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During my years living overseas, I developed a new hobby — going to flea markets and antique stores. There was something so pleasant, so joyful, and often so comforting in finding lovely, unique things from the long gone past that had been preserved and cared for with love; things that would still be desired by new owners in the future. I’m pretty sure Freud or Jung had some theory about this, but who needs psychobabble on a Sunday?
Back to my new-found hobby. It’s not that I did not know about the existence of such outlets before but in the past, Indonesian flea markets, known as pasar loak, were mostly dusty, dirty gatherings of badly lit stalls tucked away in some remote corner, looking as abandoned and unwanted as the old, secondhand items they were selling.
The contrast that I found in their counterparts in the US and Europe, where shops often had a house-like feel, and had proper displays and restored value to the old items, was so great that it was little wonder they earned the terms “pre-loved” or “vintage”.
Let us consider briefly some of the terms used by market players. “Antique” is defined as an object that is at least 100 years old or, more specifically in the US and in accordance with the 1930 Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, a work of art produced prior to 1830 (the year mass production began in the US).
“Vintage” applies to objects at least 30 years old, while “retro” refers to anything that has gone out of fashion and come back to being trendy again.
There’s been a surge of interest in vintage items in Indonesia lately, mostly triggered by global fashion and lifestyle trends, to the point that many people have absentmindedly been labeling any retro objects or vintage-inspired fashion as “vintage”.
Suddenly, liking secondhand things is considered cool, instead of kooky. An old, one-of-a-kind item now has a certain cachet, instead of being considered passé. Consignment boutiques and garage sales have sprung up like mushrooms in rainy season, though most offer fancy brands aimed at the fashion- or label-conscious.
Everyone is busy raiding their grandma’s closet, though I must note that instead of the desired “granny chic” look, some end up as “granny-like chick”.
However, beyond the usual follow-the-wind flock, I’m pleased to have made the acquaintance of a crowd who find true enjoyment in pre-loved items; retro, vintage and antique alike.
A few months ago, a young couple decided to start a weekend bazaar in Kemang aimed at retro and pre-loved objects, aptly naming it the “Flea Market”, and managed to gain so much interest that before Christmas, they have already thrown their third bazaar.
Antique and vintage furniture has long had an established, international market yet last week’s beyond-furniture vintage auction at the first Jakarta Fringe Festival, a collaboration between a well-known art auction house and Jakarta-based vintage community, was highly anticipated and booked considerably good sales.
On Path and Twitter, people post pictures of vintage or antique items that they stumble upon during their travels. I have even found many craftspeople and artists who are inspired by turning old, discarded materials into new, often highly valued objects.
And that is one aspect that I think is most overlooked. Who hasn’t heard the mantra “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Refuse” chanted during the past decade? And, as much as the term “eco” has been misused and, in some cases, manipulated over the years, the truth remains that the slower we deplete the Earth of its resources, the better it will be for all us Earthlings.
Of course, there is no guarantee that if someone is into pre-loved items the person’s consumption of new items will immediately reduce, if at all.
But, I believe that through frequent exposure to various pre-loved items, over time one can learn to understand that one does not constantly need new, shiny things; and perhaps one can start to care better for the things one already owns, instead of treating possessions carelessly and tossing them out at the first unsightly sign.
I’ve come to realize that excepting certain circumstances, the whole disposable category from plastic spoons to paper panties have long blurred the important line between being practical and being detrimental to the Earth.
Now, while you are digesting this thought, I’m going to get busy with the contents of my closets and cupboards, and give them a clean and polish. And be selective. Kemang’s latest Flea Market and a friend’s garage sale are coming up soon — it’s probably time for some of these babies to find a new loving home.
— Lynda Ibrahim