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Where Goodwill Goes to Die

November 3, 2013

Frip is what the Malagasy call the second hand clothes that fuel a huge part of their economy. It also helps Peace Corps Volunteers spend some extra time in town sorting through endless piles of second hand gold. If you, like me, ever wondered what happens to all the goods that don’t get sold at Goodwills and Salvation Armies, they somehow make it to Madagascar, and I imagine other countries as well, to be re-sold by entrepreneurs. The most astonishing feat of this system is how clothes from home wind up in Ampondralava, thousands of miles and sometimes decades away from where they came from.
For example, I’m walking down the sand road on Market day and there, hanging up, is a shirt from a Marathon on Bainbridge Island in Washington State. I’ve found UW shirts, Seattle Marathon shirts, seen Toronto Maple Leaves jerseys, all kinds of things so far removed from my current life that they pop out, catch me breathless for a moment or two. It’d be like running into a giraffe in the middle of Moscow, Idaho. My appreciation for that Bainbridge shirt is a lot different from the Malagasy neighbor who buys it and wears it. And it’s different from the person who decided to rid their closet of that shirt. One of the things that impresses me every day here is how innovative Malagasy people are. Not yet ripe mangoes are turned into cars by kids. There are about 100 things to do with a coconut shell. And nearly everything can be food. Frip embodies this ingenuity in a number of ways.
It makes sense that my friends and neighbors are able to style themselves by fantastically re-wearing these rejects, clothing others have tossed out. Hundreds of people carve out a living from themselves selling these second hand goods at different markets. You know what they say about one man’s trash being another man’s treasure; well frip is a fascinating example of that: one Goodwill’s leftover inventory is another person’s livelihood here. Frip is one of the more reliable ways for people here to make badly needed extra money. Some things that wind up here are gloriously hideous- 80’s satin floor-length dresses with shoulder pads, the kinds of Hawaiian shirts that Jimmy Buffet wouldn’t touch, Leopard print onesies. There’s the good, the bad, and the ugly, but frip here helps make the money go round. I used to think that frip is where Goodwill leftovers go to die, but really I think it’s where they go to continue living.

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