feature: Pepe // Paolo Woods
A t-shirt produced for Wal-Mart in the sweatshops of Port au Prince will be sported by a Texan and then returned to the sender, who, at last, will be able to wear it. This back and forth gives us a peek into the workings of the globalization of the textile industry.
The majority of “Pepe” that arrive on the island have been donated by Americans to charities and collection centers, rejected by Thrift shops, and have gone through the sorting warehouses run by Haitians in Miami that discard the winter clothes and other unmarketable items from the lot. But the worst T-shirts, those that would barely be sold in the cheap gift shops of Times Square, those with the dumbest slogans, reappear, thanks to a free-market miracle, in remote provinces of Haiti where nobody has taken the effort of translating such poetry into Creole.
It is said that the T-shirt, along with the bumper sticker, is America’s favorite place for self-expression, a kind of personal billboard, where political, philosophical and religious beliefs are condensed. Paolo Woods and Ben Depp, two photographers living in Haiti, went on the hunt for the perfect T-shirt.
All of this would be amusing and ironic if the “Pepe” trade had not put out of business thousands of Haitian tailors. But little can stem this garment flow if not the economic crisis that has made Americans a little more cautious about “popping tags”.
“Pepe”, or how lousy T-shirts exemplify fifty years of a North-South relationship.
text by -Arnaud Robert
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click here to find out more about the book 'Pepe'