Ever wondered where all your clothes donations you chuck away go to? Two words: bale shops.
Bale shops in the Solomon Islands are second-hand clothing shops responsible for clothing the nation of Solomon Islands.
Before all of your donations get shipped to the Solomon Islands, these clothing items are gathered up and graded into ‘bales’. Most of the bales that end up in
In the Solomon Islands, once these bales are received by bale shops, they’re separated into women’s and men’s clothing. Ish. Sometimes you find pink shorts in the men’s shorts and men’s shirts in the dress section but that’s part of the bale shopping charm.
Prices are standard: cheap. Dirt cheap is SBD 5, most items lie around the SBD 25-40 mark, and I’ll personally buy nothing over SBD 60.
Not every day is the same. There is ‘New Bale’ day, which is the most expensive day but indicates that the shop has just put out their new stock. For women, New Bale is the best time to get the best skirts, the most coveted item of clothing for Solomon Island women and therefore, always the most congested corner of a bale shop. There are also half-price days and particular price days, like ‘Everything $15’.
To fully appreciate the experience of bale shopping, you need to head to Lel’s on New Bale night at 6:30 pm on Thursdays. This is Honiara’s only late night shopping event. Punters line up from 6 pm and wait for the doors to open. Once in, it’s hot and sweaty chaos but this is when you get the best finds.
I came to the Solomon Islands with a wardrobe of clothes I could afford, and I’ll leave Solomon Islands with a completely new not-new wardrobe of clothes I can’t afford. I’m spending the same as what I pay for a coffee on Lulu Lemon, Country Road, Skins, Nike, Cue, and it’s only a matter of time before I get my hands on last season’s Kate Sylvester.
A good technique for the most dedicated of bargain hunters is building a waist-high pile of clothes on a clear space of floor, then hunkering down to sort, usually in the middle of the aisle. These professional bale shoppers do this for three reasons:
- They are shopping for a whole wantok
- They’re looking for clothes they can resell at the market
- They really like bargains
Expats are at an advantage because we know which brands mean a damn. Personally, I sift through tags until I see a brand worthy of my attention or a material that won’t stick in the heat. I also wear
Bale shopping is also not so serious. You can find all manner of clothing from the past five decades and Honiara is a safe space for experimenting with clothes you wouldn’t ordinarily dream of wearing outside Honiara. Missed that phase in fashion when shoulder pads were cool? No wari, as long as you’re not showing too much thigh, you can rock those shoulder pads and the bell bottoms and jandals and call it an outfit.
And because everything is so cheap, committing to items of clothing need not weigh heavy on your heart. It’s easy to let go. When you realise there is a reason why shoulder pads went out of fashion, you can simply pass it on or save it for the next costume party – Honiara loves a good costume party.
Bale shopping isn’t for everyone, but I would argue in saying that bale shopping is an authentic Solomon Islands cultural experience, especially if you’re lining up at Lel’s on Thursday night. You might only do it once, but it’s a sticky experience that you can write home about… or write a blog post about at least.
For the Best Bale Experiences
The road behind City Centre Building close to Wings
New Bale is on Thursday nights. The line starts at 6:20 pm and the doors open at 6:30 pm. This is Honiara’s only late night shopping. Monday is half-price, and stock continues to get cheaper throughout the week.
The No Name place with Air Con
Mendana Avenue, Opposite the City Centre Building down some stairs.
It has air conditioning! Notable because nowhere else does. Plus, the staff here are just the best at putting clothes on hangers.
Everywhere on the main road
The most prolific bale shop around with multiple franchise stores on the main road. It also boasts the fanciest signs.