Mumbai was wearing Zara long before the Spanish brand even set up shop in their plush Palladium store. Ditto H&M, Topshop and Aeropostale, brands that haven’t even 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 notoriety for selling back to home-owners and connoisseurs the same items that were stolen from their homes the previous week. Now a fairly organised flea market brimming with stalls selling everything from old Bollywood posters to hand-carved doorknobs, you’ll be spoilt for choice... that is if you don’t lose your wallet first.
Off the ramp
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. “There are tons of stores that sell all kinds of quirky clips and rubber bands that I stock up on if I have a theme party at home,” she reveals, adding, “I have even taken my foreigner friends there looking for shoes because they love the flip-flops that you get there. I, once, found an amazing pair of men’s leather sandals on the street that lasted for nearly eight months.”
The road in question has hawkers and street stalls covering every square inch of the pavement, interspersed with bhelwallahs and the street food carts that help to 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 minding the bags, the ladies haggle with the 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 strolled every street market from Fashion Street to Linking Road in search of baubles 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 roadside shopping is that you get lovely cotton fabrics in the export surplus shops that you won’t find anywhere else because they’re not made for the Indian market.”
Chavan’s advice to the novice bargain hunter? “Once you’ve identified a vendor you like, try and develop a rapport with them. They will soon stop haggling with you and give you the best price they can because they know you’re a loyal customer,” she says.
Hot selling items
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 for looking like Pashmina with a khadi price tag. And don’t bother speaking English to your friends while haggling in Hindi; most vendors can easily toggle between languages as diverse as Urdu, Hindi, Malayalam and English with accents to match.
Having grown up in its bylanes, Shetty doesn’t shop at the street stalls for a lack of budget, but more because they have the kind of treasures she’s not likely to find anywhere else. “My friends and I started off shopping there because there were so few brands available in stores, but they would be there in plenty on the street.”
Shetty also recognises the value for money she gets at her local jewellery hawker. “It’s happened to me in the past that I’ve bought something expensive in a store, only to find it being sold for half the price on the footpath. That’s when I feel ridiculous for having spent so much,” she says.
Both Shetty and Sharma admit to a street hustler’s pride in having scored a great bargain, instead of flaunting monogrammed designer wear that costs almost a month’s rent. “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 feel no guilt because you can keep replenishing your wardrobe without spending too much. Plus, it takes skill to find something that didn’t cost much but 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.
Hill Road, Bandra: Whether you're looking for extra-large T-shirts or frilly baby booties, this is a mecca for bargain hunters. If it's clothes you're buying don't bother haggling. Most carts have fixed prices, though they're so low, you'd feel silly to even begin
Colaba Causeway, Colaba: Favourite of foreign tourists, you'll find pocket watches, miniature lamps and junk jewellery all in a line. Step into Leopold Cafe or Cafe Mondegar once you're done to listen to some interesting traveller's tales.
Fashion Street, Churchgate: Definitely the lesser cousin of the previous two and focussing mainly on clothing, you need a very good eye to spot a deal here. Also, one of the few street markets with equal clothes for men and women.