Feature: Tunisia's decades-old second-hand clothing market faces life-or-death crisis-Xinhua

Feature: Tunisia's decades-old second-hand clothing market faces life-or-death crisis

Source: Xinhua| 2022-11-11 20:27:00|Editor: huaxia

by Xu Supei, Ayten Laamar, Huang Ling

TUNIS, Nov. 11 (Xinhua) -- In Tunisia, purchasing second-hand goods is a local habit that sprouted after the Second World War, which has helped generate more than 200,000 jobs in its second-hand clothing market.

However, the decades-old business is facing a long-term crisis of less or even no supply, which, as insiders warned, could lead to the demise of the business in the North African country.


In a downtown thrift market in El Hafsia District of the capital Tunis, piles of used backpacks, handbags, trousers, shirts and shoes are displayed by venders for crowds of customers to choose from.

Noura Ben Amor, a frequenter, told Xinhua that she is "addicted" to treasure-hunting second-hand clothing here, even on workdays.

"I only have a one-hour break. Nevertheless, almost every day I take the opportunity to come here," the 28-year-old accountant said, picking over a stack of dresses for one with the least blemish.

According to Sahbi Maaloui, president of the National Chamber of Second-hand Wholesalers in Tunisia, 94 percent of people in the country are customers of second-hand shops.

"Anybody can buy high-quality goods at very low prices. That's why the second-hand shop is so popular in Tunisia," the customer Ben Amor said, adding consumers could make a good purchase both on brands and quality.

Quite a few used clothes of some of the biggest international sportswear brands are sold here for 25 to 45 Tunisian dinars (7.72 to 13.89 U.S. dollars), she noted.

Slim Mnaouar, a thrift shop owner who has been in the business for 20 years, said Tunisia's second-hand clothes come mainly from France, Italy and Germany, with a few others from Canada and the United States.


"More than 8,000 containers of used clothing arrived in Tunisia annually, making it a nexus of this booming second-hand market worldwide," Mnaouar told Xinhua.

People, rich or poor, flock to his shop every Sunday to handpick from freshly unpacked new batches of clothes, he said.

Buying second-hand goods have become so universal in Tunisia throughout the past decades that locals even refer to them as "Tunisians' purchasing power barometer."

"The economic crisis and the increasingly significant decline in the purchasing power of Tunisians make the second-hand shop even more popular," Mnaouar noted.

Tunisia's economic growth has hit one hurdle after another since 2011, the latest of which was the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year, even the prices of second-hand goods rise sharply in Tunisia given weak imports and surging inflation when the U.S. dollar and global commodity prices remain strong.

In October, the country's inflation rose for 13 consecutive months to 9.2 percent, hitting a three-decade high.

According to Mnaouar, the price of one bale of second-hand clothes can reach 1,000 dinars these days, almost double the price 10 years ago.


More than 70 years of French colonial rule left deep marks in nearly every aspect of Tunisian life, including the language. Thrift shops here are known as "fripe" shops, or just "fripe," a French word meaning old clothes.

However, the second-hand business in Tunisia, which was established even before the national independence in 1956, is declining amid a supply crisis.

This is because consumers in the West, also affected by rising inflation and economic downturn, increasingly opt for cheap used clothing, said Tunisian business insiders.

Maaloui told the private radio station Shems FM that European countries are encouraging this shift during the economic hardship, especially after the pandemic.

Another reason for Tunisia's reduced second-hand inflows is that other emerging markets, such as Egypt, Türkiye and some Eastern European countries, are more competitive in absorbing the supplies.

"For the first time since 1944, when the business emerged in Tunisia, we lack merchandise. In 2021, the quantity of imported second-hand goods dropped by over 50 percent," Maaloui told Nawaat, another local media.

What is currently sold in Tunisia are stockpiles, he noted, warning that if the situation continues, the country's second-hand clothing market could disappear by 2025.