Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Thrifters Around the World: Ashleigh's Tales from Taiwan and Tokyo

I'm so glad PhD student and world-traveler Ashleigh e-mail me and offered to share her exotic thrifting experiences. Don't be shy, if you have global thrifting experiences and want to share them, contact me.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, Ashleigh.

My name is Ashleigh, I live in Atlanta, I'm 26, and I'm a PhD student in history, which is why I've been lucky enough to be able to travel so often--my research requires a lot of language study and visits to archives! I lived in Taipei, Taiwan last summer, Spain the year before, and I've been able to make side trips to other countries from both places. Aside from history, my interests include fashion, art, food, interior design, and, of course, thrifting.

When and why did you start thrifting?

We didn't really go to thrift stores when I was a kid, but my family loved garage sales, and I guess you could say it grew from that. I've only been thrifting regularly for a couple years now, but it grew out of those early memories of garage sales and my love of fashion. I like the unpredictability of thrifting, and I like it as a way to allow myself to have a wide-ranging, quickly-cycled wardrobe. Right now I wear a lot of black, but if I decided I wanted to start rocking pastels I could have a whole new wardrobe quickly and with minimal cost. I think the low cost and wide variety of items allows for greater experimentation.

What do you think makes thrifting in Taiwan different than thrifting in the United States or other places in the world?

It's very new in Taiwan--I don't think thrift/vintage stores as we think of them in America have existed there for more than a decade or two. So they're still few and far between, and a lot of the locals don't quite know what to make of them. Also, a lot of things in Taiwanese stores are shipped from overseas or purchased by the store owners--I never saw anything like a Salvation Army donation bin there. Of course, that doesn't mean that they don't have donations, but if they do they aren't very visible.

What are the names for "thrifting" in Taiwan?

I'm not sure, actually. People were so excited to speak English to me that I rarely got a chance to learn Chinese outside of school! The biggest and best thrift/antiques store in Taipei, Treasure Hunt Flea Market, calls itself "zao wu 蚤屋," meaning "flea house," while many of the trendy youth-oriented vintage shops just have English-language names.

Is there a large thrifting/junking/second-hand shopping culture in Taiwan?

No. As I mentioned before, it's a relatively new thing, and what few stores they have are youth-oriented. It's kind of a fad now, but by no means a big one.

Is there a stigma against second-hand shopping in Taiwan? Is it seen as dirty or something for low-income families?

Yes. Taiwan was a relatively poor military dictatorship until the late 80's, and widespread prosperity is still pretty new. So there's a kind of noveau-riche attitude among the Taiwanese--you buy new, and you try to buy Western or Japanese if you can. Few people want used things, and although the Taiwanese are very proud of their culture, they want their clothes and homes to look new and Western.

The only people I ever saw in traditional or Chinese-style dress were monks and Taiwanese aborigines dressing up for tourists. Also, there is a deep-rooted stigma against used things in Chinese cultures--many older people feel that using something belonging to someone else puts you at risk for attracting bad karma or ghosts. It sounds silly, but it's quite common.

Are there any flea markets in Taiwan? What are they like?

Night markets are very, very popular--most Taiwanese head out to one at the end of the day to unwind. Most of them open around seven or eight PM and close after midnight, and they can get very, very crowded, especially the biggest, Shilin Night Market. They're very much like flea markets--there are stalls and tables selling everything you could want at very cheap prices, and some of the best food in the country can be found at night markets. The only difference is that you rarely see antiques or used items--they just aren't very popular there.

Are there many dumpster divers and curb-side shoppers in Taiwan?

No. First of all, it would be considered really dirty and unhygienic--in Taiwan you wear slippers in your house and change into different slippers for the bathroom, I can't even imagine how they'd react to pulling something out of a dumpster! Secondly, in Taipei at least there is nowhere to do that stuff. In the city there is literally nowhere to put stuff out on the curb--you bring it out when the garbage truck announces its arrival, and dumpsters aren't very common at all.

Is there a large thrift and craft culture in Taiwan?

Not really. Most Taiwanese work 10-12 hour days and spend their free time at night markets and karaoke bars--they simply don't have time to devote to hardcore thrifting or crafting. They are some of the kindest and most welcoming people I've ever met, but they have a very different background and I think it will be awhile before we start seeing things like that become widespread in Taiwan.

What are thrift stores like in Taiwan?

Rare! I never saw anything that was analogous to a Goodwill or something. There were some vintage clothing stores in Ximending, the trendy part of Taipei, and they were mostly clothes shipped from Europe, Japan, and the United States and were pretty expensive even by American vintage clothing standards. "Treasure Hunt," my favorite place, called itself a flea market but was more like a thrift/antique store. It was huge--actually it was a pair of two-story buildings rather badly cobbled together--and it was crammed full of amazing stuff from the eighteenth century to the 90's. You could find everything from eighteenth-century Chinese furniture to vintage French kitchen appliances to American bellbottom jeans from the 70's. It was amazing, and if I could have afforded the shipping I'd have furnished my house from that place!

You've been thrifting in Taiwan, Tokyo, Paris, Spain, Jacksonville, Florida and Atlanta, Georgia! Which one is your favorite place to thrift?

Hard to say! I like seeing unfamiliar knickknacks and clothing brands in other countries, but in the states there's the advantage of having a wide variety of thrift stores at your disposal.

What was thrifting in Tokyo like?

More common than in Taipei, but pretty much marketed towards well-off young people who want quirky foreign stuff. Prices were unspeakably outrageous--we're talking in the neighborhood of $100 for things you could get at any Goodwill in America for $3. Maybe there is something like Salvation Army in Tokyo, but I didn't see it!

Can you describe your Paris and Spain thrifting experiences?

Paris had some wonderful thrift and flea markets--at one shop, I got a leather bag, three dresses, a scarf, and a blouse for $40, which is just insane for Europe! I didn't get to stick around Paris long enough to see everything they had, but I hear it's a fantastic place for vintage shoppers.

Cindy, who wrote about thrifting in Spain lived in Barcelona, which is more trendy and European than Seville, where I lived. There, thrifting and vintage clothing was pretty rare--aside from the big Jueves flea market, I really can't recall much, and I lived there for months!


If you would like to be featured in Thrifters Around the World, shoot me an e-mail. I would love your feedback on this new segment, let me know what you think in the comments below.

Past Thrifters Around The World Interviews:
[3/01/2011] Thrifting Pro Miss P From the UK (Part II)
[3/08/2011] Switcheroom's Elle From the Philippines
[3/29/2011] eLousion's Cindy From Puerto Rico

Daily thrifting updates, information, & Inspiration: Follow Thrift Core on Twitter and Facebook.


  1. So insightful! I love these posts I've learned the goods, and its awesome to know this stuff and everyones point of view. Im diying to go to Seville I've heard is more traditional.

    Lovely interview Ashleigh!

    Oh did I mentioned I love the city pic? Is it from Taiwan?

  2. Very cool post. My mom grew up in Taipei, so I appreciate seeing the photos! The night markets sound awesome.

  3. This is really interesting. At the thrift store I work in, my boss is Laotian. We buy a bag of stuff nearly every day - I buy vintage cameras, fabrics, and old pots and pans; she buys brand new, designer clothing and real silver/gold jewelry. In fact, now that I think of it, the American girls I work with buy vintage, and the Thai girls all buy the brand new stuff.

    The store I work at is large and has a huge variety of pieces, though, it's not just a junk shop, nor is it like a Goodwill where we get manufacturer's cast-offs. It always made me confused to hear that people wouldn't come into our store, or any thrift shop, because it was "dirty" or "beneath" them. I guess, more Armani sweaters and real diamonds and silver for my boss!

  4. Oh, and the "ghosts" part is interesting, too! My boss refuses to sit on a bed or in a wheelchair at work because she thinks that whenever those things come in, peoples' ghosts come in with them. She always tells me she hears walking near the furniture when she's alone.

  5. Cara: Americans have ample access to "new things". It's become ubiquitous, status quo, even. Our thriving antique market is a way to bring something different and unique into our lives in the sea of bland newness.

    But until recently, for other countries like Taiwan, using old stuff was a necessity. Now that it's not, they want new stuff!

  6. It's interesting to know. We have thrift stores here in Singapore but not the same scale as the ones in America. But weekend flea markets are getting popular here. One thing I have to say is, things at our thrift stores and flea markets are not as cheap as the ones in America. Thanks for the post, I enjoyed reading it!

  7. Miss Lou, the city pic is from the Ximending area of Taipei--a lot of guidebooks compare it to Times Square in New York or Shinjuku in Tokyo. I don't think it's quite that intense, but Ximending is a great place to hang out and go shopping. Actually Taipei is far more crowded and busy than that picture makes it seem, the smog and humidity were really bad and it made it difficult to take a decent picture!

    Much thanks to everyone who commented, I really enjoyed writing this--now I miss night-market shopping and eating!


  8. Thanks for the photo info Ashleigh.

    I'd love to shop at those night markets! Taiwan sounds like a night owl's dream city.

  9. What a great read! I'd love to hit up a night market in Taiwan. Shopping and eating until midnight? Count me in! And Ashleigh hit the nail on the head when it comes to Tokyo "thrifting." It's more of a novelty for teens with expendable incomes to buy funny foreign things. Very expensive. Still, I found it fun just to see what they were selling.

  10. It really is very different over there. When I visited Taipei and Hong Kong, I didn't find one thrift store. There are a couple vintage boutiques but they're nothing to write home about. They definitely love everything new and the thought of owning something old is just unfathomable, unless it's a hand me down from family. Anyway, great post! Man, we sure are spoiled with our mega thrift stores over here!

  11. Wonderful! I love your thrifters around the world posts. Always Inspiring.

  12. There's actually a secondhand market near Taipei101 every weekend
    Extremely cheap, like 50NT$per shirt or pants or even less
    It's really great


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