If you’ve ever wondered where all your clothes donations you chuck away go to, two words: bale shops.
Before all of your donations get shipped to the Solomon Islands, these clothing items are gathered up and graded into ‘bales’. Most of these clothes will be second-hand donations from Australia, but can also include new items such as end of the line stock. In the Solomon Islands, once these bales are received by bale shops, they’re separated (kinda) into women’s and men’s clothing and then types.
Prices are standard: cheap.
I came to the Solomon Islands with a wardrobe of clothes I could afford, and I’ll probably leave with a completely new not-new wardrobe of clothes I can’t afford. I’m spending $2-5 NZD on Lulu Lemon gear, Country Road, Skins, Nike, Cue, and it’s only a matter of time before I get my hands on last season’s Kate Sylvester.
Bale shops are basically responsible for clothing the nation of Solomon Islands and for this reason, bale shopping can be a very serious affair. It’s sweaty work but rewarding for those that persevere.
Not every day is the same at bale shops. 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” day 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”.
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 have a whole wantok to clothe
- They’re looking for clothes they can resell at the market
- They really like bargains
Personally, I just go for the brands I know and material that won’t stick to me in the heat. If I know I’m about to do a long bale shopping stint, I wear dri-fit and arm myself with a drink bottle and a fan. The line differentiating working out and going bale shopping is tenuous.
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 finally 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.
Having grown familiar with the kind of stock at a Bale Shop, I have come to two conclusions. If you are a person that buys new clothes, before you buy, consider this:
Stop buying all that fast fashion shit
The racks here are inundated with low-quality crap from K-Mart and the Warehouse. I have concerns for the Earth. If you’re going to wear it once, don’t buy it.
Stop buying event clothes.
Honestly, the number of Solomon Islanders here who have “done” the Brisbane Marathon is quite frankly, unbelievable. If you’re going to wear it once, don’t buy it.
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 at 6:20 pm on a Thursday.
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. Monday is half-price, and stock continues to get cheaper throughout the week. Lels also sells books, shoes, kitchenware and other miscellaneous items.
The No Name place with Air Con
Mendana Avenue, Opposite the City Centre Building down some stairs.
It has air conditioning! 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 franchises. It has the fanciest sign.