I am a second-hand kimono shop owner and I sometimes wonder when this occupation started. In Japanese, it is called `furugiya'.
I assume there must have been furugiya since the traditional business has started. Pelple needed food and `clothings' to live and it must not have been so easy to obtain clothings. Making threads from plants needs a lot of work and making threads into fabrics-also takes time and work. It is hard to imagine people in old times throwing away the clothings used only by one person.
I had not have checked but I assume there have been furugiya even in Heian period too(Heian peiriod 794-1185, way back from Edo period, 1603-1868). I am very interested in furugiya in Heian period. There have been some literature left about furugiua in Edo period.
There is an interesting literature- the printed paper showing the ranking of rich merchant in Edo period. It is called `Sho shobainin syusse kyousumou'.
Number one was communication and carrier business. I could not assume this but it might be a natural thing. They were like Softbank, NTT or major carrior company like Yamato or Sagawa here. These field must have made a lot of money- even though they did not have cars or net! There feet and papers could do.
Number two was Gofukuya-clothing shops(they sold new clothings). It is like boutiques of famous brand today. People always have strong desire of dressing themselves nicely and be considered to be big and beautiful. It is called `mie' in Japanese-everyone has this desire of showing off! This becomes a big business.
Gofuku(it was kimono mostly at that time)was made all by hand-twisting threads, weaving, dyeing, and sewing. It was costly and new clothings must have been affordable for rich people only.
What position was furugiya(second-hand kimono business) in the ranking? Can you guess?
This is the website showing the ranking:
For ordinary people, buying clothings means to going to furugiya. New kimono were way too expensive for them, so kimono were fixed, washed, taken apart and sewn again- recycling was what they were doing.
Furugiya was just like UNIQLO(http://www.uniqlo.co.jp/), ordinary people's place to go.
In Edo(it is Tokyo now) there were 2790 merchants related to furugi, registered.
They did recycling throughly. We can find fabrics from Edo quite often even now. Tailoring to adjust the next wearer was always done, redyeing, patchwork, torn fabrics and using them as `threads'(sakiori)-they used again and again until the fabrics almost melt away and dissappear! There have been so many interesting episode about furugi-old clothings too.
For me, I sell furugi throught the net and sending them not only in Japan but abroad also. The means of selling is different but I assume furugiya in Edo period also had the same feelings with me. I was glad to know furugiya was an indispensable job at that time.
For your information, furugiya was number seven in the ranking!