current TV: haiti’s ‘pepe’ (aka secondhand clothing) market

phalla (one of my awesome commenters) left a comment on my last (not so) random links post giving me a link to a short documentary about ‘pepe’ or secondhand goods in haiti. it was featured on current tv.

it’s fascinating to see where secondhand goods go, where exactly they end up, and how people perceive and use said goods in a given culture…what place they have in the marketplace. here, in haiti, or really, anywhere (see also: that aforementioned (not so) random links post and it’s mention of how secondhand was and is currently looked upon in poland).

in haiti, according to one of the women interviewed in the video clip, secondhand goods are more popular than new goods for an economically compelling reason: buying pepe is cheaper than buying new clothing in that impoverished island nation.

also, note the bit where the woman mentions that some in haiti are/were reticent to buy/wear pepe because they felt that the clothing retained the spirit of those who had originally worn that clothing. folks didn’t want to take on the former owner’s bad juju, and the like. but some have gotten over such hangups, particularly after they got a taste of some super sweet “hollywood pepe”. *grin*

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on that second to last note:

what do you think? do you think that secondhand clothing holds some tangible memory of it’s former owner or wearer? does the fact that clothing has been worn before by another person seem distasteful? i know a lot of folks reading would probably not give a stitch about such things, but surely there are some out there who think the idea of wearing used threads (or certain used threads!) is a bit too much? prey tell us why ye feel that way, if you don’t mind!

personally, i always loved the idea that something had been owned before me, being the historian, culturally curious type of gal i am. i like to wonder about a garment (or object’s) former life, it’s former owner, what their story was, how that piece fit into their life, how they wore it or used it. or didn’t use it (as the case may be when you find a fairly mint thing now and again). and giving something old a new life, well, the really delicious icing on the making use of secondhand cake, as it were.

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thank you very much, phalla!

9 comments

  1. Sal

    Funny. I firmly believe that most objects and certainly houses/places can retain the energy of previous owners and inhabitants … but it never affects me with clothes. Maybe since washing and cleaning clothes is something we all do regularly (or so one hopes!), they don’t retain as much of the easy-to-sense energies of previous wearers?

  2. tee

    I have never had a problem wearing other people’s clothing. When I was in high school, I would wear dresses from the 50s and imagine who had owned them before me. I really wanted to know where the clothes had been… were they worn to a dance, dinner, the soda shoppe? Now I keep things more modern, and have supplemented my wardrobe with several thrift finds.

    One of my girlfriends, however, REFUSES to wear thrift finds. It’s gross to her. I can only imagine she is thinking of their sweat and skin and whatnot being trapped in the fiber forever. I don’t understand her phobia, but she just won’t do it. I often rub it in when I walk into work with a new thrift find and she compliments it. I just look at her, shrug, and say “thrift store.”

  3. julia

    I do think about the “energy” that went into clothing before I owned it, though I am not sure I believe in it or can feel it. But one of the things that squicks me out about new clothing is the thought of who might’ve made it, whether they were treated well, whether they might (understandably) resent the future owner, etc. It’s not like clothing enters into the world fully formed and new and in someone’s closet. There’s the raw materials, the transit, the manufacturing, the designers, the buyers, the warehouse, the store…

  4. tricia

    julia: incredibly good point! the first “user” of a piece of clothing is but one of many “spirits” one could argue are perhaps present in one piece of clothing, or really, any object.

    tee: i used to love doing that to friends who would comment upon or compliment my thrift finds…”where’d you get that?” or “that’s nice…” to which i’d cheekily respond, “oh, the thrift store. cost me $3!” i loved seeing them squirm.

  5. Phalla

    I too enjoy the thought of carrying on the life of a garment and where it might have gone before I became its owner. I think that people can develop a real emotional attachment to clothing based on the experiences they have while wearing them and adding to those experiences is really a great part of that process. And it definitely makes for a more interesting story when you can ponder the ‘wear’ that’s been worn into a garment and what things the old wearer may have done while in them rather than thinking about the sweatshop or factory another garment may have emerged out of. Thanks for the mention!

  6. Stacy

    I think one reason that I love vintage clothes and jewelry is due to that history. Maybe I’m an optimist (who knew?), but I’ve only had positive thoughts regarding the previous owners – a handmade dressed kept the love or hope that went into its creation. A vintage formal retains the glamor of the wearer’s big night. I have vintage pieces of jewelry that I feel the same way about: a diamond ring in a 20’s deco setting that makes me feel secure and confident. A vintage locket with gold Mary and Jesus inside, which always brings a safe and calm feeling. I wear it every day, almost. Whether it’s clothing or jewelry, I have this impression of all the women who wore or created them standing with me, sharing their power for this next leg of the journey.

  7. midoritsuru

    I do believe that secondhand clothing retains something of its past wearer(s). Literally! Hair tangled into knits, traces of favorite perfume, the odd receipt or photograph in a pocket. I can understand why this bothers some people; you just can’t know where it’s been. But I think of it similarly to water and air and other resources which everyone shares and are constantly recycled. To me, secondhand clothing is a reminder that we are all connected, and that what you cast out of your life doesn’t just disappear, it moves on. And besides, who am I to feel superior to the previous wearer, so that their used clothing aren’t “clean” enough for me? I would hope my castoff clothing is considered good enough to wear by someone else! I guess I’ve always understood clothing as something to be shared.

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come across my old clothing in thrift stores. I can tell it was mine once just by looking at it. I’ve successfully left my mark!

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