Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Secondhand Pepe

I remember hearing about the documentary Secondhand (Pepe) last year, and it seems timely to highlight it now. It is a pair of filmmakers' sonic and visual journey through the culture of secondhand clothing. A segment of the film focuses on Haiti and its booming Pepe business. Pepe is the Haitian word for worn but coveted secondhand clothing. A countrywide peddler's business has grown up around the cast off clothing of America. In the '60s huge pallets of used American clothing started flowing into country via ships at Port au Prince. Peddlers would purchase the clothing and set up shop selling it on the cheap to Haitians wanting the look of America without the unpayable prices. Customers would hunt through piles of used clothes to find items cool enough to be labeled "Hollywood Pepe". But, cool didn't always sell people on the idea of wearing someone else's garments. In order for Pepe to become the business it has, the people of Haiti have had to overcome the idea that someone else's stuff carries someone else's aura, which could mean bad spirits.

Most have gotten past the aura theory, but Pepe is still not without its negatives for some. Seamstresses, or anyone selling clothing that isn't Pepe, have stiff competition. With used going for pocket change, there's not much of a market for new. But, all in all the Pepe industry in Haiti proves something that we unfortunately keep being reminded of again and again--the resilience of the Haitian people. They are strong and smart, innovative and tough. If only we could know they were all of those things without the hardships. My heart goes out to all of those in Haiti and their friends and families around the world.

If you can help in anyway, again, please donate to Haitian relief efforts.

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