Haiti-based, documentary photographer Paolo Woods, for his "Pepe" project, joined forces with Ben Depp, an also documentary photographer, and together captured numerous Haitians wearing slogan T-shirts of various declarations. The portraits are black-humored, reflecting the irony born from the larger workings of globalization. The project was titled “Pepe” because this is 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 arrive—ready for locals to put on—originate 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.”
However, the “Pepe” trade has been more harmful for the local community that we could imagine. As a result of this practise, thousands of Haitian tailors lost their jobs, asking us to take a closer look at the effects of globalization of the textile industry.
Paolo Woods / INSTITUTE