard sale have been around longer than I’ve lived and are typically used to illustrate individuals selling used belongings down in their garage or front yard. The no longer desired belongings can be anything from 3-seat couches to knickknacks in different ranges of wear-and-tear that determine the prices. It’s all cash-and-carry, with little cash being exchanged.

Either for status or hygiene reasons, for a long time Indonesians weren’t into buying someone else’s used items as personal as clothing, linens, toys or cutleries. But as a cash-strapped student in the US I fell in love with the mad dash to scour one bin after another, outmaneuvering other ‘hunters’ for the chance to find a USD 15 bookcase or a USD 10 mohair sweater. I became very good in thrifting—exploring thrift stores and garage/yard sales for good finds—that a roommate joked I should be granted another MBA for Scoring Cool Stuffs Within Crappy Student Budget.

In recent years garage sale has gained popularity in urban Indonesia. Clothing, children toys, electronics, soft furnishings—the growing population of young Indonesian urbanites, mostly of middle class, have managed to shrug off their parents’ reluctance in buying secondhand items as long as the items meet their needs and budget.

Some of the upper middle class have ventured out beyond needs to wants, and this is where the likes of USD 3,500 secondhand handbags fit in.

‘Branded garage sale’ is the lingo on countless group chats, private text messages and public social media posts, with ‘branded’ loosely applied to fashion items of recognizable brands. The pricing pretty much mirror the real retail hierarchy of these brands minus wear-and-tear factor. A good condition Gap top may just fetch IDR 25,000, a pair of Nine West sandals for up to IDR 150,000, an old but classic Gucci handbag can go in the range of IDR 3-5 million, while last season’s studded Louboutins in mint condition will still find a buyer for close to IDR 10 million, and so on and so forth. Sometimes sellers get together and rent a space in cafes, salons or apartments’ lobby. If the sellers are celebs or socialites the items get fancier and less worn, with more cachet attached. Big ticket payments are made easier by bank transfers or portable EDC machines that sellers must’ve borrowed from an actual business outlet.

I had no idea what exactly the handbag mentioned on the tweet above, but USD 3,500 may easily get you mint condition Chanel 2.55, Lady Dior or any canvas tote bag from Hermès—which is easily retailed above USD 5,000 as new. Personally I never bought or sold anything in a garage sale for more than USD 500 but I know a much swankier market exists. And growing. Crazy? Wait until you witness a secondhand, yet much coveted Hermès Birkin in exotic skin is snatched off for a ‘reasonable’ USD 9,000 merely two hours into a glam garage sale on a rainy weekday.

Not everyone has been hunky-dory happy about this phenomenon, though. Some call it a distasteful display of wealth (such a show off!), a cheeky aversion to tax (will those private sellers file a tax report?) or, even, a blatant lack of social empathy (why can’t they donate all proceeds to charity?).

Having been to most ranges of garage sale both as a seller or buyer, for charity or not, I probably have a biased opinion. But I’ll share anyway. I think an individual is entitled to trade, purge or donate their belongings in a manner they see fit. Instead of extra cash often what these sellers need is clearing out space in their overflowing closets for next season’s designer duds—lavish, but certainly not illicit.

I do see why in a country with a harrowing gap of income levels it may seem indecent that the haves don’t donate whatever they make off the discarded goodies they’ve so comfortably procured in the first place, but just because they don’t give away the garage sale proceeds it doesn’t mean they haven’t generously made donations elsewhere. Seizing up other’s morality is often a slippery, snaking slope that even the wisest souls can gracelessly fall into.

But that’s just me. What do you think? While you’re pondering, I’ll step outside for a bit. A couple of interesting garage sales are going around in J-town—one for charity, the other is not. If you want to know where they are at, don’t be too shy in asking. I promise I’ll be most charitable.

As published:

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