“Women Shuttle Merchants” Selling Turkish Goods in Damascus

A Syrian young woman observing clothes in a Turkish shop in Istanbul- 12 December 2017 (Enab Baladi)

A Syrian young woman observing clothes in a Turkish shop in Istanbul- 12 December 2017 (Enab Baladi)


From Turkey, with which the Syrian regime decided to break commercial relations due to the Turkish government’s support for the Syrian revolution, individual home-based projects, which can be called as women projects, were launched. These women import clothes from Turkey and transport them to the capital Damascus in different ways, which the government has not yet questioned.

The deteriorating economic situation of Syrian people urged them to find new sources of income, even if these sources were to challenge commercial rules imposed by the government of the Syrian regime on the pretext of different political regards, ones that touched the different faces of the Syrian citizens’ lives. 

A Small “Digital” Trade in Damascus

In Syria, the projects run by individual entrepreneurs prevailed, especially importing Turkish clothes and selling them at homes away from the markets. Along with this, different social media platforms marketing groups also spread and started to promote these small amounts of goods, which have a good reputation among Syrians.

The overt shipping of these clothes among Syrian people in Turkey became a profession that developed to the extent of launching offices specified for shipping clothes only. These offices provide certain offers to traders inside Syria.

There is a great demand for Turkish clothes related to their quality and prices. Mrs. Huda says that she observed this tendency while selling Turkish clothes in the Syrian capital city, within a project that she launched two months ago. She described the project, importing two shipments of children clothes, as “profitable.”

Huda told Enab Baladi that the mini trade, which prevailed among Syrian women in Damascus, depends mostly on having relatives and acquaintances in Turkey who can easily perform the buying process at retail, not wholesale, and then shipping them to Syria in different ways.

The idea, basically, depends on two stages. The first is presenting the pictures of the Turkish clothes before buying them or the goods that people request and then buying the goods that have been sold in advance. The second is buying the clothes from Turkey then presenting them in front of the customers either at houses or on social media.

Competitive Prices and Quality

The unprecedented rise in the prices of Syrian clothes, locally made, was enough to pave the way for the success of the individual projects that dealt with Turkish clothes, which have been banned by the government of the Syrian regime according to the statement issued in September 2011. The statement imposed a broad ban on Turkish imports into the country.

According to the people running these projects and the Syrian people inside the country, despite the fact that the gains of these projects reached 75% of the invested capital, without counting the shipping fees, the goods are still cheaper than the local clothes, the ones with a relatively good quality.

Huda said that a child’s Turkish-made  winter sweatshirt is sold in Damascus for 7,500 Syrian pounds (equivalent to 17 dollars), while its real price in the Turkish market does not exceed four thousand Syrian pounds (equivalent to 10 dollars), and the shipping fee for a single piece is 500 Syrian pounds (1 dollar approximately).

As for the locally made winter sweatshirt, the price, in Damascus, reaches an average of ten thousand Syrian pounds (24 dollars) and the price of some pieces riches 12 thousand Syrian pounds, according to Enab Baladi’s observations of the Syrian market.

Legally, these projects are not classified under trade, and the government of the Syrian regime might be overlooking such individual projects because they do not have an official label in two countries that have been on a seven years’ political and economic dispute.

However, those who are running these projects are being cautious so they would not be held accountable by removing the prices’ tags and admitting the goods into the country as old personal belongings.

Air and Land Shipping…With and Without Offices

After the trade exchange between Turkey and the Syrian regime has deteriorated at a rate of 85%, according to the statistics of the Ministry of Economy under the government of the Syrian regime, in 2013, Turkey facilitated trade in Northern Syria in the areas under the Syrian opposition.

Enab Baladi communicated with one of the freight offices, which Syrians have launched in the city of Istanbul to transport the Turkish clothes to Damascus in several manners, according to which the fee of the shipment and the time it takes to reach Syria differ.

Alaa, who started one of these projects with her husband in 2015, said that the shipment follows one of two ways. The first is through land following the former border route. Under this way, the shipment takes a maximum of three weeks to reach Syria. The second is shipping by air to Beirut, the capital city of Lebanon, and then to Damascus by ground routes with the involvement of drivers, who work on the Beirut-Damascus road. Under this manner, the shipment reaches Damascus after two days only.

Alaa added that shipping by land is less expensive than airfreight. The cost of shipping one-kilo by land is six dollars (equivalent to 2500 Syrian pounds). Air freight to Beirut and then via land to Damascus trough the border crossing point costs nine dollars (equivalent to 3700 Syrian pounds) per kilo.

“We have been doing this for two years now, and we have not faced any difficulties whether with land or air freight,” Alaa said.

Girls Ship Clothes Themselves

Huda, who sells Turkish clothing in Damascus, said that there is a cheaper way to ship goods from Turkey to Syria, but that it is a little difficult. This way is done through the “United Company,” which provides shipping clothes from Istanbul to Beirut for four dollars per kilo (1,600 Syrian pounds). However, there is no direct shipping to Damascus through major companies, which forces the girls to hire drivers working on the border to receive the shipped clothes.

Enab Baladi communicated with one of the drivers working on the Syrian-Lebanese border who said that transporting Turkish clothes from Beirut to Damascus is common among drivers which happen according to a paid agreement with some of the Syrian Customs’ employees.

He said that they prefer to transport cargos that are no more than 30 kilos, to avoid being held accountable. He also pointed out that he gets a 100 dollar for each shipment (42 thousand Syrian pounds).

To avoid the complications which accompany the above-mentioned ways of shipping, some Syrian girls, based in Turkey,  found new jobs through periodically traveling to Syria. They take the goods with them, without resorting to offices, by adding them to the personal luggage they are allowed to carry to the plane, which is 30 kilos per person.

Under this case, the clothes, at the Syrian borders, are treated as old personal clothes especially that the cargo for each of the girls who work in Syria does not go beyond five kilos, according to Huda.

This type’s cargo fee differs from one girl to another. However, it is generally between seven and ten dollars per kilo, which make almost five pieces of clothing.

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