Somebody asked me a question about Ukay Ukay, what is Ukay Ukay and how did it come about?
Nowadays I roam around freely in Ukay Ukay stores: second-hand clothing that you can find all over the Philippines. When I was living in the Netherlands I was a frequent donator, but certainly not a buyer in second-hand stores. Always afraid of re-buying my own donations. But here it is different. When you do not fit in Asian clothing sizes Ukay Ukay are a blessing. And although I lost so much weight while living here, I’m still considered ‘big’ and an Asian size large is not a Western size large believe me.
Since Ukay Ukay clothes all come from the West and the United States (so-called first world countries) it is very likely to find the right size. And some of the clothing is very good quality or even brand new. And with an average of 50 pesos per shirt and 100 pesos per short, they have a new frequent buyer.
Ukay Ukay comes from the Cebuano verb ‘ukay’ which means ‘to dig’ or ‘sift through’
so literally it means dig-dig, through the huge piles of clothes.
How did Ukay Ukay originate?
There are ‘stories’, like the one that the ever so rich Roman Catholic Church is behind the whole business, enriching itself over the poverty of others. But when searching the internet I cannot find any clues on that one.
In 1980 the Salvation Army send lots of humanitarian aid to the Philippines for the victims of calamities and in Baguio stock was piling up. So they sold it bulk to traders who started selling it in bundles per kilo to merchants, and that is how Ukay Ukay was born.
Nowadays Ukay Ukay is popular among both rich and poor since it is a cheap way to buy brands, good clothing, shoes, and other goods, like furniture.
Ukay Ukay became big business in the Philippines and you find stores and temporary stores everywhere
The weird thing is that selling second-hand clothes is prohibited since 1966 under the “Act to safeguard the health of the Filipino people and maintain the dignity of the nation through the prohibition of the importation of used clothing and rags”.
This law implies that most of the Ukay Ukay business is illegal. With merchants complaining about lack of business and income due to all the competitors out there and the customers demand more quality and brands. This ‘problem’ might solve itself before Congress decided to adjust the law. It might well be that the Ukay Ukay business will ‘heal’ itself, due to costumers demand and overkill of shops and vendors.
For me: I like shopping at Ukay Ukay, although it is a little time consuming and you have to ‘know’ when they open a new bundle so you can be there first to find the really nice pieces.
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Jeanette, a Dutch female nomad, started to travel the world at the age of 17. Walker of beaches, shell searcher and iPhone photographer. Writer and owner of two websites
Currently, she lives in Mexico.
She is an emigration coach and works online.
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