A Single Mom’s Career Selling Used Clothing in Guatemala
Mirian is a retail used clothing vendor in a market in Guatemala City. She has been selling used clothing and shoes for more than 20 years. She recently spoke about her experience in the secondhand textile trade.
I started selling used clothes with my sister in 1988. We were out of work and needed to earn money. I had two young children that I needed to feed. I had saved a little money from a previous job and with that we bought our first bale of used clothing from a supplier that I had heard about. The clothing at that time was coming from New York City.
I had just enough money to buy a bale but not enough to rent a space in the market. So, we just opened up the bale when we got it and started selling from the street. Because people needed clothing, it was very easy to sell. We bought our second bale and just continued selling, eventually making enough money to rent an indoor space in the market.
Today, I sell all types of clothing. Ladies’ and children’s clothing and shoes are the most popular. I still buy clothing in the big bales from importers. I buy what is called “credentialed” used clothing, which means that it is not sorted. I get it straight from the good people who donate it. It is even in the same bags that they put it in when they drop it off.
I find a mix of clothing and shoes inside each bale. Generally, the quality is all very good. The best items, particularly those with recognized name brands, I can sell for a higher price. But there are customers for just about every item found in a bale, except the very heavy winter clothing and extra big sizes. The lesser quality items we sell for a smaller price. What we cannot sell, which is very little, we give away.
Used clothing is a big help for parents here, who cannot afford to buy new clothes for their children or themselves. The families are of all different types, with some being very poor and others in the middle classes. They are very happy with the quality and fashions that come in the bales.
For me the used clothing business has been a blessing. I have supported my two children, who are both going to the university. I am very proud of them. I also have three employees now who help me in my business. I hope we continue to do well and grow. It is a good life.