pagina nike air max Clothes Sold by Pound Attract Mexican Buyers
Carmen Hernandez rummaged carefully through the racks at Ropa por Libra, the downtown El Paso store she has visited two or three times a week, nearly every week, for the past 20 years.
The 73 year old Mrs. Hernandez, who is from the neighboring Mexican city of Ciudad Juarez, studied a children’s shirt carefully, inspected and rejected a blouse, then took a pair of men’s trousers and finding no stains or rips whatsoever, nodded her head in satisfaction. A few moments later, she took a small bundle of clothing and tossed it onto a scale at the counter. At $6.99 a pound for a little more than two pounds, her total bill, for six items, was $15.22.
So goes a typical transaction at Ropa por Libra which means clothing by the pound an El Paso institution that has counterparts in cities all along the 2,000 mile United States Mexico border and that offers a window on a quirky area of trade between the two nations.
Taken together, what is sold in these stores are estimated to be one of this nation’s biggest exports in volume, if not in dollars to its southern neighbor: used and discarded clothing.
”People know they can get incredible bargains here,” said Ed Garcia, the irrepressible manager at Ropa por Libra. He has been involved in the family owned business for nearly all of his 49 years. ”That’ll be .49 pound, at $6.99 a pound,” he continued, reaching for a calculator and punching in the numbers. ”Call it $3.43. ”I’m telling you, you go to buy that in New York or Boston, that’s going to cost you $60.”
As he spoke, customers browsed through the three levels of the store, which is adorned with photographs of Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra, Katharine Hepburn and nearly all the American Presidents, as well as huge Spanish lettering offering items like camisas (shirts), pantalones (pants) and chaquetas (jackets).
However they got here, the clothes wind up in stores and warehouses in border cities from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean, and they are often bought by Mexican customers like Mrs. Hernandez, who said she planned to cross back over the Rio Grande, wash and iron the clothes she bought, and sell them in the open markets of Juarez. She hoped to make a profit of as much as 50 cents on each sale; with the proceeds, she would be back at Ropa por Libra in a few days.
Newsletter Sign Up
The trade, in many ways, illustrates the economic disparities in the two nations. The clothes may be considered rejects in the United States, but not at all in Mexico.
”There are some beautiful clothes here that the Americans don’t seem to want,” said another customer from Juarez, Alicia Medina, 68, who was browsing in Ropa por Libra’s ”Bargain Basement,” in which all items cost $1 or less. The customers pay American sales taxes but bring the goods into Mexico and re sell them in open markets. Under that system, Mexico rarely collects any customs duties or taxes on the goods, and officials have vowed to crack down on those engaged in high volume sales of used clothing. The head of the customs office in Matamoros, across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Tex., said that bringing used clothing bought outside the country into Mexico is ”completely forbidden,” while a spokeswoman at the customs office of the Mexican Embassy in Washington, said that ”a reasonable amount according with the duration of your trip” was acceptable for import.
In any event, Mexican officials admitted that it would be extremely difficult to sort a person’s own clothing from recent purchases outside the country. Their real target is the large importers. The trade continues unabated for those involved in selling used clothes on a small scale, such as some customers of Ropa por Libra.
If the store was busy here recently, a few blocks away the atmosphere was frenetic at its warehouse store on Paisano Drive, ”La Bola de Oro,” which means the ball of gold, a few hundred feet from the border. There the customers, almost all of them Mexican citizens, typically pool their resources to buy 35 pound bundles at $1.50 to $1.79 per pound.
But unlike Ropa por Libra, where customers select the clothing, those who come to La Bola de Oro buy the bundles, many of which are trucked directly from New York and Los Angeles, without knowing exactly what’s rolled up inside.
”You never know what you’ll get when you buy a bundle,” Mr. Garcia said. ”But there are always things in there that really are gold they can wind up being big sellers in Mexico and others that won’t be. So the idea is, it all comes out in the wash.”