Growing up, going to the open-air flea market was a weekly activity for my mother and I, as was the case for many Tunisians. But it wasn’t until recently that I’d realized their true value, particularly as someone who grew up fawning over designer pieces that I couldn’t afford.
The markets (or frippes as we call them) are full of hidden gems. A friend of mine recently gifted me a pair of Prada shoes that she’d paid the equivalent of $1 for whilst on a trip to Sfax. My mother bought two Versace scarves on whim last month. The frippes are full of surprises, and it was only a matter of time until someone turned it into a full-fledged business.
Cue: Chanh Vo. The creative director and stylist, who counts Rick Owens, Boris Bidjan Saberi, and Ziggy Chen as former clients, just moved to Tunisia to launch his online shop, reselling his frippe finds.
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Having spent the last few years in Lyon as the art director and buyer for Essampi, the city’s premier concept store, he now lives in La Marsa, and his days usually consist of endlessly sifting through piles of clothes.
Vo named his shop Excreament (Yes, it means what you think). But the name actually has a deeper meaning than you think. Through a combination of Latin and French, it basically means “action is what brings you out of shit” according to Vo.
The shop currently boasts pieces that vary from vintage Helmut Lang and Kenzo to Nike and Adidas, all sourced in Tunisian flea markets.
“I saw a lot of potential here and decided to start an online shop selling second-hand and vintage,” he says, explaining why he moved to Tunis.
The markets themselves are anything but calm, but that’s what Vo seems to enjoy “I love going, because it’s chaos. Like at fairs, there are traders who chant like rappers, with words that I can barely understand,” he says. “It’s animated from dawn.”
Sourcing the pieces for his shop is no easy feat, Vo has to prepare a day in advance. “I look at my stock and what I’m missing beforehand. I always wear a tracksuit and a cap (for comfort), I take my 40L backpack and two big grocery bags. I do this around two to three times a week,” he explains.
Not only are they hectic, they’re also huge, with some the size of two football fields. It’s not uncommon to spend hours sifting through hundreds of piles only to realise there are still thousands more stretched through Tunis’s narrow streets. But when you find a gem, it reminds you why it’s worth it.
“I think I like the hunt, the search, and finding little gems. I like discovering things that have something special about them, like a funny pattern, a rich material. I love the surprise. That’s what the markets are all about. It’s a small pleasure that we can afford ourselves,” Vo adds. “Recently I found pants by Helmut Lang from 1999. It was like digging in a river and finding gold. I’m hoping to find some old Raf soon, or Gaultier.”