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Second-hand shoe circulations in Tunis

Processes of valuation and the production of urban space
Katharina Grüneisl


Research on the second-hand clothes trade has focused on global value chains and transnational circulations from the Global North to the Global South. This article instead investigates the circulation of a ubiquitous and highly popular second-hand commodity, namely shoes, in the Tunisian capital city Tunis. The second-hand materials – referred to as “fripe” in Tunisia – that arrive in the Tunis cargo port have been donated or discarded in their countries of origin and their commodity value is thus uncertain. In addition, second-hand shoes are officially banned from sale on the Tunisian market. In order to explain how fripe shoes are nevertheless transferred into new commodity situations in Tunis, this article hones in on processes of valuation at the urban scale. Three locations that feature prominently in the urban trajectory of second-hand shoes – a sorting factory, the wholesale quarter, and a specialised market street – are examined as distinct sites for valuation that enable the renewed circulation of fripe shoes in the city. Investigating valuation and circulation with an explicit focus on urban space demonstrates how such processes not only transform fripe objects in circulation, but are also constitutive of socio-spatial relations: At times, valuation becomes manifest in urban form, or situated urban change; At other times, fripe shoe circulations generate linkages and interdependencies that tie seemingly bounded sites of valuation to diverse actors and spaces across the city. As inherently contested commodity form, second-hand shoes thus provide insight into the complex social and political negotiations that define commodity circulation as both contingent and productive urban process.

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This research was supported by an ESRC doctoral studentship. I would like to thank the factory workers, wholesalers, transporters and traders in Tunis who patiently taught me about the intricacies of valuation. My thanks also go to Anke Hagemann and Elke Beyer at TU Berlin for organising the AAG 2018 conference session where a draft of this paper was first presented, and for their work in putting together this special issue. Finally, I am grateful to the three anonymous reviewers who generously engaged with an earlier draft of this article.

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1On Saturday mornings, the entrance to the Bab El-Falla market, located in the Southern quarter of Tunis’s historic old city, is permanently congested as grocery shoppers and those coming to buy second-hand clothes and shoes compete for space in the narrow market street. Ahmed and a group of university friends have come to Bab El-Falla specifically to look for second-hand sneakers and thus enter the market through its ‘new entrance’, directly opening up to what they refer to as “nahaj al-sbadriyat” (sneaker street). A dense row of sturdy metal shop spaces forms a specialised market street, connecting the interior of the Bab El-Falla market to the large thoroughfare that dissects its dense urban fabric. Colourful sneaker displays dominate the view, with polished shoes suspended from shop ceilings and marquees. The vendors’ calls, “kima jdid” (like new) echo through the market street, competing with Tunisian rap music that blasts from rattling speakers.

2While the Bab El-Falla market is one of the most popular destinations for buying second-hand sneakers in Tunis today, it is just one of innumerable locations across the city where second-hand shoes are on sale. Among a wide array of different used garments on offer in Tunis marketplaces, second-hand shoes are particularly sought-after and expensive commodities and have become a popular consumer choice across diverse social classes. This popularity and ubiquity of second-hand shoes belies that, first, they are officially banned from sale on the Tunisian market (Journal Officiel 1995) and, second, their commodity status is inherently uncertain when they arrive on board of container ships in the Tunis cargo port Rades. Like other “fripe” merchandise – the umbrella term used to designate imported second-hand materials in Tunisia – second-hand shoes are exported to Tunisia from Europe and North America and so have been “cast out in a particular space-time as excess matter” (Gidwani et al. 2011: 1636pp). The shoes therefore have left the “commodity situation” (Appadurai 1986: 13) in their countries of origin, meaning their capacity for circulation in Tunis should be compromised.

3To comprehend how fripe shoes nevertheless acquire the status of desirable and ubiquitous commodities in Tunis boutiques and marketplaces, the following inquiry hones in on processes of valuation that restore the circulatory capacity of shoes at the urban scale. Most research on the second-hand clothes trade has focused on global value chains and thus transnational circulations, from the Global North to the Global South (Abimbola 2012; Brooks 2015; Hansen 2000; Norris 2010) or across borders (Hernandez and Loureiro 2017; Milgram 2008). This article instead examines inner-urban circulations as contingent outcomes of situated processes of valuation in Tunis. Three locations that feature prominently in the urban trajectory of second-hand shoes – a sorting factory, the wholesale quarter, and a specialised market street – are examined as distinct sites for valuation. Tying valuation to particular socio-spatial configurations in the city demonstrates how such processes not only transform fripe objects in circulation, but are also constitutive to urban space. At times, valuation processes become manifest in urban form, or situated urban change; At other times, fripe circulations generate linkages and interdependencies that tie ostensibly bounded sites of valuation to diverse actors and spaces across the city. As inherently contested commodity form, second-hand shoes thus provide insight into the complex social and political negotiations that define commodity circulation as both contingent and productive urban process.

4This account draws upon 18 months of ethnographic research conducted in two phases, between July and December 2017, and April 2018 and March 2019, as part of a doctoral thesis. The three sites of valuation analysed in the following were not approached as bounded ‘field sites’, but rather as part of the wider socio-spatial relations that constitute the fripe as urban economy in contemporary Tunis. A combination of repeated observations, interviews and informal conversations in the three selected locations were thus combined with “go-alongs” (Kusenbach 2003) with sorting workers, transporters and traders. Underlying these methodological choices is a processual understanding of the economy (Callon 1998) that foregrounds the heterogeneous practices through which it is enacted (Gibson-Graham 1996). Fripe shoe circulation is thus approached as socio-material process that sets into relation objects, people and places and requires careful observations of what people actually do with things” (Miller 1998: 12). The first section of this article sets out how distinct mechanisms of valuation for fripe objects developed in Tunis over time and how fripe shoes turned into a particularly contested commodity. Subsequently, the article investigates three sites that are illustrative of the complex valuation processes fripe shoes undergo in present-day Tunis: First, the fripe ‘sorting factory’ SITEX, where imported materials are graded and packaged and are thus transformed from a heterogeneous pile of discard into commodity units of comparable value that can circulate on the market; Second, the fripe wholesale quarter Zahrouni where strategic mechanisms of stoppage and movement become the basis for transforming illicit fripe circulations into risky, yet also particularly valuable merchandise; And third, the specialised ‘sneaker street’ in Bab El-Falla, where synchronised rhythms of ‘bale opening’ enable collective valuation and continue the circulation of fripe shoes beyond the final point of sale.

Fig.1. Locating second-hand shoe circulations in Tunis

Fig.1. Locating second-hand shoe circulations in Tunis

Source: author, in collaboration with Cartographie Citoyenne, Tunis, Tunisia, 2019.

Fripe shoes and the changing valuation of a contested commodity

5In the Bab El-Falla fripe market, original brand sneakers are the single most expensive commodity on sale, and a pair of second-hand Nike or Adidas shoes can sell for as much as 140 Dinar (appr. 45 €), at least three times the price of a new pair of counterfeit sneakers. The final market price of second-hand sneakers cannot simply be traced back to a bounded locus of production” but emanates “from a dispersed intersubjective realm of circulation and exchange” (Jain 2002: 42). Imported fripe materials lack the stable properties or descriptors of value that usually fix a “commodity price” and thus guarantee the exchangeability of an object as standard unit of any given commodity (Caliskan and Callon 2010: 6). Therefore, this inquiry approaches ‘value’ not as a stable and intrinsic quality of any particular object but focuses on “valuation”, which implies an understanding of value as malleable category that is constituted in process (Hutter and Stark 2015). Placing analytical emphasis on the “ways in which things are valued and ordered” (Thompson 1979: 88) underlines how valuation varies over both time and space, and is always situated in specific cultural and social contexts (Appadurai 1986). This section outlines how imported and banned second-hand shoes came to circulate as commodities in Tunis over time, and how this was entangled with the emergence of distinct mechanisms of valuation.

6The export of second-hand garments from the Global North to the Global South has always been related to surplus production, and thus began with the industrialisation of clothing production and the rise of “the European commodified fashion system” during the 19th century (Comaroff and Comaroff 1991: 228). An unprecedented surge in second-hand clothes exports then occurred after the Second World War, when military surplus materials were exported to countries in colonial dependency, particularly on the African continent (Hansen 2000: 63). Accordingly, in Tunisia, “fripe militaire” by the Allied forces constituted the first large contingents of imported second-hand clothes: From 1943 onwards, used garments, but also other war-time equipment like camp beds, aprons and military boots were shipped to the then-French protectorate (Tunisian National Archives SG2, SG3, SG4: 1943-47). While fripe deliveries were officially destined for distribution to the needy, parallel processes of commercial sale emerged as early as 1944 (ibid SG2: 1944). After Tunisian independence, imports of civilian used clothing from the United States were centrally administered by the Tunisian state, and the first permanent fripe markets, denominated “Souk Kennedy” for their specialisation in American clothing, emerged in the capital city during the 1960s (Van Groen and Lozer 1976: 3).

7During the 1980s and 1990s, the global second-hand clothes trade grew exponentially, due to rapidly increasing textile production and indirect subsidies for clothing charity collection through tax deductions by Western governments (Bigsten and Wicks 1996: 379). The professionalization of collection and export, closely entangled with the development of the international aid industry (Brooks 2015: 92), provided an opportunity for Tunisia to establish itself as a sorting and re-export hub for second-hand clothes between Europe and Africa: Recognising the commercial potential of the fripe sector, then-president of Tunisia Zine Ben Abidine Ben Ali passed a law in 1995 that turned the import, transformation and re-export of second-hand materials into an offshore activity. Import licenses were now tied to the possession of a “ma’mal al-farz” (sorting factory), where all sorting processes had to be centralised to guarantee the recycling of at least 20% of imports and the reexport of another 30%. While these regulations were never enforced, the status of the sorting factories as “partially export-oriented industrial enterprises” guaranteed tax exemptions to 50 powerfully positioned importers. The 1995 offshore law thus served to position members of the extended presidential family and regime cronies in the sector, resembling other allegedly ‘liberal economic reform policies’ that in fact consolidated monopoly positions (Freund et al. 2014; Hibou 2006).

8The centralisation of sorting in factories not only translated into a feminisation of sorting work as “industrial textile labour” (Ruiz 1993: 125), it also transformed the urban geographies of fripe circulation in Tunis: First, unprecedented amounts of fripe merchandise on the domestic market required new systems of storage and distribution and thus resulted in the emergence of a new, specialised wholesale quarter in Zahrouni. Second, the availability of neatly graded and packaged product types and value categories led to a gradual differentiation of fripe retail landscapes. Specialised marketplaces and boutiques, like the Bab El-Falla shoe market, emerged all over Tunis during the 2000s, and high-end consumption spaces brought an entirely new upper-middle-class clientele to the fripe. While the 2011 Tunisian revolution and toppling of the Ben Ali regime did not translate into a change of the 1995 legal framework that continues to regulate the fripe sector, a temporary weakening of oversight over imports in Tunisia post-2011 (Doron 2015(b)) allowed for another unprecedented surge in fripe imports. Between 2015 and 2017, Tunisia thus variably represented the third or fourth largest importer of used clothes in Africa (OEC 2017).

9Unprecedented quantities of fripe merchandise in Tunis marketplaces also included products that have been banned from circulation on the domestic market, like leather wares, toys or shoes. Since 1995, all shoes imported as ‘fripe’ have to be re-exported directly from the sorting factories (Journal Officiel 1995), allegedly to protect public health but more plausibly to shield Tunisian shoe manufacturers from unfair competition. In reality, this ban never prevented the sale of fripe shoes on the domestic market. Instead, it turned “illicitness” into a “quality of circulation” (Gregson and Crang 2017: 207) of fripe shoes and thereby opened up new avenues for the participation of state actors in value extraction. Ever since, the “coproduction of norms pertaining to the illicit” between various state and non-state actors has thus resulted in an “institutionalisation of transgressive practices” (Bennafla 2014: 1340) and the emergence of a distinct politics of valuation with fripe shoes. Power reconfigurations at the micro-scale – often directly related to the post-2011 breakdown of clientelist party politics which had functioned as “one-stop shop” (Allal 2016: 26) before – have triggered a destabilisation of the accords governing shared value extraction in recent years. As importers, wholesalers and traders lament, a decentralisation of corruption has produced new contingencies, rendering shoe circulations more risky and costly than ever before.

Fig.2. Second-hand sneakers on display in a Tunis fripe boutique

Fig.2. Second-hand sneakers on display in a Tunis fripe boutique

Source: author.

The sorting factory: transforming discard into categories of comparable value

10The fripe containers that are transported from Rades port to sorting factories all across Tunisia contain a dazzling variety of garments, shoes and objects, mostly second-hand charity donations but also undeclared surplus stocks and textile waste. Second-hand shoes of all shapes and sizes, spanning worn-out hotel slippers to broken high heels and basketball shoes, are among the wares unloaded in the factories. This section provides an analysis of the particular processes of valuation that take place within the SITEX sorting factory, located on the North-Western outskirts of Tunis. A first part examines how labour-intensive sorting processes are organised on the SITEX factory floor to transform heterogeneous piles of fripe shoes into neatly graded and separately packaged categories of comparable quality and value that can circulate on the domestic market. A second part then explores how such mechanisms of value production are constitutive to SITEX as productive entity or ‘factory’, and generate distinct socio-spatial relations within and beyond the factory that structure differentiated opportunities for valuation.

Sorting as complex valuation work

11Heterogeneous fripe merchandise, often mixed with trash and the plastic bags in which charity donations were originally given away, are piled up at the SITEX factory entrance. Inside the factory, over 100 predominantly female workers engage in tedious practices of segregation, grading and packaging – often subsumed under the term “farz” (sorting) in Tunisian Arabic – that gradually transform the amorphous heaps of materials unloaded at the factory entrance. The subtle processes of valuation the women perform involve neither major physical alterations of the fripe materials nor their processing into new commodities. Instead, careful manual assessments of similarity and difference insert the fripe objects into new structures of value and meaning. While the individual objects often remain largely unchanged as they enter and exit the factory, subtle processes of translation move them into new “commodity situations” (Appadurai 1986: 13), allowing them to circulate as merchandise on domestic and re-export markets.

12Most of the sorting, grading and packaging is organised in the large main factory hall. A strict division of tasks thereby structures the SITEX factory floor and translates into a hierarchy of sorting work: In the ‘front row’, women separate trash and plastic bags from wearable garments with their bare hands and then dispatch different garment and product types to specialised sorting tables in metal containers on wheels. The handling of discard and the risk of injuries through sharp objects found in the piles of fripe materials render this work particularly unpopular and most women who are new to the factory thus start working in the front rows. Gradual, on-the-job training and experience then allows the “faraza” (sorters) to move on to specialised sorting tables, where they engage in more subtle grading decisions. Sorting workers with rapid hand movements and a capacity to concentrate for long hours, but also “with an eye for garments”, as a senior sorting worker says, ascend to supervisors who perform final quality checks on the product and value categories assembled by their colleagues.

13All items that are formally banned from sale on the domestic market are sorted and packaged separately in a concrete barrack behind the main factory hall. Like ‘front row’ sorting tasks, work in the separate shoe section is unpopular because the faraza have to work in a bent-down position to assemble matching pairs of shoes amongst the footwear scattered on the concrete floor. Once matching pairs have been tied together, the faraza sort them into different product groups – such as women’s sandals, slippers or sports shoes – and package them into large, non-transparent tarpaulin bags, habitually referred to as “shkair” in Tunisian Arabic. In differentiation from the bales that are wrapped around second-hand garments and closed under a bale press in the main factory hall, the shkair receive neither bar codes nor factory labels and can thus not be traced back easily to the SITEX factory once they circulate on the local market.

14The best quality shoes are set aside on a large metal table. Mariam, who has worked in the SITEX factory for more than a decade, oversees the work of those who grade the luxury category of shoes, referred to as “crème” in the jargon of the fripe. Unlike the other fripe shoes, crème shoes are scrubbed and dried against the back wall of the factory and are then packaged separately into see-through zipper bags, so-called “sachets”. When Mariam enters a pair of shoes into the crème category, she engages in a “performative process of translation” (Tsing 2013: 26) that dissociates the shoes from their past “economic and social biographies” (Kopytoff 1986: 67) and re-associates them with a new product group and value category. Once the zipper bag containing crème shoes has been closed, the product description overwrites the individual shoe brands contained within the bag, thus creating a new commodity type by “stripping away one category of value and replacing it with another” (Botticello 2013: 41). This process is crucial to restoring the circulatory capacity of second-hand shoes: first, it constitutes a prerequisite to bringing the shoe merchandise into circulation as packaged and thus easily movable commodities for which a fixed price per unit can be negotiated; and second, it confers specific meaning and value to different fripe shoes and thus becomes the basis for new commodity situations on the domestic market or various re-export markets to which the shoes are sent from Tunis.

Fig.3. Women workers in a Tunis fripe sorting factory

Fig.3. Women workers in a Tunis fripe sorting factory

Source: author.

Remaking socio-spatial relations through sorting

15The sorting processes that take place in SITEX not only transform fripe merchandise through segregation, grading and re-packaging, they also generate distinct socio-spatial relations in and beyond the factory. First, the sorting processes constitute SITEX as productive entity, conferring considerable power to experienced faraza whose knowledge underpins the subtle process of value production. And second, the sorting decisions taken in SITEX form the basis for differentiated trajectories of circulation from the factory gates onwards, with diverse agreements enabling ‘leakages’ of fripe shoes beyond the offshore space of the factory.

16Unlike typical Fordist factory work, most of the processes of sorting accomplished in SITEX cannot be easily mechanised or standardised. While some of the ‘front row’ work in the factory can be delegated to unskilled workers who are often paid at or below the minimum wage and can be easily replaced, like elsewhere in the Tunisian textile sector (Aliriza 2020; Hassine 2014; Ruiz 1993), this is not the case for all sorting tasks. Subtle grading decisions at the specialised sorting tables depend on situated assessments of similarity and difference that require knowledge of textile materials and evolving fashion trends. In the absence of formal product standards or fixed selection criteria, long years of on-the-job-training, usually accomplished by more experienced faraza, and continuous investment in the training of senior sorters like Mariam is key to ensuring the quality of sorting, and thus the productive capacity of the factory. Particularly the sorting of high-end crème products requires familiarity with fashion brands and Mariam regularly receives “catalogues de tendance”, announcing the latest trends, or photos sent directly by clients to guide her sorting decisions. The acceleration of fashion trends on the global market has led to an ever-more rapid evolution of offer and demand, rendering sorting work increasingly challenging.

17The informed sorting decisions of Mariam and her senior colleagues thus constitute SITEX as productive entity, or indeed, as “ma’mal” (factory). “What is this factory without us”, Mariam asks rhetorically, gesturing towards the workers in the factory hall. “If you imagine this without the faraza, you see just an empty hall and some tables.” Retaining experienced faraza who can assume roles as supervisors and trainers in the factory is thus indeed indispensable to ensuring the production of value. As the sorting process fully relies on the tacit and embodied knowledge of senior faraza, replacing them is both difficult and costly. Fully aware of the relative position of power this confers to Mariam and her colleagues vis-à-vis the factory management, the women engage in collective negotiations to improve working conditions and remuneration: As monthly wages are fixed in line with the rest of the textile sector and remain low despite a gradual progression over time, sorting workers in SITEX have brokered flexible leave, for instance for family obligations or seasonal work in agriculture, or have received informal primes that complement their wages. In addition, Mariam has secured the right to set aside garments and shoes of her choice once a week, officially to provide for her family but in fact often for resale in her neighbourhood.

18The weekly fripe circulations between SITEX and Mariam’s private home violate the legal status of the factory as “area under customs control”, as is inscribed on the factory gate. Located “offshore”, the SITEX factory represents a “legal space of sovereignty” that is supposedly sealed from the domestic “onshore” (Appel 2019: 39). Accordingly, a customs agent who remains permanently stationed in SITEX is responsible for monitoring all movements into and out of the factory. While the factory thus in theory represents a contained site for valuation, its day-to-day functioning is in fact premised on continuous leakages. The sorting accomplished within it produces webs of relations that expand beyond its confines. First, the sorting decisions in SITEX determine the trajectories of circulation of different product and value categories from the sorting factory onwards. For instance, the separately packaged, high-end category of crème shoes only circulates to select marketplaces and boutiques that are either located in upper-middle-class areas or have developed a special reputation for original brand shoes, as is the case with the Bab El-Falla ‘sneaker street’.

19Second, many fripe products actually leave SITEX through “bawab al-tilania” (the back doors), as one of the factory supervisors puts it. These leakages or unofficial circulations rely on a complex politics of valuation that links the factory to diverse state- and non-state actors across the city. As the law stipulates that all fripe shoes need to be re-exported from SITEX, their circulation from the factory gates into ‘onshore’ territory renders them illicit. Consequently, all fripe shoe sales to Tunisian wholesale traders hinge on agreements with rotating customs agents in the factory, as well as the police, which are often intentionally positioned in proximity to sorting factories to seize ‘illicit merchandise’ on the road to wholesale warehouses. While most of the shoes graded in the shoe section of SITEX thus never enter the factory’s inventory and the revenues from their sale do not surface in official accounts, a complex array of ‘exit fees’ or informal taxes are routinely deducted to enable their circulation on the domestic market. A form of “customary illegality” (Gregson and Crang 2017: 209) that requires broad coordination between the factory, wholesalers and diverse state actors thus underpins the circulation of shoes from SITEX to the wholesale warehouses.

Fig.4. Sorting work in the ‘shoe section’ of the factory

Fig.4. Sorting work in the ‘shoe section’ of the factory

Source: author.

The wholesale quarter: valuation through strategic stoppage and movement

20Many of the shkair leaving the SITEX factory are transported to Zahrouni, an urban area to the West of central Tunis, on the shores of the “sabkha” (salt like) of Sijoumi. A dense cluster of fripe wholesale warehouses lines Zahrouni’s main street, a busy and often-congested connecting road to the Western peripheries. Since the late 1990s, Zahrouni has developed into the capital city’s main storage and distribution hub for fripe merchandise, with expansive wholesale warehouses and innumerable transport businesses. Zahrouni functions as what Rosenfeld describes as “marché-lieu” (market – place), a physical space where disparate flows of merchandise are centralised, reordered and displayed to allow for the encounter of offer and demand (Rosenfeld 2018: 65). Wholesalers, intermediary traders and transporters thereby extract value from fripe shoe circulations through a complex combination of both intermittent stoppage and coordinated movement. Handling illicit circulations like shoes thereby requires both distinct warehouse infrastructures and complex profit- and risk-sharing agreements that extend beyond the confines of the wholesale quarter.

Producing value through storage and strategic stoppage

21The diverse warehouse infrastructures of present-day Zahrouni provide differentiated capacities for both strategic stoppage and movement of fripe merchandise, both of which is vital to valuation in the wholesale quarter. While the goal of wholesalers is often the rapid circulation of merchandise through their warehouses to expediate sales and maximise profit margins, the “planned, intentional pausing” (Gregson et al 2017: 384) of circulations equally figures prominently in strategies of value capture. This is particularly true for the storage of illicit fripe circulations, like second-hand shoes: As their storage is risky, fripe shoes need to be hidden away in specific backstreet warehouses, which not only incurs extra costs but also turns the storage of fripe shoes into a particularly profitable niche.

22The glistening tarpaulin covers of the fripe bales – packaged in green, blue and white – which are piled up in front of the warehouses, dominate Zahrouni’s main street. White pick-ups and smaller three-wheeled vehicles are parked in front of the warehouses and groups of men sit on piles of bales or on plastic chairs between them. Zahrouni developed into the central fripe wholesale quarter of Tunis during the late 1990s, when a surge in fripe imports following the 1995 offshore legislation rendered the traditional, inner-city wholesale quarter of the Hafsia impractical due to its narrow, congested roads. Wholesalers in Zahrouni recount that a powerfully positioned fripe importer with a sorting factory in Jendouba, a city in Tunisia’s North-West, promoted the rapid transformation of Zahrouni into the city’s new wholesale hub. He strategically positioned members of his “’arsh” (clan) of “Ayar” in the warehouses, helping them to price out local car garages to set up business. Transporters and intermediary traders then gradually followed suit. Today, the routinised collaboration between large wholesalers – often referred to as “grossistiyya” , with smaller wholesalers, diverse intermediary traders and transporters underpins processes of valuation in the wholesale quarter.

23A spatial cluster of warehouse infrastructures forms the material basis for performing valuation in Zahrouni. Warehouses of varying size attract a differentiated clientele: Intermediary wholesalers or traders redistributing merchandise to Algeria, where fripe imports have been banned since 2009 (Ghoreib 2017), generally prefer large warehouses with a wide choice so they can buy in bulk for several months. Retailers meanwhile, who often buy on a weekly basis, prefer to deal with smaller intermediaries who adapt their limited offer to changing market demand. As the experienced wholesaler Slim explains, the “debuwat” (warehouses) on Zahrouni’s main road actually function predominantly as ‘showrooms’, with larger warehouses like his own, located off the main road, guaranteeing their continuous supply. Ibrahim, who owns a 2x5m sales room on Zahrouni’s main road, has limited storage capacity and thus receives supplies from larger warehouses on a weekly basis. As Ibrahim insists, the rapid circulation of high-quality merchandise in his ‘showroom’ make him popular with retail traders and allow him to charge a mark-up on the “real wholesale price”, as he puts it.

24While the main street ‘showrooms’ focus on adapting their displays to fluctuating market demand, the strategies of value extraction of larger wholesalers like Slim often hinge on strategic stoppage rather than “motion without friction” (Tsing 2011: 15): This is so because “being ahead of the season”, as Slim puts it, or “disclosing the right merchandise at the right time” is key to earning a considerable mark-up. This is all the more important as the wholesalers need to counterbalance seasonal cycles of charity donation: “The factories in Tunisia get summer clothes when people in Europe get rid of them in autumn, so we receive them in winter, but my clients of course want bales of winter clothes then.” The intentional retaining of merchandise in backstreet warehouses moreover allows for the creation of artificial scarcity in the front street ‘sale rooms’, triggering an inflation of wholesale prices. While this form of strategic stoppage is common practice amongst wholesalers all year round, it becomes particularly lucrative during festivities like Aid Al-Fitr (the end of Ramadan), when demand for children’s’ clothes soars and the appearance of shortages can significantly increase profit margins.

25Performing valuation through the storage of illicit fripe circulations like second-hand shoes presents both particular challenges and opportunities to Zahrouni wholesalers. As registered wholesale warehouses are taxed by the local authorities and are subject to regular inspections by “al-diwana” (the customs), the storage of shkair filled with shoes is too risky in these official warehouse infrastructures. Therefore, unofficial warehouses, habitually referred to as debuwat al-tilania” (backstreet warehouses) by the wholesalers, have been set up in the basements of residential houses, private car garages or even rental apartments. Invisible to the outsider, these backstreet warehouses specialise in the storage of fripe merchandise that is banned from sale on the domestic market. Backstreet warehouses tend to have limited storage capacity and are expensive to maintain because wholesalers have to compete with prices on the regular housing market. At the same time, the extra costs and risk involved in the storage of fripe shoes also produces a niche with fewer competitors. This allows wholesalers who possess or rent backstreet warehouses to charge extra fees for the storage of fripe shoes and to produce artificial shortages that add a considerable mark-up to the original wholesale price.

Fig.5. Storage of “shkair” (tarpaulin bags) filled with second-hand sneakers

Fig.5. Storage of “shkair” (tarpaulin bags) filled with second-hand sneakers

Source: author.

Social relations as basis for circulations through the wholesale quarter

26While the cluster of warehouses provides the material basis for valuation through storage and redistribution, the circulation of fripe merchandise through Zahrouni also hinges on multi-layered webs of relations that safeguard transactions and the movement of substantial amounts of merchandise and cash through the wholesale quarter. The absence of formal contractual relations and the uncertain quality of the packaged fripe merchandise render tight webs of personal relations and efficient mechanisms of social control vital to stabilising a set of norms that govern value extraction in Zahrouni.

27Ibrahim affirms that the two key assets of a successful wholesaler are “alaqat” (relations) and “ism” (lit. ‘a name’), meaning a social reputation that has to be continuously achieved” (Rabo 2005: 73). The central importance of reputation built on personal trust – frequently reiterated by all traders in Zahrouni – mirrors the uncertainties and risks of the fripe wholesale business: First, the fripe merchandise itself is of uncertain quality and the act of buying bales blind” (Brooks 2012: 231) carries substantial risk, especially for smaller retailers who need to make profits from every bale to recuperate costs and buy new merchandise the following week. As is the case with other commodities of uncertain value, non-transparent “balas” (bales) and shkair reinforce the importance of “knowability” and highly personalized relations in transactions (Carrier et al. 2018: 10). The Tunisian saying “tishri qatous fil-shkara” (lit. you buy a cat in the bag), prominently employed by fripe traders, captures the risk of buying substandard merchandise or being tricked by a wholesaler. This uncertainty qualifies the fripe as “entangled objects” that “can only be known through the actors accompanying them” (Haugen 2018: 9, 2), rendering repeated interactions with the same trader a key strategy for mitigating the risk of deceit.

28Not only the uncertain quality of fripe merchandise, also the handling of large sums of cash and credit outside the formal banking system, renders mechanisms of social control crucial for safeguarding transactions. As Slim confirms, almost all purchases concluded in Zahrouni are made “’ala kredi” (on credit) and a time lag between flows of fripe merchandise and payments thus characterises his day-to-day transactions. Slim’s diligently kept notebooks constitute the only written record of his multiple credit relations, and repeated interactions and trust are thus crucial to ensuring repayment. Credit and debt thereby not only structure relations between wholesalers and clients, but also amongst different wholesalers, intermediaries and transporters within Zahrouni, resulting in an interdependency between actors and the common assumption of risk” (Yukseker 2004: 55). If a debtor defaults on a payment, all other credit relations are affected, and a person’s creditworthiness” is compromised (Jain 2002: 45). As intermediary trader, Ibrahim is often debtor and creditor at the same time, and the temporal coordination of cash flows is challenging. As has been shown in other realms of commerce that are essentially credit-driven (…), creditworthiness is a moral as much as an economic quality” (ibid) and for Ibrahim, it represents a crucial precondition for participating in the fripe trade.

29Mechanisms of social control and group solidarity amongst traders in Zahrouni were long tied to the wholesale quarter’s origin story, which remains entangled with shared trajectories of migration from Tunisia’s North-West, and thus kinship identities. Strict codes of behaviour were traditionally linked to “’arushiya” (clan-based solidarity) and a shared belonging to the clan of “Ayar”. While wholesalers like Slim or Ibrahim continue to proudly identify as Wulad Ayar” (lit. sons of Ayar), and profess to only recruit warehouse assistants or transporters from the same “’arsh”, few of them actually reside in the area today and most of the traders and transporters working in Zahrouni have been born in the capital. Their reference to the “Ayar” thus in fact no longer designates pre-existing blood ties or shared rural origins, but rather an urban kin arrangement” (Pfirsch and Araos, 2017: 2, 4) that refers to the moral economy of the wholesale hub. In recent years, however, the fripe traders of Zahrouni lament the gradual erosion of social norms that used to govern value extraction in the wholesale quarter. Many blame the proliferation of unlicensed wholesalers and intermediary traders in the aftermath of the 2011 revolution for having undermined trust and mechanisms of social control, with intensifying competition giving way to covert price-cutting and mutual poaching of clients. Valuation in Zahrouni thus hinges not only on the existence of differentiated warehouse infrastructures, but also on social mechanisms of control and collective norms, a weakening of which threatens to unsettle the coordinated flows of merchandise, cash and customers that animate the wholesale quarter.

Fig.6. Shoe merchandise is tied onto a handcart in a back alley

Fig.6. Shoe merchandise is tied onto a handcart in a back alley

Source: author,

Politics of value extraction in Zahrouni

30A distinct politics of value extraction from fripe shoe circulations has emerged in Zahrouni over time, with neighbourhood change provoked by the wholesale activities producing both winners and losers, while illicit circulations into and out of the district require careful negotiations with diverse state actors on a day-to-day basis. This section examines, first, how backstreet warehouses for fripe shoe storage expanded the wholesale business from the main road into residential quarters, accelerating contested neighbourhood change. Second, it hones in on the complex profit-sharing agreements and the mediation of encounters with different state actors that underpin shoe circulations from the wholesale quarter to marketplaces across the city.

31Ahmed, an elderly inhabitant, sits in one of the last remaining cafes in Zahrouni’s main street and laments: “Our entire “houma” (local neighbourhood) has become a “debbo” (warehouse).” And after a short pause he adds, “the wholesalers are a mafia, they became rich in no time. I saw them arrive here with nothing but their “shleka” (slippers) and now they drive big cars”. Like Ahmed, many inhabitants and shop owners who have been priced out by the wholesalers feel alienated by what they describe as a “takeover” of their neighbourhood. While the fripe wholesale business remained largely confined to Zahrouni’s main road until the mid-2000s, the flourishing trade with illicit fripe circulations subsequently accelerated its expansion into the area’s residential quarters. While the adjacent Hayy Ezzouhour was built up as a dense public housing project during the 1970s (Sethom 1995: 201), Zahrouni was urbanised incrementally through the unauthorised construction of detached residential houses on subdivided and privately purchased farmland (Chabbi 1989: 260). Until today, family homes with terraces and gardens dominate the area, with elaborate vertical expansions testifying to soaring housing prices. An elderly couple who rent their ground floor as storage space for shkair explain how they hesitated at first as they worried about raids by the customs. Eventually, as the women remarks, “they (the wholesaler(s)) are paying more rent than in the city centre, 600 Dinar (appr. 200€) for this (…) and it is humid and hasn’t been painted.” She says she doesn’t mind the deliveries and pick-ups and is happy to not have “the usual noise of downstairs neighbours”, now that the ground floor is used as storage space. Like the elderly couple, many property owners in Zahrouni benefit from backstreet warehouses as lucrative income source and have adapted their “forms of living” (Millar 2018:10) pragmatically to the changed realities of residing in a wholesale quarter. Meanwhile, the increase in rental prices provoked by the wholesalers adversely affected local tenants, pushing out former residents by converting living into storage spaces.

32Processes of value extraction from fripe shoe circulations through warehousing in Zahrouni depend on the subsequent movement of shkair from backstreet warehouses to marketplaces and boutiques across the city. This risky undertaking not only requires close collaboration between wholesalers and transporters in Zahrouni, but also wider agreements with various state actors across the city. Hassan, who was born in Zahrouni and works as “hamel” (transporter) with his own white pick-up truck, specialises in the transport of shkair, and thus illicit circulations like fripe shoes. For Hassan, “moving goods” represents “a means of realising profits” (Gregson and Crang 2017: 212) and the greater the risks of stoppage and interruption he faces, the greater his potential profit margin. Hassan explains: “Everyone can transport fripe, but work with “al-sbabit” (shoes) is more difficult, you need a lot of connections, in Zahrouni, in the markets and with “al-bolisiya” (the police).” On his transport rides with shkair between Zahrouni and diverse urban marketplaces, Hassan continuously mitigates risks of stoppage, confiscation and fines. At times, he uses tactics of evasion, involving lengthy detours or collaboration with transporters who operate with handcarts and can enter markets like Bab El-Falla through narrow back alleys. Alternately, Hassan times his deliveries according to the rotation of particular police officers, with whom he has developed routinised mechanisms for profit sharing. He usually pays set fees in cash from the glove box of his van, depending on the amount of merchandise he carries, and says the fees can amount to about 20% of the value he carries in the loading area. In exchange for navigating this difficult terrain on a day-to-day basis, Hassan says he reaps a substantial risk bonus for every successful journey he completes and occupies a market niche with fewer competitors.

33Similarly, “symbiotic relations” with various state actors that regulated shared value extraction from fripe shoe circulations and created common stakes in their “illicitness” (Bennafla 2014: 1348) have always underpinned the functioning of Zahrouni as wholesale quarter. From the establishment of the first warehouses, Slim recounts, political accords at the highest level secured the quarter’s role in distributing banned fripe merchandise to Tunis marketplaces. However, many wholesalers complain that “al-thawra” (the (2011) revolution) has rendered encounters with the state increasingly unpredictable. Power reconfigurations at the micro-level translate into more volatile mechanisms of rent extraction by local officials, the customs and the police. Frequent fires in Zahrouni, often provoked to pre-empt raids by the customs or police, have become emblematic for a breakdown of stable profit-sharing agreements and have at times triggered open confrontations between security forces and traders (Espace Manager 2016). Referring to a fire in a shoe warehouse in February 2018, Ibrahim reflects on the wholesale quarter as “an electric circuit”. He ponders: “As long as everything runs smoothly you don’t think about it, but once the connection is interrupted, nothing works and one spark can set the whole thing on fire”.

The sneaker street: Collective valuation and new trajectories of circulation

Fig.7. The Bab El-Falla market and the specialized second-hand sneaker street

Fig.7. The Bab El-Falla market and the specialized second-hand sneaker street

Source: author, in collaboration with Cartographie Citoyenne, Tunis, Tunisia, 2019

34The most expensive shkair that are transported from Zahrouni to Tunis marketplaces often contain second-hand sneakers and are taken directly to specialised marketplaces, like nahaj al-sbadriyat” (the sneaker street) in Bab El-Falla. The fripe shoe circulations not only move along unusual routes to evade police patrols, the deliveries to the market street also follow bi-weekly rhythms. Such coordinated rhythms of delivery among shoe vendors in Bab El-Falla serve the joint disclosure of new merchandise in the bi-weekly event of “halan al-bala” (bale opening). During the ritualised, public event, vendors and customers jointly engage in valuation work, assessing the quality and commodity value of second-hand sneakers. The auto-constructed spatial cluster of sneaker shops has thereby favoured the emergence of a distinct – male and youth – consumer culture that valorises the “original” over what is “new”. In order to preserve the attractiveness of their shopping street, vendors are constrained to renew their offer twice a week. This implies striking complex relations of supply and provisioning that turn shop spaces not simply into “points of final consumption”, but rather make them the starting point for new circulations and “meshworks of economic activity” (Lepawsky and Mather 2011). In addition, ensuring the movement of illicit shoe merchandise through shop spaces that were erected informally on public land requires complicated agreements that produce shared stakes in uninterrupted circulations.

35Rhythms of delivery and transactions in the Bab El-Falla shoe street are structured around the bi-weekly bale opening, which takes place every Tuesday and Saturday morning. While the days of joint bale opening remain in fact unwritten, most vendors synchronize temporalities of delivery and disclosure in order to hold bale openings at the same time. The coordinated rhythms of bale opening generate particular socio-material densities in the marketplace, as clients flock to the shoe street from all over Tunis in the hope of being the first to inspect ‘new’ merchandise. The shoe traders often perform the moment of disclosure theatrically, pulling pairs of sneakers from the shkara and inviting customers and spectators to join negotiations over the final market price. The uncertain content of the tarpaulin bags increases suspense and renders the outcome of collective valuation uncertain, for traders and consumers alike. As Hansen remarks in the context of Zambia, "consumption is hard work“ in second-hand markets (Hansen 2000: 184), as it requires careful probing to assess wear and tear, or faulty manufacturing.

36The collective performance of valuation during the bale opening frequently resembles “a kind of invisible production" (ibid), accelerating transactions and allowing shoe traders like Fethi to offset their investment in new merchandise and earn the bulk of his profits on two mornings a week. As Fethi explains, his valuation work as trader nevertheless goes beyond the public moment of bale opening: He invests considerable time and effort into “tasmim al-hanut” (shop design) to curate a shop environment that effectively stages the exclusivity of his offer. Fethi often selects the sneakers he wants to display in his shop one by one, cleans them with a brush and water, and takes great care in re-organising his shop space twice a week. “I only display original brands and best quality”, Fethi proudly proclaims, “and I keep changing my offer so clients find something new every time they visit the shop.” The shop’s interior, featuring a sparklingly clean tiled floor, colourful neon lights and built-in display shelves in glistening white, intentionally sets it apart from adjacent shoe shops. Even Fethi’s powerful sound equipment that drowns out the music of surrounding competitors and his young age and fashionable style contribute to the special aura that turns his shop into one of the most popular attractions of the sneaker street, despite high prices.

37While competition amongst the shoe traders renders Fethi’s strategies of differentiation important, he also underlines that the cluster of specialised shops is crucial to the valuation work he performs. Following the principle of specialised trading streets in the historical “souk” or “bazaar” (Keshavarzian 2007; Rabo 2005), the shoe traders of Bab El-Falla auto-constructed their market street – consisting of a dense row of 23 sturdy metal shop spaces – in the aftermath of the 2011 revolution. Until the 1990s, Bab El-Falla was mainly known for its sprawling fruit and vegetable market (Berry-Chikhaoui 1994: 348) and fripe traders only began to establish a permanent presence in the main market street during the mid-2000s. The weakening of public oversight and police presence in the aftermath of the revolution, which triggered a rapid proliferation of street markets (Brown et al. 2017) and made-in-China trade in central Tunis (Doron 2015(a)), then provided a window of opportunity to expand the fripe market in Bab El-Falla. A group of young traders, amongst them Fethi and his two cousins, seized municipal land adjacent to the existing market and set up the concrete foundations for their shops overnight. The traders rapidly agreed on specialising in the sale of shoes, and especially younger traders recognised the profitable market niche of original branded sneakers.

38As Fethi and his cousins explain, “al-sbadriyat” (sneakers) have become an important status symbol amongst young men in Tunisia, and the circulation of imagery, especially linked to rap music, determines rapidly changing fashion trends. The specialised retail space of the ‘sneaker street’ thereby both shapes emerging consumer cultures, and is itself constituted by evolving consumption practices (Lemarchand 2011). The shiny sneakers, neat shop displays, and loud music attract young men from across Tunis to Bab El-Falla, like Ahmad and his friends who pass by regularly after university. As he smilingly confides, they often come for “shoufing”, a pun combining the Arabic word “shouf” (see) and the ending of “shopping” to designate a shopping tour that consists of “seeing what is new without buying”. While the second-hand sneakers often sell for three times the price of new counterfeit footwear, Ahmad underlines his preference for “original brands and designs”. As is the case in other contexts, the dominance of counterfeit products, often generically denominated “Chinwa” (made-in-China) in Tunisia, has attached new significance to “authenticity” which is often equated to “quality” and outweighs the stigma of buying second-hand (Ayimpam 2016: 271). Smartphones assume an important role in the sneaker shops and underline the “transnational character of the commodity culture” (Crang et al. 2003: 447), as original market prices in the US or Europe and fashion trends elsewhere are brought to bear on the situated moment of valuation.

Fig.8. Cleaning second-hand sneakers in a shoe boutique

Fig.8. Cleaning second-hand sneakers in a shoe boutique

Source: author.

Coordinating circulations through the shop space

39The bi-weekly, joint bale openings in Bab El-Falla underpin the good reputation of the sneaker street, attracting clients with the promise of a novel find in every event. The strict coordination amongst shoe vendors that underpins these moments of collective valuation both holds crucial advantages and implies a logistical and financial challenge. On the one hand, the joint organisation of purchases, deliveries and payments from Zahrouni increases the shoe vendors’ negotiating power vis-à-vis the wholesalers, allows them to benefit from bulk prices and reduces transport costs. On the other hand, the need to renew merchandise in the shop spaces twice a week necessitates a rapid recuperation of costs and the cultivation of multiple “provisioning relationships” (Bestor 2001: 77) beyond the sneaker street to ensure the regular resale of leftover merchandise. The weekly rhythms of trade in the sneaker street thus demonstrate that the shoe shops do not represent simple “endings” of a value chain (Lepawsky and Mather 2011: 247), but rather spaces of consumption, redistribution and divestment where some circulations end, and others begin.

40Between the bi-weekly bale openings, Fethi’s shop thus intermittently turns into a form of “magasin-entrepôt” (shop-warehouse) (Doron 2017: 11), as leftover shoe merchandise is redistributed on the basis of multi-layered agreements: The primary customers for unsold shoes are other fripe traders, mostly those running smaller “boutiqat” (shops) who do not take the risk to buy directly from wholesalers, but purchase at reduced bulk prices from marketplaces like Bab El-Falla. The second-choice shoe merchandise is usually passed on to “nassaba” (street vendors) who resell them on market peripheries or on the sidewalks of the central city. As Fethi explains, trusted relations with several nassaba are crucial to his business, as their volume of transactions is high and they can thus make substantial profits despite smaller margins. Fethi often hands over his leftover shoe merchandise for free, and then receives a fixed percentage of the street vendors’ profits in return. A final, smaller part of the unsold merchandise goes to so-called “faraza” (sorters), mainly women who frequent the market after closing hours or before new deliveries are made to sift through leftovers and buy cheaply at bulk prices. Fethi usually sets aside a pile of sneakers which he judges substandard for the faraza, charging a symbolic bulk price or even handing damaged or worn-out shoes away for free. The destinations of the fripe shoes from Fethi’s shop space are thus multiple, and many shoes enter new trajectories of valuation and circulation, on the “berwitas” (handcarts) of street vendors or in female-owned tailor shops on the urban peripheries where some of the faraza resell their wares.

41For shoe vendors to ensure the uninterrupted circulation of sneakers both into, and out of, their shop spaces, they also rely on a careful tending to “co-produced norms” (Bennafla 1999: 37) with various state actors that govern the shoes’ illicitness in circulation. Generating and distributing a “situational rent” (ibid) is crucial to creating common stakes in the continuation of the profitable fripe shoe trade. Notions of the ‘licit’ and ‘illicit’, which pertain not only to the shoe merchandise, but also to the shop spaces’ unauthorised occupation of municipal land, are thus renegotiated through various tacit accords with customs officials, the police and local authorities in Bab El-Falla. A current working agreement with the police for instance limits interference to ‘merchandise-in-circulation’, meaning moments of delivery of new shkair from the wholesalers. Once the fripe shoes have entered the Bab El-Falla shop spaces and are displayed to consumers, the police abstain from confiscations or fines. This modus operandi, which limits illicitness temporally to a particular commodity situation, avoids jeopardising the flourishing trade in the sneaker street and yet ensures regular opportunities for rent extraction for the police. A separate agreement with local officials has so far protected the unauthorised shop spaces of the sneaker street against demolition. While most shop owners now possess “batendas” (licenses) and are thus de-facto formalised through tax payments, municipal officials also informally collect profit shares, using this type of “’rashwas’ (bribes) as a way of informing citizens about rules and regulations” (Rabo 2005: 152). At other times, profit shares are offered to local officials as “favours”, as Fethi says, to ensure support in critical moments. The importance of investing in good relations with local officials became apparent in July 2017, when the Tunis governorate initiated a clearance campaign targeting informal markets (Bobin 2017). While the perimeters of the campaign included Bab El-Falla, only one fripe shop fell victim to the clearances. The municipal official who was later charged with the relocation of displaced vendors in Bab El-Falla agreed that “all of this (the sneaker street) should have been removed in the “hamla” (campaign)”, but then also added that “the market works, it’s a success, so what interest do we have in destroying it?

Fig.9. The specialized ‘sneaker street’ in the Bab El-Falla fripe market

Fig.9. The specialized ‘sneaker street’ in the Bab El-Falla fripe market

Source: author.


42The arrival of fripe shoes as discarded materials in Tunisia, where they are banned from sale on the local market, turns them into an unstable and inherently contested commodity form. An empirical investigation of their circulation in present-day Tunis thus highlights the complex valuation processes that are necessary to enable their renewed circulation as commodities in the city. The situated valuation processes here explored therefore echo other studies of second-hand, reuse and waste materials, in which circulating “end-of-life objects” either “come apart” (Gregson et al. 2010: 853), or are being reassembled through “repair work” (Corwin 2018: 22), opening up non-linear processes of value production (Lepawsky and Mather 2011). Like the intricate processes of valuation through sorting, warehousing and vending here analysed, micro-level practices of work and consumption have been shown to be central to the reattribution of value to waste or second-hand materials in situ, at the second-hand market (Appelgren and Bohlin 2015), the car-boot sale (Gregson and Crewe 2003) or the garbage dump (Millar 2018).

43This article though places explicit emphasis on the significance of urban space in the understanding of such processes of valuation and circulation. Challenging a notion of space as contained in processes of valuation, this article shows how valuation becomes constitutive to socio-spatial relations in present-day Tunis. Setting out from three distinct urban sites, this article explores, first, how processes of reattributing value to fripe shoes become manifest in situated urban change, generating new urban forms, modes of spatial organisation, or recurring urban situations and public events. Second, it examines how the capacity to generate renewed fripe shoe circulations depends on multi-layered negotiations and webs of relations that always exceed the situated locations in which valuation occurs. Fripe shoe circulations thus set into relation disparate urban actors and spaces, producing both competition over value extraction and complex interdependencies defined by shared stakes in perpetuating this illicit commodity circulation. By examining the urban trajectory of fripe shoes in contemporary Tunis, this article disentangles the contested processes of value production that render a seemingly mundane commodity circulation constitutive of changing socio-spatial configurations in the city.

44To protect the anonymity of research participants, all names of interlocutors or private companies have been changed.

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List of illustrations

Title Fig.1. Locating second-hand shoe circulations in Tunis
Credits Source: author, in collaboration with Cartographie Citoyenne, Tunis, Tunisia, 2019.
File image/png, 4.2M
Title Fig.2. Second-hand sneakers on display in a Tunis fripe boutique
Credits Source: author.
File image/jpeg, 3.6M
Title Fig.3. Women workers in a Tunis fripe sorting factory
Credits Source: author.
File image/jpeg, 2.4M
Title Fig.4. Sorting work in the ‘shoe section’ of the factory
Credits Source: author.
File image/jpeg, 2.4M
Title Fig.5. Storage of “shkair” (tarpaulin bags) filled with second-hand sneakers
Credits Source: author.
File image/jpeg, 2.0M
Title Fig.6. Shoe merchandise is tied onto a handcart in a back alley
Credits Source: author,
File image/jpeg, 2.0M
Title Fig.7. The Bab El-Falla market and the specialized second-hand sneaker street
Credits Source: author, in collaboration with Cartographie Citoyenne, Tunis, Tunisia, 2019
File image/png, 4.4M
Title Fig.8. Cleaning second-hand sneakers in a shoe boutique
Credits Source: author.
File image/jpeg, 2.8M
Title Fig.9. The specialized ‘sneaker street’ in the Bab El-Falla fripe market
Credits Source: author.
File image/jpeg, 3.0M
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Electronic reference

Katharina Grüneisl, Second-hand shoe circulations in TunisArticulo - Journal of Urban Research [Online], 21 | 2020, Online since 15 December 2020, connection on 14 April 2021. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Katharina Grüneisl

Katharina Grüneisl is a PhD candidate in Geography at Durham University (UK) and an affiliated doctoral researcher at the Institut de Recherche sur le Maghreb Contemporain (Tunisia). Katharina currently lives and works in Tunis where she researches the socio-spatial history and contemporary dynamics of the urban second-hand clothes economy. Contact:

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