Used Clothing Disappears in Havana

Daisy Valera

The store at Aramburu and Neptuno Streets.

HAVANA TIMES— Flowery spandex pants and blouses with open backs are invading the streets of Havana. The striped-shirt craze seems to be blowing over. Cubans seem to go insane over clothing and fashion, and the whole city seems to be one huge masquerade at times.

Clothing is a serious thing in Cuba. The authorities, who supervised the birth of hundreds of privately-operated boutiques and saw to their sudden death within the span of a year, attest to this. Now, to my dismay, they are stealthily doing away with thrift clothing stores.

The year 2014 could well go down in history as the “Year of the War against the Textile Industry.”

As I recall, I was able to throw together an outfit for myself for the first time thanks to so-called “rag-stores.” Back in 2000, my mother bought me a green tank-top and a pair of checkered shorts (rather unusual and unforgettable pieces of clothing). As an adult, nearly all of the clothing I’ve been able to afford on my salary has been the used clothing sold at these stores.

There, with a bit of patience, one can find new pairs of pants (with the price tag still attached) and jackets that would cost as much as 20 CUC ($22 USD) at a State hard currency store, hidden among 80s sports jackets and gigantic out-of-style dresses.

In 2011, the State announced it was considering discontinuing the sale of these products because it could no longer afford to pay the suppliers (without mentioning who these were), but no store was dismantled then.

A little over a week ago, I walked down Havana’s San Rafael boulevard and saw that all of the used clothing sections in the hardware and craft markets there had vanished. I saw a man pushing a cart with a large bundle of clothing on it and asked him where he was taking it. “To some warehouse,” replied the confused laborer.

For a number of days, I thought it could be an “aesthetic” decision. San Rafael is quite close to the city’s tourist circuit and the sight of Cubans crouching down in front of piles of tattered clothes, hoping to find something decent and cheap to wear, isn’t exactly good publicity for a socialism set on “updating” itself.

It wasn’t until I saw that this was also happening at neighborhood stores such as the one located at the intersection of Neptuno and Aramburu streets or on the Calzada de Infanta, in front of the Parque de los Martires, that I began to worry.

Used clothing, with prices oscillating between 70 and 35 Cuban pesos (3.5 and 1.75 USD) for a pair of pants and a blouse, respectively, while certainly not cheap when set against an average Cuban salary, was at least an option for people.

Its disappearance – definitive, by the looks of it – leaves low-income people at the mercy of the black market and the extremely poor-quality clothing imported by the State and sold at hard-currency stores. The official press seems to be ignoring a situation that could well affect broad sectors of the population.

7 thoughts on “Used Clothing Disappears in Havana

  • Supply and demand don’t apply in a state controlled economy like Cuba. It’s more like, “Take what you can get, shut up and be grateful!”

  • Still a good demand for top quality childrens thrift shop clothes / shoes. It seems the State still allows these sales.

  • Look, when one business opportunity is closed, another one will come up…

    As a pretty good economic student myself, it is all about supply and demand.

  • @Chacon. My sentiments also. Every time I visit I bring a large suitcase of clothing to give away & usually end up leaving even most of what I planned to take home. A young Cuban friend’s (from a rural area) only means of survival is to sell clothes that she takes on consignment.

  • Traditionally the regime has bee selling donated second hand and new clothes in “sobre precio” shops. It now controls – and has tried to evict the independents from the market – the new clothes market. In my opinion: a big mistake as this market is specifically suitable for small entrepreneurs.

  • I have a Cuban friend who was forced to shut down his private clothing business in Havana last fall. So now, instead of selling clothes from his showroom/livingroom in his Playa home, he does a brisk catalog business. You come to his house and sift through a stack of clothing store catalogs and circulars. You tell him the size and color that you want and leave the money, including taxes and his profit, for your purchase. Every two weeks or so, he travels to Cancun, makes the purchases and brings the orders back to Havana. I have no idea how he gets through Customs with as many as six large suitcases full of clothes and shoes but he does.

  • Great article. Wish I can send Cuba the clothes that I have given goodwill

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