Ever wondered where those Kevin 07 T-shirts went? Well, a few of them are a lot further away from our shores than you might think.
Ever wondered where those Kevin 07 T-shirts went? Well, a few of them are a lot further away from our shores than you might think.

Where those Kevin 07 T-shirts are hiding

The humid jungles of Guadalcanal are absolutely, positively the last place on earth I'd expect to see a Nickelback shirt, yet here I am.

I have a feeling its owner isn't a fan: she's pushing 60 and surrounded by a posse of tiny kids. It's more likely she chose it because it fit - just - rather than any love she has for Canada's most reviled export.

For me, the greater mystery was what it was doing here in the first place.

It's new bale day at Island Clothing, the fashion outlet on Honiara's high street Mendana Avenue, and the line is out the door.

Today's the day a fresh shipment of second-hand clothes has arrived - tightly wrapped in bales - from Australia, the Solomon Islands' largest donator of old threads.

That's right. We're to blame for what happens next.

The outfits sported by those in line betray in no uncertain terms a need for new clothing; it's not that they're tatty - they're outrageous. Flares, polyester jumpsuits (in this heat!), loud ties and terrible hats cling to their owners' bodies, distastefully awaiting consignment to the third-hand bin.

Where some of your favourite rock, campaign and themed T-shirts might be hiding.
Where some of your favourite rock, campaign and themed T-shirts might be hiding.

But after these fashion fugitives enter Island Clothing, they emerge just as guilty. One man enters in a shirt that reads 'Talk to the hand!' and leaves wearing 'Cray-Cray!'

Inside, there's a feverish crush for clothes. T-shirts are the most popular, but shorts, shoes, dresses and jeans are all fair game. While demand is high, prices are rock bottom. T-shirts can be had for as little as $SBD5, which equates to about AUD 90c.

Unfortunately, you get what you pay for, and the streets of Honiara on a busy day are a colourfully trashy testament.

Clothes that should never have seen the light of day again get a second life here. Forgotten brands, inappropriate slogans, failed causes and straight-up bizarre designs are everywhere throughout the islands.

Choosing to donate that Angry Birds shirt instead of burning it was the second-worst mistake of your life, because it's here, inflicted upon some poor kid.

Fashion has almost no meaning in the Solomons.
Fashion has almost no meaning in the Solomons.

In the West, clothing has become little more than advertising. I've seen The North Face lurking outside more TABs than on actual north faces.

In the Solomons, however, fashion has almost no meaning. Imagine for a moment a society in which almost nothing that's advertised on their T-shirts exists.

To my Western eyes trained by years of logo exposure, it's impossible to ignore. Nike ticks are everywhere. I see entire teams worth of Bulls number 23s. A woman walks by in a shirt branded "Warcraft - Two Worlds, One Home", and I wonder if that movie has ever been seen by anyone here.

Practicality is the name of the game, and anything that protects from the harsh Solomon sun is worth owning. Designs and slogans that span decades and the entire spectrum of irrelevance are just unique artistic flourishes, by-products of comfort.

Outside the capital, appearances aren't just deceiving - they're downright treacherous. On a desert island in the middle of a crystal-clear lagoon, I meet a local in a shirt proclaiming him to be a member of the South Gosford FC 2010 championship team. I can't help but ask why he chose that shirt.

"They picked the design for us. We fought hard that season," he replies distantly, deep in reminiscence about the winning match. Oh.

Despite a false flag or two, the majority of the nation's clothing comes from Australia. The Great Brown Land is the largest provider of "Official Development Assistance" to the Solomons, with $A187 million injected in 2018-19.

The clothes are separate to this; a tacky bonus. I would have thought the locals might have more use for our tourist dollars than our Taylor Swift 2013 World Tour official souvenir shirts, but it seems no one's complaining. Except perhaps the guy selling seafood at the market in a shirt that implores "C'mon Aussie, C'mon".

Some Kevin 07 T-shirts haven’t ended up in landfill.
Some Kevin 07 T-shirts haven’t ended up in landfill.

We're all give and no take when it comes to the Solomons. They're a nation of people so generous they'd give you the shirt off their backs - but for some reason, we aren't interested.

They have so much to offer: plentiful seafood, sun-dried cocoa and truly amazing unspoilt tropical holiday locations.

And yet we're content to throw money and some old shirts at the matter and leave it at that.

It's a particularly scorching day in the Western Province town of Gizo. A man in a Woolworths staff shirt emerges from the local pub, thousands of kilometres from any Woolworths.

Think about the journey behind that man's clothing decision. A Woolworths staff member took home their uniform shirt, accidentally or otherwise. Rather than return it, they dumped it at their local Vinnies. The Vinnies clothing quality control crew let it slip by their eagle eyes, and it ended up in a tightly packed bale bound for the Solomons. This man, or someone close to him, thought the green apple logo was a good look, handed over a fiver, and when it was time to hit the pub, put on his Sunday best.

I'm still mystified as I pay for a Sprite at the shop next door. The shopkeeper smiles warmly, even if I don't believe for a second he voted for Kevin in '07 - despite what his shirt says.

Michael Wayne is a freelance feature and travel writer who has been featured in the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Australian. Continue the conversation on Instagram @pastlivesofthenearfuture.