Mumbai was wearing Zara long before the Spanish brand even set up shop in their plush Palladium store. Ditto H&M, Topshop and Aéropostale, brands that haven’t managed an official invasion yet, but whose clothes are already sold by the dozen on the streets.
And it’s not just $ 25 (approx Rs 1,250) clothing brands that you’re likely to chance upon for a mere Rs 150 on Fashion Street. From junk jewellery to unique leather shoes, it’s clear that the city loves a good bargain.
“For household knick-knacks, Chor Bazaar is my favourite,” says model Bhavna Sharma, an unlikely fan of street shopping. The area earned its notorious moniker for selling back to connoisseurs the same items that were stolen from their homes the previous week. Now an organised flea market selling everything from Bollywood posters to doorknobs, you’ll be spoilt for choice... that is if you don’t lose your wallet first.
And while Sharma is often spotted wearing Sabyasachi designs hot off the ramp, she’s equally at ease looking for sandals on Bandra’s Hill Road. “I have even taken my foreigner friends there looking for shoes because they love the flip-flops. I once found an amazing pair of men’s leather sandals on the street that lasted for eight months.”
The road in question has hawkers and street stalls covering every inch of the pavement, interspersed with street food carts that help replenish calories lost while shopping. One of the unique features of this street is the number of women unabashedly buying lingerie, strung up for the world to see. While their husbands and boyfriends wait patiently, the ladies haggle with vendors, all male, for Calvin ‘Klain’ bras and ‘DNKY’ thongs. Come to think of it, you could credit Hill Road with spicing up the Mumbaikar’s sex life. Fellow fashion junkie Shilpa Chavan has trolled every street market from Fashion Street to Linking Road for her job as a stylist. “My quirkiest buy was a plastic sheet that had the cutout of sandals on them that had to be torn out to make a shoe. I must have bought them for Rs 200, but they’ve lasted me through two monsoons,” she says. “What I love about street shopping is that you get cotton fabrics in the export surplus shops that you won’t find anywhere else.”
Chavan’s advice to the novice bargain hunter? “Develop a rapport with vendors because they’ll soon stop haggling and give you the best price because they know you’re a loyal customer,” she says.
Unlike its Bandra cousin, Colaba Causeway caters to foreigners more than locals. But like pilot, model and shopping addict by birth, Ritika Shetty, good hagglers of any skin tone are rewarded. Sunglasses are a hot selling item here, and you could probably pick up a dozen pieces for the price of one pair of Ray-Bans. Shawls are prized by foreigners looking for a Pashmina with a khadi price tag. And don’t bother speaking English to friends while haggling in Hindi; vendors can easily toggle between many languages.
Shetty shops at the street stalls because hawkers have the kind of treasures she’s not likely to find elsewhere. “I started shopping here because they had more brands than most stores.” She also recognises their value for money. “I’ve bought something expensive in a store, only to find it being sold for half the price on the footpath,” she says.
Both Shetty and Sharma admit to a street hustler’s pride in having scored a great bargain. “I have no shame in admitting that my shoes were bought from Linking Road,” grins Sharma. “In fact, I’d be proud because I found beauty where most people might have seen only junk.” Shetty agrees, saying, “You can keep replenishing your wardrobe without spending too much. Plus, it takes skill to find something cheap that looks like a million bucks.”
So London can keep her Bond Street and Los Angeles her Rodeo Drive, we’ll take Hill Road any day.