Friday, September 24, 2010

A 'new' pair of pink capris

This evening, I set out with the intention of buying some steamed "sweet Japanese corn" (similar to Canadian corn on the cob) and some greens to round out a planned omelette dinner. During daylight hours the nearby streets teem with nomadic vendors and sari sari stores (small kiosks). Unfortunately, the vendors had packed away their wares by the time I managed to slip outside, around 7pm. Apart from small roadside restaurants, the only store still open was a secondhand clothing store.

Knowing that I would be toting my possessions around with me (at least initially), I had brought a minimal amount of clothing with me. Some of the clothing I brought isn't particularly useful; the two pairs of pants (light jeans) I brought are too heavy and hot to wear, except in Air Con buses (that are so cold the locals wear toques). So I figured a shopping spree was in order.

There are two main options for buying clothes here in the Philippines. Option 1: shop at one of the infamous gigantic malls (more about Filipino mall culture in a later post). Option 2: visit a sari sari store selling secondhand clothing. Option 2 beckoned.

In developing countries the resale of used clothing is a big business, often to the detriment of local tailors and the supporting cottage industries. The secondhand clothing that doesn't sell in friperies and other secondhand shops in Canada, the US, Europe and other Northern countries is shipped to developing countries, where it is either given or sold for a pittance to aspiring entrepreneurs (or the recipients of a livelihoods aid project). In Kenya, I saw a man wearing a "Jeux de Québec" hoodie identical to the one I got back in the mid 1990s. In Ghana, teens sported soccer jerseys emblazoned with "Lac St Louis" and "Oakville".

The shop is the size of an economy double dorm room. Western-style jeans, t-shirts, shorts, skirts and dresses fill every nook and cranny. A colourful mix of shift dresses, frilly skirts and tank tops lie in two bins marked "Sale P35". (P40 is roughly Can$1.) A young girl and four women chatted in Tagalog while trying on tops and skirts over their clothes.

Shopping at a secondhand clothing store in UP Village
I found myself in an unusual situation (for me). Given that I'm most comfortable clad in running attire, I was taken aback when a forty-something Filipina woman ask for fashion advice. After discussing at length where a dress seam should fall, I steered the conversation to more serious matters. She offered some ideas on possible case studies for my research, and suggested some agencies that might keep relevant statistics on migrants.

It's amazing where one can find leads. One of the most fruitful research techniques is to ask for help, and to tell people what you intend to do (in accessible language). It sounds so simple and amateurish, but it's very effective at opening doors.

I never did get the corn and greens. Instead, I became the proud owner of a pair of pale pink capris.

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Post-script. If you feel so inclined, please share your thoughts on buying secondhand clothing in developing countries. I'm curious to hear what environmental, social, economic, cultural and other arguments you put forth.

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