Escaping Inflation

Wekalet El-Balah: A Clothes Haven for All Egyptians
Shoppers wearing protective face masks walk near a sale sign in a shop window inside a Carrefour hypermarket, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in the Cairo suburb of Maadi, Egypt September 25, 2020. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
Customers shop amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in front of Mothercare Store inside Maadi City Center, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in the Cairo suburb of Maadi, Egypt October 5, 2020. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
People shop at Al Ataba, a popular market in downtown Cairo, Egypt. (Reuters)

Through narrow corridors under the 15th of May Bridge in Cairo, stands are stacked with clothes that suit different age groups. Shop owners are scrambling to attract passersby to look at their “brand” merchandise and buy the clothes they need.

Wekalet El-Balah is a very old district that used to be a market for old spare parts of cars and used clothes as well.

It was previously the place where poor people shopped.

But as time went by, and with the continuous increase of lifestyle commodities, this market started to attract more segments of Egyptians.

The rise in the price of clothing in recent years has prompted a large segment of citizens to resort to searching for an alternative that guarantees them the wearing of branded clothes, even if they are used.

Wekalet El-Balah has become a destination for a wide range of middle-class people to buy imported and used clothes at a value that is not comparable to their regular retail price.

"We no longer receive only middle class people, but we start to meet different classes of customers after the increase in price of clothes," Ahmed Abdel Aal, one of the sellers in Wekalet El Balah, told Majalla.

CHANGING HABITS

Faten Othman, a housewife in her mid-thirties, used to buy Eid clothes for her children from downtown stores, but the high prices pushed Othman to buy second-hand clothes, as she believes that buying a used blouse is better than nothing.

"I used to go to the 26th of July Street to buy Eid clothes for my children, but I was surprised by the great increase in their prices, which are not much different from the stores," Othman said.

"I can't afford the cost of the new clothes while my salary doesn't exceed LE2000 (US$106)," Othman added to Majalla.

Although some of them had gotten university degrees, sellers in Wekalet El-Balah are happy to stand on the sidewalks and in the street for long hours to sell their meager goods after all the doors were closed in their faces for jobs that would save them from the intense heat in the summer and the harsh cold of winter.

"I hold a bachelor’s degree in Sharia law at Al-Azhar University, and I haven't found any job that matches my university qualifications with a proper salary, so I sell used clothes in Wekalet El-Balah to be able to put food on the table for my children," said Mohamed Mohsen, a 40-year-old used clothes seller.

"Not all the clothes are used, there are stocks left over from export, which are of higher quality than used ones, and their prices start from 75 pounds per piece," Mohsen added to Majalla. 

The prices hiked because the import is currently stopped, but there is no comparison with the prices of new clothes in stores, which are multiplied 4 times compared to the prices of the Wekalet El-Balah, according to Mohsen.

CRISIS TIME

Since last February Egyptians have been hit by a hike in prices as a result of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. The prices of clothing and shoes have risen by around 30 per cent, while prices in Wekalet El Balah range from LE25 to LE250.

Lucky shoppers found their proper sizes as they searched through piles of clothes.

For Rehab Gad, a 35-years-old housewife, the prices of used clothes are not so far from those in the stores. "The greediness of the sellers makes things harder, they exploit any season such as feasts to increase the prices, as they also exploit the increasing number of people who shifted to the used clothes market by raising prices."

A few years ago, people were not encouraged to announce that they visit such kinds of markets, and many were afraid to be spotted by their acquaintances because their reputation would be ruined.

But now things have changed a lot.

The segments of people who visit these markets have become wider, and some YouTube influencers have started to promote the idea of purchasing used clothes in order to rationalize the culture of consumerism.

The flourishing of the used clothes market has pushed many to start this business whether online through the different social media platforms or through offline stores.


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