There’s more to Institute photographer Paolo Woods‘ series Pepe than meets the eye. Teaming up with photographer Ben Depp, the two capture numerous Haitians sporting T-shirts of various declarations. The portraits are lighthearted and yet simultaneously reveal an irony born from the larger workings of globalization. “Pepe” are what local Haitians call the second-hand garments that typically arrive from the U.S. to Port au Prince’s market, Croix-des-Bossales.
Most of the “Pepe” that arrives—ready for locals to don—comes from collection centers that Americans have donated to, or from thrift store reject piles. Arnaud Robert, who wrote an accompanying text for the series, points out the irony here: “A T-shirt produced for Wal-Mart in the sweatshops of Port au Prince will be sported by a Texan and then returned to the sender, who, at last, will be able to wear it.” He goes on to say, “The worst T-shirts, those that would barely be sold in the cheap gift shops of Times Square, those with the dumbest slogans, reappear, thanks to a free-market miracle, in remote provinces of Haiti where nobody has taken the effort of translating such poetry into Creole.”
The greatest twist in all of this back and forth seems to lie in the fact that the “Pepe” trade has naturally forced thousands of Haitian tailors out of business, asking us to take a closer look at the effects of globalization of the textile industry.