The Used Clothing Business in Cuba
October 29, 2015
By Fernando Ravsberg
HAVANA TIMES — A Cuban company manager tells me that the government
spends US $5 million in used clothing every year, purchasing the
highest-quality products sold around the world. Cuban stores, however,
only sell the worst-quality garments.
Every pound of the clothing put on sale in Cuba costs US $0.68. A pound
is what a jean (one of the items included in a regular package) weighs.
Applying a 240% markup plus what the store adds on top, you can sell a
pair of Levis or Lees in good condition at 2 or 3 dollars.
At these prices, these items of clothing would be a very attractive
option for many low-income Cubans. What's made available to buyers,
however, are closer to rags than the "premium" garments bought at
markets such as Canada's.
To understand how these goods "deteriorate" so severely from the moment
they arrive in Cuba to the time they are put on sale, we need to follow
the bales down the old "port-transportation-domestic market" route.
The manager tells me that someone had the bright idea of having these
bundles opened at prison-farms and for the clothing to be inventoried by
inmates, most of whom have been imprisoned for economic crimes.
That's where the first "change of clothes" takes place: the inmates take
out the new garments and replace them with their own used clothing,
maintaining the original number. Of course, to be able to do this, they
have to grease the guards' palms.
Once the containers have been opened and the first "inventory" has been
completed, these are sent to central warehouses, where the process of
replacing new clothes with old ones is repeated to supply the capital's
thriving illegal stores with fresh stock.
Later, the containers are sent to provincial distribution centers to
undergo yet another inventory and another switch. This way, the local
black market is able to offer a clientele with fair purchasing power
varied, high-quality products.
Finally, the clothing reaches State stores in each locality.
Immediately, the clerks notify re-sellers and these buy whatever's left
that's worth their money. Thus, when buyers reach store counters, the
only clothing they find isn't even worth what it weighs.
A foreign supplier tried to gage how his product was being received by
consumers in Cuba. He approached one store at opening time and the
clerks told him they had sold everything, which was impossible, as the
goods had arrived the day before after closing.
Authorities at the Ministry of Domestic Trade want to suspend imports of
these kinds of products because people aren't buying them. In fact,
buyers never see these kinds of products at State stores. They only come
across the tattered rags that others have left behind.
The way this second-hand clothing is received by Cubans is evident at
underground stores: in 24 hours, they sell everything they get their
hands on. I went to one, located in one of Havana's poorer
neighborhoods, and saw a girl buy a pair of Columbia-brand pants for one
third the price of the Chinese pants sold at State stores.
Cuban filmmaker Tomas Gutierrez Alea once said that socialism was a
great script made into a terrible film. Where the sale of used clothing
is concerned, we can clearly see the contradiction between
screenwriters, directors, actors and the audience.
Source: The Used Clothing Business in Cuba - Havana Times.org -