In search of fashion finds in the famous Tunisian second-hand goods

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“Ladies, ladies, ladies! Get yourself a dress – three dinars – you’ll get married tomorrow!

The call comes from a young man in a casual tracksuit, behind a table where a group of middle-aged women sift through piles of women’s clothing.

Fatma Aissa, 22, rolls her eyes. She came to Ezzouhour thrift – one of Tunisia’s open-air flea markets – looking for love at first sight, but with a blazer or leather pants, not a man.

As she rummages through a pile of printed scarves at a nearby table, her friend and business partner, Wided Asly, 20, tells me that, like love, the first rule of thrift is simple. : “Don’t look for anything specific. Let the right thing find you.

Fatma and Wided, who run Goya Thrift, a second-hand second-hand Instagram store, tell me they bonded around their love of fashion when they met to study business in college. Wided says it took a while, but “Fatma converted me to second-hand clothes.”

“Growing up was not something to be proud of,” Wided says. Her family liked to save money and, like about 70% of Tunisian families, depended on second-hand clothes to fill their closets. “I was a little ashamed,” she says.

Most of the clothes for Tunisian second-hand clothes come from Europe or the United States, where much of it is donated. A complex, often informal, network of brokers and dealers buy, import and sort clothes by type and quality, then sell them in 100 kilogram bales to individual hawkers. Hundreds of neighborhood second-hand shops exist across Tunisia.

Fatma says her family has turned their nose at second-hand clothes, seeing them as lower class, but, as a curvy teenager who didn’t fit straight or taller waists perfectly, she saw second-hand clothes as some sort of land of clothing. fashion game to find his own style on his own terms.

“I’ve always been very proud to find pieces that fit me well and in which I feel comfortable and confident,” she says.

As purchasing power declines in the pandemic economy, more and more Tunisians are fully relying on second-hand clothes to dress their families. The Tunisian National Institute of Statistics estimates that the prices of new clothes and shoes have risen by nearly 50 percent over the past five years while wages have stagnated or fallen.

But it’s not just necessity that drives the second-hand economy: patient sifting can be rewarded with high-end finds, like a Hermès scarf, a Jean-Paul Gaultier striped t-shirt or original Levi’s 501s. tucked away among the scraps of the bowling league ten-year-old T-shirts or cargo shorts, all for just a few dollars. Fatma says that in recent years she has started to see more and more wealthy people rummaging through tables.

“Everyone goes to the second hand, but not everyone will tell you.”

Fatma and Wided don’t necessarily browse the stacks of top brands, but are drawn to color, pattern and material.

“The most important pieces aren’t Chanel, they’re the ones that introduce you to something new in your personal style,” says Fatma.

She rummages through a table of men’s pants when she finds a pair with dramatic pleats down the front. His eyes widen. It wasn’t until she had wrapped her waist around her neck to check the size – “second-hand rule number two: know your size” – that she realized the pants were Armani.

At the second-hand clothes, I learn to browse as much with my fingers as with my eyes. My hands weave through a pile of men’s suit jackets and blazers, skipping the polyester and digging a deeper tunnel until I brush something magical and hang on. After a few good moves, I found an Italian cashmere blazer with a casual check and a square cut from the 90s. I put it on. “You look like such a boss! So intimidating!” said Wided.

I give the seller 3 dinars ($ 1.06) and am amazed.

Fatma tells me that she got into secondhand clothes “for the love of fashion, the love of digging”, but as she and Wided built their brand, they became more sensitive. the ecological impact of savings. The United Nations Environment Program estimates that the fashion industry is responsible for 10% of global carbon dioxide emissions and puts incredible strain on water resources.

“The ecological waste of fast fashion is enormous,” says Fatma. “Right now, with social media, especially TikTok, the trend cycles are so short and the waste is so big” as teens try out new looks and throw them away days or weeks later.

“Since I started saving, I stopped buying fast fashion,” says Wided. “If you crumple you can still get this on-trend style, but you can put your own twist on it.”

After our success at the menswear table, the two sneaked into the stalls selling late summer fruit, fresh sardines, trinkets and plush toys just outside the main market in the clothing when Fatma rushed to find something nestled on a table between electric toasters and a few pairs of sandals. His Grail: a pair of white Converse All Star sneakers, size 39.

“I had been hoping to find them for months,” she said in a respectful whisper.

She inspects them closely for portability. The canvas has been cleaned, the eyelets are all there, although the previous owner tagged the midsole with a permanent marker.

“A teenage girl has had her best life in this,” she says with a smile as she takes five dinars out of her wallet and hands it to the vendor.

She says these stories inspire her as much as anything. “I don’t know who you are, I don’t know what you’ve been through, but I imagine it. I really see clothes as people – they had a life before, and I’m happy to pick up this story again. “

Update: October 9, 2021, 3:30 a.m.


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