Life After Retail

“I remember very well the day they came in,” says Beverly, a volunteer at Suncoast Pinellas in St. Petersburg, FL, who declined to give her last name.

From a dump in Pedernales, DR, piled high with pepe (used clothes), I tracked a shirt to Suncoast Pinellas, a St. Petersburg, FL hospice outlet that collects used clothes and other items for resale. After the earthquake in 2010, Haitian-Americans bought clothes at Suncoast to send to earthquake victims in Haiti. The XS ladies shirt I found at the Monte Boutique dump had been marked down by Suncaost to $1 from the original retail cost. Now a Haitian woman might get it for free and resell it for 30 pesos (75 cents).

Haitian-American entrepreneurs source garments in thrift stores across the southeastern U.S. and send them to Miami warehouses where they’re resold to Haitian buyers who have them shipped to Port au Prince for further resale. The garment I found with the Suncoast price tag had most recently come from the Pedernales D.M. Group which operates from the Zona Franca there. The company owned by a Dominican couple living in the Miami area is Pedernales’s biggest employer. A local took me to see their “vacation” home near the factory; an ostentatious, empty place bristling with barbed wire. D,M. Group pepe ships from Miami to Santo Domingo where it’s transported to the Pedernales factory, sorted and sold mainly to women traders from Ansapit.

Monte Boutique ( ’boutique mountain’ in Spanish) is where D.M. dumps the clothes it doesn’t sell. One giant truck a day unloads clothes here, closely followed by Haitian women and Dominican men who sort through the piles and fill sacks for resale. One of the Dominican men who has friends inside Zona Franca has the privilege of bulking as many clothes has he wants for free. The Haitian women pay the men for their take. Even at the dump, nothing for them is free.

I took the tag but left the shirt at the dump site for the next seller.

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