Haiti's Pepe Trade: How Secondhand American Clothes Became a First-Rate Business


"Haiti has practically become a trash can," says Ketcia Pierre-Louis, "where everything people in other countries don't need comes here."

Pierre-Louis is a businesswoman and affiliate of the Croix-des-Bouquets Chamber of Commerce, just outside of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Like many critics of imported second-hand clothing, which is known locally as "pepe," she believes the practice undercuts domestic businesses and industries. Some have even called for the government to ban the practice.

But Haiti's pepe trade is decidedly a business—not a charity. In fact, it starts with Haitian Americans buying goods at U.S. thrift stores and shipping products to Port-au-Prince and other ports. Pepe may include hand-me-downs, but the clothing is high-quality, stylish, and cheap. More important, average Haitians prefer the choice of wearing such apparel—and brands like Polo, Lacoste, and Converse—to not having access to such products at all.

Far from turning Haiti into a trash can, the market in pepe shows how buyers and sellers enrich each other through exchange.

Produced by Tate Watkins and Jon Bougher.

Approximately 4 minutes.

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