The T-Shirt Standard


The filmmakers behind Secondhand (Pepe) discuss Haiti's trade in used clothes. An excerpt:

First off, we should note that you can find pepe for sale on pretty much any street in Haiti. It seemed as though pepe lined the sidewalks with small-time vendors selling a few things by hanging them up on the walls by the sidewalk. Then we also visited all types of dedicated marketplaces. Some were very concentrated with just clothing, and these were often by the ports, where the clothing would arrive. Sometimes the pepe would be sold within larger markets where you could also find food and other goods. Sometimes the clothing was sorted into different areas or by peddler's specialty—you would have the used shoe guy over here and the lady that only sold t-shirts over there.

In one of the largest markets in Miragoane, just outside of the gates of the port, in the central town square—you had people opening up boxes and making preliminary sortings. In the Saline marketplace in Port-au-Prince, there was an incredible expanse of peddler/tailors set up with sewing machines, sitting among mounds of clothing, under tents sewn together from fabric scraps and old blankets.

At times, we learn, Haitians have even used these clothes as an informal private currency, similar to the cigarettes described in R.A. Radford's classic "The Economic Organization of a P.O.W. Camp." The whole interview is here.

Elsewhere in Reason: Kerry Howley describes the used T-shirt trade in Tanzania.

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  1. I remember reading (I think it was DeSoto’s The Mystery of Capital) that it takes fourteen years to transfer real property in Haiti, because of the labyrinthe of bribes and bureaucracy.

    It’s too bad they can’t leverage the informal economies.

  2. It always amazes me how a market can spring up no matter the product. I like to read stories like this one.

  3. Wow, all that uninhibited commerce. Somebody oughtta regulate that. Y’know, for the common good…

  4. Wonder what you could get for a boatloda of Hillary ’08 tees . . .

  5. Damn you ChrisO! You’re gonna ruin my inspirational take from this story.

  6. boatload . . . BOATLOAD !!! Preview is my friend.

  7. Winter Sodier,

    I would say about 5 bucks but the dollar has been so devalued they might laugh and offer pesos.

  8. The Winter Soldier,

    You don’t sell those now. Store them in a climate controlled place for 20 years and sell them as ironic tees to hipster doofuses (doufi?).

  9. You don’t sell those now. Store them in a climate controlled place for 20 years and sell them as ironic tees to hipster doofuses (doufi?).

    I suspect there will be a good market for them in no more than 4 your years, personally.

  10. Probably. They could strike through the ’08 and scribble a ’12.

    “This time, she really deserves it!”

  11. That is so cool! Plus, since my only frame of reference is American suburbs + AtlasShrugged, I know that no one need worry about the possibility of FlyByNight sellers selling unwashed products infected with diseases which are then worn without washing and result in costly epidemics or things like that.

    Up with markets!

  12. If you travel to a third-world country and don’t leave better dressed than you were when you arrive, you are of all people most unimaginative.

    I understand that this type of resaling is a worldwide phenomenon. I certainly made use of it in northern India, although there the locals’ tastes lean more towards dress shirts and slacks.

  13. So is Lonewacko:

    (a) somehow unaware that thrift shops that sell used clothes have existed here in the United States for decades,

    (b) aware that they exist, and of the opinion that they are a hidden public health nuisance that should be banned, or

    (c) aware that they exist, but of the opinion that they’re harmless as long as those UnClean BlackPeople and BrownPeople don’t trade clothes there?

  14. Don’t ask why, just marvel as he sinks to the level of the lowest Reason commenter and engages in race-baiting and fails to note that – shock! – ThriftStores are no doubt regulated and licensed and that’s designed to minimize the HealthRisks of UsedClothing. Oh, the Oppression!

  15. I don’t think that noting the intense racial paranoia that obviously animates so many of your comments qualifies as “race-baiting,” LW. But I’ll happily agree that communicating with you qualifies as “sink[ing] to the level of the lowest Reason commenter.”

    As for the rest: I hardly know where to begin. I point to a story about entrepreneurship in the Third World, and your first thought is that the clothes are probably crawling with vermin, that Haitians are too dumb to wash the clothes before wearing them, and that this somehow says something about libertarianism. I point out that equivalent versions of the trade exist in the U.S., and you reply that there are regulations here. There are regulations in Haiti, too, though I doubt they have much of an impact on the vendors’ activity. And of course it’s easy to buy used clothes without any regulatory intercession at all in the United States, at these wild little germ-pits called “yard sales.” So what? What point do you think you’re making?

  16. I’m going to assume that Jesse Walker’s observation of my “intense racial paranoia” is akin to “liberals” calling those who oppose racism racists, and includes things such as my pointing out how politicians and groups are seeking race-based power. Seeing as that’s based in not just collectivism but immutable characteristics one might think that that would be something that someone supposedly on the right would oppose. I guess some things speak louder than others.

    And, Walker continues his race-baiting with an attempt to think my concerns about “vermin” in the clothing is simply because they were worn by Haitians. What Walker fails to note is that our society is a bit different from that in Haiti and that those who hold yard sales will generally speaking avoid selling dangerous items lest they face legal consequences. And, of course, the aforementioned rules and regulations relating to ThriftShops and similar dealers.

  17. Wackon, Wackoff!

  18. Thank you, Eric the .5b, for creating this lovely troll filter…

  19. Rather than reply to all your non-sequiturs, LW, I’m just going to repeat my earlier question: What point do you think you’re making?

  20. The point is that “libertarians” continue to try to make stupid points that make little economic sense. The costs of a free-for-all market such as that described above could be great, such as by spreading disease or infestations.

    I’m also doing research for the next thing like this or this.

  21. I should really read Mystery of Capital again. I remember it being very good.

  22. The point is that “libertarians” continue to try to make stupid points that make little economic sense.

    And what “stupid point” do you believe you are arguing against?

  23. Tell us again about the nofollow tags, lonely whacker. I never get tired of that one.

  24. The reason that the Haitian government is unable to function is because of unregulated, untaxed black markets like this. By engaging in this selfish capitalism they steal money from the state treasury, undermine the regulatory environment, and damage the common good.

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