The Underwear Market

There are occasional maps in the Istanbul Grand Bazaar. However, if you’ve never been before, they are utterly useless. We had the good fortune to have one explained by a local shop owner, of course, he afterwards expected us to shop at his store. Hospitality, but not from the heart.

Regardless, a basic understanding of the map was enlightening. The gold areas represented good vendors, green was spices, blue denim and so on. Interestingly, vendors of similar craft were clumped together. Easy for shoppers to compare goods, hard for shoppers to choose goods, nearly impossible for vendors to have a competitive advantage.

It’d be more interesting to extend a map of this sort beyond the strict boundaries of the Grand Bazaar, to the widespread area beyond it, still predominantly shops. In the GB, one can buy scarves, rugs, lamps, souvenirs, jewelry, spices and jeans. But outside, one can find so much more.

Following the wisdom that better things are seen when lost, we were aimlessly wandering, and quite content to do so. We saw mosques, feral cats, men carting dollys twice their size. At some moment, we noticed a preponderance of underwear stores.

For blocks, we only saw stores selling underwear. Some sold lingerie, others sweatpants, and some socks. But the most memorable were the frequently occurring ladies underwear stores, seemingly specializing in larger women. The bottoms were displayed stretched out on clear plastic discs. They were easily a foot and a half wide, and came in every color imaginable. Bras were stacked and were very round, forming numerous conical mountains throughout the neighborhood.

It’s bizarre. I’d never seen that high of a level of specialization. For a whole area to sell exclusive different types of underwear is unheard of. It is the true anti Wal-Mart.

Continuing on, we found streets with only buttons, and button presses.Imagine a shop with billions of buttons, with ten of the exact shop on the same street. Where is the demand? We also saw streets seeing guns and camo, fake police uniforms, and mannequins. Tons of mannequins. Finally, there are belts everywhere. As my friend put it, “if you live in Istanbul, you have no excuse to but wear a belt…”

What color would these areas get in the map? In the end, it doesn’t matter, a map can’t do justice to the mini metropolis in its self that sells unfathomable quantities of every good imaginable, of course, sorted by type.

 

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