Tomorrow Museum » Archive » Our Past is Haiti’s Present: An Interview with “Secondhand ‘Pepe’” filmmakers Hanna Rose Shell and Vanessa Bertozzi:
Today, anyone in the Miami, NYC, and Boston areas — cities with large Haitian immigrant populations — is likely to run into someone at a flea market or thrift store collecting goods to take home to Port-au-Prince. Secondhand (Pepe) (clip) is a short documentary showing this remarkable trade in goods, as it explains the history of secondhand clothing in our country. Filmmakers Hanna Rose Shell, a Ph.D. in the History of Science at Harvard, and Vanessa Bertozzi, a graduate of MIT’s Comparative Media Studies program, who now works at Etsy, were curious about the tradition of secondhand clothing. From 2003 - 2007 they visited ragyards in Miami, went through archives in London and Washington DC, and traveled to Haiti to see the pepe markets for themselves.
flyer.jpg Shell says Haitians sometimes dress better than Americans because they are used to tailoring their secondhand clothes to fit. While the pepe market makes it difficult for Haitian tailors to sell their own designs or traditional fashions; the cheap cost means, as one woman in the documentary explains, they can “adopt the look that is on television without much effort.” Shell describes the country in an essay in Transition as completely absent of traditional retail, “interiors lie vacant, transformed into makeshift dwellings or pepe depots. Chain stores and standard clothing outlets dot only the poshest streets of Petionville. Whereas McDonalds, Walmart, and American banks have invaded other Caribbean and Latin American countries, Haiti operates at the level of the individual seller and transaction.”