Thousands of racks of clothing stretch out onto the roads and alleyways of Cairo’s El Wekala flea market, growing out like tree roots in every direction and competing with other clothing shops, parked cars, or the narrow walkways for every piece of available space. Every day, tens of thousands of shoppers descend on to El Wekala inspired by legendary tales of jaw-droppingly expensive designer-branded dresses and other garments found for the cost of two cappuccinos from Starbucks or more humble ambitions of grabbing some work or casual wear for at least a quarter of its price.
However, amongst the hidden treasures awaiting to be found for those willing to dig deep enough and long enough through the endless racks of clothing, is another curiosity of El Wekala. The custom-printed t-shirts for birthdays, wedding anniversaries, work sports events, and raucous stag and hen parties that happened many years ago in other continents far away are often humorous, inappropriate, and outright bizarre. Asking more questions than they answer, it’s a wonder how many of these hyper specific t-shirts ended up at El Wekala. From their original owners believing them to be worthy of donating, to sellers thinking of the items as suitable to display, to why anyone would buy them, it’s a complete mystery from the face of it. Although not custom made, El Wekala’s large selection of joke t-shirts are also a joy to come across while scouring the racks.
Speaking to a few sellers at El Wekala, they were completely aware of how bizarre and odd many of the t-shirts are and admitted that they only rarely ever sell these t-shirts, often to young Egyptians who ironically can’t resist getting their hands on some of these downright ridiculous t-shirts. They explained to me that as they buy their clothes by weight and in bulk quantities, it’s a complete lucky dip as to what they get. As such, there’s nothing to be lost by putting them on the rack, however slim the chances of finding a customer for them are.