Where Central America Shops..

 …for Discarded American Clothing

Early on in our travel in Central America and other developing countries, one of my observations was the number of children and adults who wear clothing with American logos or slogans.  At first it wasn´t so striking however t-shirts from fun runs, athletic teams or corporate events are regularly seen on children and adults in Central America, especially Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.   As I began to observe the shops and markets, it became clear to me that discarded US clothing is a major source of clothing for people in the Central American countries.  What follows is what I´ve learned to date.

PACA Stores or Tiendas

Clothing from donation programs such as Goowwill Industries, packs clothing into large bales or ¨Pacas¨.   The bales are shipped and a wholesaler in the Central American country who in turn sells the bales to local people.  For example in Coban, Guatemala, bales could be purchased for 100, 500, 800 or 1000 Quetzales (7.7 Quetzales/dollar).  The purchaser may have a small storefront or tienda which then is essentially an American style ¨second-hand store¨ where clothing is sold for several dollars per garment.  In Coban, where this photo was taken, there were probably 20 or 30 stores within an area of 6-7 square blocks. 

PACA store in Coban, Guatemala

Public Markets

Another option for selling used clothing is in the public markets, which is where the majority of people shop anyway, whether for fruits and vegetables, household goods or new clothing.  You can always see when a new pack of clothing comes in because women are elbowing for a good spot from which to look through the clothing, just like an US ¨after-Christmas¨ sale.  As you can imagine, this is quite a feat as the clothing isn´t sorted by size or type.  Nevertheless, for people who don´t have the resources to purchase new clothing, getting an early look at a new shipment is probably a pretty good shopping day.

Public Market in Granada, Nicaragua

In several cities, and again in public markets, we saw pick up trucks of shoes only or as in the following photo, a large tarp was laid out with a huge pile of clothing dumped on the ground.  Any piece of clothing could be purchased for $0.50.

Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala: Shopping in the Hot Sun

 In the US, I´ve heard and read about the controversy –  if you donate to places to Goodwill or other similar donations services, the goods might be ¨sold overseas¨ and won´t get to the people who need the goods.   I can´t say that I understood why this is controversial, possibly I don´t understand the whole story. However after seeing that the vast majority of people in Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua benefit directly from this phenomenon, it is apparent to me that the clothing that we discard is getting into the hands of people who appreciate and value what we eagerly discard as no longer useful.

If any of you have more information to help me understand this phenomenon from another viewpoint, I´d love to hear your thoughts.  Until then I stand firm – having discarded US clothing available for resale is working for the people.

Japanese Sewing Book Heaven

Yesterday I blogged about my day-trip to NYC.  After a visit to the Fashion District and Times Square, I circled around to Rockefeller Square (and by chance, ran into two friends from Philly).  A holiday visit to NYC wasn’t complete without seeing the Christmas tree and skating rink at Rockefeller Center.


One of my favorite things to do when vacationing is to photograph a bride and groom.  This was hardly what one could call a vacation but seeing a couple who had just said their vows captured my interest;  I nudged in and snapped a photo.  To the GI, thank you for serving our country.

As the darkness of a winter evening set in, I walked to Bryant Park, the location of yet another skating rink and Christmas Village.  This is such a lovely setting.  Across the street from the park is Kinokuniya, a Japanese bookstore.  While it’s not possible for me to read most of the books in the store, I can look at the photos.  They have a coffee shop which overlooks Bryant Park and a  huge stock of Japanese sewing books.  What a joy it was to page through the beautifully designed patterns.


On the way out, I noticed the window and needed to share it with you.  This bookstore has twice as many models as most fabric stores.

What a great day it was.  For those of you who live or work in NYC, this is old hat. For those who don’t regularly experience  this incredible city, it is great fun to visit and equally as pleasurable to leave the fast pace, the mobs of people and the temptation to return home with an empty wallet.

NY Fabric District Visit

This week I made a last-minute decision to take a vacation day in the NY Fashion District.  Early this morning (well it wasn’t really earlier than the time I’d go to work) I put on my best walking shoes and hopped on a bus from Philly to NY.  Fashion was being created for hours before the bus dropped us off on the edge of the Fashion District, so I jumped right in.

Most fascinating for me was how different this area is on a weekday compared to a weekend day.  My previous visits have all been on Saturdays.  During the week there are visible signs of what is occurring in this area of Manhattan; men were walking the streets, shuttling plastic wrapped fabric bolts from one location to another.  One man was rolling an industrial sewing machine and table.  Pattern templates and a rolling manikin were some of the other items I saw being moved on foot.

Not surprisingly, one of the other big differences from a Saturday visit was the sheer number of stores open on a weekday.  For the most part, I’m only talking about the ones you can see from the street – I can’t imagine how many are tucked away on the 8th or 9th floor of those tall buildings.

As a fabric lover, it’s difficult for me to be overwhelmed by fabric and notion stores, but by 3pm I was DONE shopping for fabric.  Walking out of the district, this bar caught my attention.  How appropriate.

You may ask, “How did I fare?”;  after all I don’t visit NY that often.  Admittedly I came home with more fabric than usual,  I tend to not count, but about 10 pieces of fabric.  None of this is for the stash – there’s a plan for each piece of fabric.  Maybe not time to sew (for now), but the plan does exist.  Checking out at Mood, I chuckled at the sign for NYC taxes.

I’m not sure who wrote this legislation but that’s the craziest system I’ve ever heard of.  On the positive side, NYC is no longer the USA city with the highest city sales tax (honestly I’m not sure it was the highest in the country but it surely felt that way, especially compared to a state that doesn’t tax clothing).  Yes for the purchases I made the taxes fell into the 8.875% category.

I Heart NYC

Having a few hours before my bus, I planned to go walk through Times Square, Rockefeller Square and Bryant Park.   When I turned the corner to Times Square, I honestly thought I’d entered another city.  The square was filled with tourists, entertainers from the Broadway shows, street vendors and advertisers.

The dichotomy of this city hit me  – on the streets of Manhattan you can buy a $2.00 T-shirt, only blocks from stores where you can buy a pair of boots for $1850 or more.

What a city.  It was a great day but I will post a few more photos tomorrow night as I need to go to bed because my body is tired from carrying all of those bags all over the city.

Sewing a Wedding Dress: Countdown 5.5 Months

Sewing a Wedding Dress:  Muslin #2

In early December I took a day trip to the NY Fabric District to buy silk for the dress bodice, some of the embellishments, silk ribbon for the belt, boning, etc.  Yes, also there were a few other purchases for the stash  This time there was a good reason for the trip but secretly I wish I’d have the need to make these day trips more often.

Rhinestone trim
What a gorgeous pin

Most of the purchases worked out except the fabric for the dress top isn’t a good match for the skirt.  It was a rainy day and without the natural light, the color difference wasn’t obvious until I was in better light.  So I’m in search of an alternative.  Photos of all things glitter are at the left.  You can see the purpose of each on the compilation photo below. 

As planned, at Christmas, I had muslin #2 ready for Megan to try on.   For those of you who aren’t into sewing lingo, a muslin is a test garment or sample that you can adjust, write on, use as a pattern, etc.

Muslin #2

This muslin which if all goes well, will be a lining when it grows up, consists of 3 layers of fabric – 2 layers of polished cotton/poly and a mid layer of silk organza.  The cotton/poly is soft and thus comfortable next to the skin.  This trio made a fairly substantial lining, and I’m comfortable with the weight and it will work well for attaching boning later.

The front fit well but needs more sculpting at the front center.  The back also  needs a few adjustments, however the fit was good enough to boost my confidence as this is my first strapless dress.

What are your experiences making muslins?  Is it a part of your sewing credo or are you like me – just make one if you absolutely need to?