What the hell is a FRIP I hear you ask! Well, simply put, a FRIPERIE in French, means a second hand clothing store…a charity shop to you and I… but the money here, doesn’t go to a particular
charity like the Red Cross or St Vincent de Paul, but directly into the pockets of the poor people of Madagascar who operate them. They, themselves, are the charity cases and deserve every Ariary I spend. It is always appreciated and a great bit of entertainment as well!
Along the well worn, sandy streets of Tamatave, you will see many little makeshift clothing stalls, their wonky, splinter covered wooden poles precariously held together by huge, rusted and bent protruding nails which always seem to snag your outfit, bag or even a bare arm if you’re lucky! Their roof can be either a tarpaulin made from plastic bags or old rice sacks held down by rocks or a single sheet of bashed up corrugated iron and this is their shelter of choice. Some, however, are an actual building, left to go to rack and ruin but now cleverly redesigned as a ‘Frip Boutique’ if you want to go upmarket. Glamour all the way!
Being a bit of a professional Op-Shopaholic from way back (refer to my blog Goodwill Shop Hunting), it is quite normal for me to go browsing around these tiny treasure troves of clothes at least once a week! I even manage to just have a quick flick through one if I happen to be passing by…which is literally everyday. There are at least four or five ‘Friperies’ along every street and that’s just in the centre of town! The choice is endless. Sometimes, the locals just create their very own ‘pop-up’ shop outside their house or hut figuring what the heck, I’ll just sell my stuff right here on my doorstep! Imagine doing that in a western country without being fined.
The background of the Frip Stall is this: Local woman (I hardly see men doing this job as there is a great deal of female – male segregation here when it comes to work), purchase enormous bundles of used and discarded clothing from around the globe (be it Canada, America, Australia, France or Asia), all perfectly wound and bound and tightly wrapped in plastic. Each bulging bundle can weigh up to 20 or 30 kgs, depending on the contents (bundles can be bought to contain specific items like childrens clothes only, for example) and are dispensed and sold from specific Frip warehouses. These are then taken by pousse-pousse to the individual vendors stalls or stores and unwrapped; the creased and crinkled garments are mercilessly unleashed and displayed on homemade wire hangers and hooks or sometimes just piled up in a heap on the grimy wooden slatted floor, all waiting for the next wave of curious customers. Many of the stalls have bizarre looking plastic mannequins on which to hang their goods, all of them slightly mangled and dented but (strangely) all sporting ENORMOUS breasts! Mmmmm…????
It’s a big business here in Madagascar and I have personally made it my job to help distribute the
I adore a good poke around a Frip, and when my friend Anna was living here, we used to make a date out of it every week. Wednesday was Frip-Date Day! Her and I would find some classic pieces for one another, each of us in turn holding up some hideous old garment saying that; “We’ve discovered the dress of our dreams” whilst dissolving into hysterics. What a sight it must have been for the poor vendor though, these two loud and sweaty white girls scrounging around the hut floor on their knees in the heat, chatting and laughing. Anna was always looking for 50’s style dresses whilst I desperately searched in vain for a vintage Chanel or Valentino that might have got lost in the FripMix or ‘fell off the back of a truck’ in Paris! I’m still looking….
I do have my favourite stores and stalls of course and the ladies get all excited when they see me approaching. Here comes the kooky compulsive shopper! One is just around the corner from our apartment and I have bought some very cute dresses from here and some funky Levi’s for MB (Monsieur Bleu). The young lady proprietor is always polite and sweet, never pushy or irritating and whatever I pick up is always 10,000 Ariary (about $3 AUD). It’s a real bargain hunt of a place, as most of the more posh Frip stores have much higher prices, but you can always have fun bargaining things down anyway. To look at it, you would be tempted to shy away from this little place with its hot and crowded interior. Jeans, dresses and shirts cover every surface and some ragged old handbags hang sadly in a dark, mosquito infested corner. But once a week on my way to the supermarket, I stop to say bonjour and have a quick browse whilst she goes about her work sorting through the latest load of imported wares.
There are many different arrangements when it comes to Frip places and one long street here in particular is solely dedicated to this kind of clothing bazaar. It houses kilometres of these noisy little stalls, all haphazardly squashed together, each with their own radio blasting out repetitive and indistinguishable calling sounds (at a decibel that was surely never meant for the human ear) and are tightly crammed with specific items per lot such as underwear, caps, cargo pants, skirts, t- shirts, jeans or shoes and is a free for all for the locals. Many of the large Frip bags are just dumped on a large wooden trolley and when it is Bundle Opening Day, it’s like a Black Friday sale at Macy’s! The frenzied Malagasy pounce on the new items like hyenas to a fresh kill- all pushing, shoving and shouting, desperately raking through mountains of well used apparel to find something for their wardrobes. It’s truly a sight to be seen and not for the faint hearted who dare to enter their lair! I don’t frequent this area much, but once I found (just by pure luck) an authentic Balenciaga mens linen shirt in perfect condition and a MaxMara cardigan, so somewhere it was worth the effort and stress of participating with the manic masses for half an hour!
Along the way to Salazamay (which is the slightly more ‘affluent’ area of town), the stores are fantastic! Well, for me and any other Frip Fanatics anyway. There is even one which only sells ‘active wear’. I call it Lulu Lemon. The lovely lady who owns the stall also sells bottles of homemade chilli sauce that is so hot it sets your mouth on fire, but that’s another story! I adore looking in these shops as you can always find something unusual, but having to deal with some of the vendors can be irritating. “Madame Madame, regarde!” is the catchphrase of choice (the second you enter the shop) and you are NEVER left alone as there is always someone listlessly following you around holding up random pieces of cloth. For example, if you’re looking at a maxi dress, you will be offered a pair of boys shorts! Um, thank-you, but why? It’s all very strange and amusing, but not a great idea if you’re not in the best of moods!
I am aware that second hand clothing shopping is not everyones thing, but many other western ladies here adore it just as much as I do and even some of the wealthier Malagasy use these Frips as their ‘go-to’ for outfits. There really is not a lot of choice here in Tamatave, as it’s either a Friperie or a variety of stores selling cheap polyester imports of which I am not a fan. But as they say, “when in Madagascar”…
I encourage anyone who visits poorer countries to spend some time looking through these little locally operated stalls and shops if they happen to come across them, as it is a fun and interesting day out and also helps the economy, country and people. Best of all, you just might come away with something you will adore for ever AND a unique story to go with it, and that is a far better souvenir from your travels than any keyring I can assure you!
When I eventually leave here AGAIN, I will gather up all my unwanted purchases…the stuff that never really fit properly or that I only wore once, and pass them on to a local who will either wear it or sell it to another Frip vendor who will then sell it all over again! And so the cycle continues. Just imagine, maybe some of the clothes that you have donated over the years might have ended their journey here, on a Frip rack, in my Malagasy neighbourhood. I could be wearing one now!
So until next time, it’s back to my endless search for that elusive, enviable item and I just KNOW it’s out there somewhere, on a dusty floor of a hut, just waiting to be found…
…”yes, I shop at thrift stores…no, I am not poor”… yes-butno.com
**This blog is dedicated to my great friend Anna F. I’m still ‘Frippin’ it out girl!**