By Jocille Ann B. Morito
Ukay-ukay (n.) – the Filipino colloquial term for second-hand garments and textile articles imported from other countries; derived from the Filipino verb halukay or ukay.
My sister once misquoted Carmi Martin to me, “Ang Pilipinas ay isang malaking Quiapo – maraming ukay-ukay. Kaya mangukay ka na, kun’di maaagawan ka.”
Indeed, Filipinos have always been fashionate (having a great passion for fashion) – the country being a huge mall in itself. Anywhere in the kantos of Dumaguete alone, one’s eyes will feast on piles of clothing, shoes, and what have you sold by kuyas and ates who may have worked all day negotiating prices with shoppers who spotted a reasonable bargain on their way home.
Any stock pile of apparel (so long as it says “sale”) is just a delight any stylist-scavenger would plunge into – be it a second-hand from an overlarge American or from a more petite Korean (no racism intended) or even from a foreign corpse whose family has just decided to give away all the deceased’s belongings just to relieve their grieving process.
But the bottom most part of this seemingly-outlandish rumination is this: Ukay-ukay, deal or no deal?
Before you, reader, postulate your answers, take a moment to have these points taken into serious consideration:
Ukay-ukay is unhygienic.
Rhea Rheem Muarip, a graduate teaching fellow of the Math department, shares the same sentiment. Seriously, this garments’ whereabouts and history are unknown. Who wore it, how long has it been used, how long has it been stored, not to mention the hygienic disposition of the previous owner are just some of the questions Rhea had in mind when passing by an ukay ukay stall.
Aside from that, they also contain chemicals that can cause skin rashes and any secondary transmitted infections. Another Sillimanian likens this phenomenon as “drinking water from the canal just because it is cheaper.”
Ukay-ukay is illegal. Though, NOT ALL . Republic Act 4653 prohibits the commercial importation by any person, association, or corporation of any textiles – clothes, garments, etc. – which are segunda mano, for the protection of public health and the preservation of the dignity of the nation. Unless this legislation is amended or the used imports are declared as “donations” for relief operations, ukay-ukay remains to be a smuggling activity which causes millions of losses in the country’s business industry. So how do these smuggled goods get in and thrive in the country? Here are some of the conspiracy theories:
Ukay-ukay traders bribe NGOs to act as a front for the importation of used garments and declare it as “donations” or “relief goods” to the customs. These NGOs obtain permit from DSWD, which protects them from huge custom taxes. The government gets cheated while the smugglers earn millions of pesos.
Sometimes, it’s the other way around.
NGO officers would sell the donated goods to such merchants and earn money in return.
The smuggled ukay-ukays are then sold in flea markets, while those other “legitimate” shops register as “garments, retailer or RT W business,” without disclosing it as second-hand, of course. If they aren’t given permits, law officers would charge them with token taxes.
Ukay-ukay gives a condescending image for the Philippines.
We’re a third-world country, we get it. However, smuggling these hand-me-downs from countries who may have racist inclinations towards Filipinos may just give the country a more pathetic glow from the rest of the world. It’s enough for a Greek dictionary to define Filipinas as maids (now that is racist).
But to be tagged as the garbage bin of these illegally imported left-overs is just too much for Juan dela Cruz and may even disturb Jose Rizal’s peace in the other world.
But whether the government likes it or not, everyone just loves ukay-ukay! For the Filipinos who hang on the thread of poverty, any possible way of obtaining a cheap wardrobe is just as convenient as eating pancit canton. Here are the reasons why the Filipinos still resort to this despite the three previous premises:
It is cost-efficient
Management student Verna Alferez says buying ukay-ukay saves her a lot of money, it being way cheaper than the brand new items. So as with Maria Eula Pauline Elumir, an Education student, who said that to people who are brand-conscious, yet lack the wallet to spend on such capriciousness, ukay-ukay is the best option. Compared to prices at fancy shops, one could buy ukayukays
at prices almost 70% lesser than those of brand new clothes. Here, one’s money is well-spent and maximized to the last centavo.
It is more durable
If quality is one’s concern, ukayukay is indeed a good bargain. Ms. Bonita Mira-Silva, a Silliman staffer, says that some Filipino products are substandard: “Sa imong five-hundred nga gipalit, mabuslot na dayon.” That’s why she would resort into buying second-hand garments which are more durable. She isn’t bothered by the health hazard it may bring for she disinfects it thoroughly and would make sure to choose garments that aren’t stained beyond ruins.
Same goes with Justin Paul Roa, a Medical Technology student. According to him, the stuff he buys from ukay-ukay lasts for longer periods of time. He, by virtue of being practical and resourceful, would then bring those garments to a tailor shop and have them modified according to his preference. And it would only cost him around P50 per modified item.
It has a wide variety of styles and designs
People are just getting more generic and fashion enthusiasts just want to break free from the standardized trend.
Doris B. Flores, a Library Science student, buys ukay-ukay due to their unique designs that are seldom found in malls. “Lain kaayo nang naa kay katagbo nga pareha ug sanina,” she said. Indeed,
branded products are both costly and generic. Erna Hanizyn Alipan, a Mass Com junior, argued the same thing. She, being a fashionista, also resorts to buying second-hand apparels because they are unique. That’s why, despite the condition of ukay-ukays, she would say “okay na lang.”
It is very accessible.
They are just everywhere. Krystel Mendez, an Education major, says wherever she goes, there’s just a lot of ukay-ukay stalls – near the market, in the downtown area, even towards the north, she could just not miss a pile of ukay-ukays.
The adventure it gives is just hilarious. Matthias Halafax IV , an English major, recalls a story of his aunt seeing a fifty dollar bill in a pocket of a fifty-peso ukay-ukay. Indeed, practicality aside, the treasure hunting in ukay-ukays gives one an epiphany of the absurdity of life. Aside from clothes and shoes, one can spot a picture frame, over loose (and stained) underwear and, yes – a used toothbrush sold for very reasonable prices.
According to Sharmaine Luba, Library Science student, patience is the most important virtue in going for an ukay-ukay adventure. It’s tiring, she admits, but when she sees an out-of-this-world gown, her trip becomes worthwhile. She goes home with that treasure and uses it as a costume or sometimes modifies it to her fancy.
Even Matthias, being a cosplayer, would journey to the quirky world of ukayukays to find vests and other garments necessary for his overall character.
Yes, one can say that the Philippines is the capital of the “used and found and-used-again.” To the textile industry, ukay-ukay is a burden legal businesses need to endure. But to the Filipinos who were affected by the Napoles’ syndrome, ukay-ukay is a modish blessing in disguise.