Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Vintage Treasure: Ukay-ukay!

"One man's trash is another man's treasure
As one woman's junk gives others pleasure." 
                                                              - Tom Zart                                  

Here's an all-in-one primer into the ukay-ukay world! In this post are information  gathered from other ukay-ukay blogs, and some information added by the author herself. This post hopes to essentially inform you the basic things about the ukay-ukay, and to promote in a way that ukay-ukay shopping is something really cool. If you're not really an ukay-ukay fan, please do not exit this blog! Just take this chance to scroll down this post a little more, and let's see, maybe you'll change your mind. Hahaha and well, you need to view this blog to be able to help me out! :)) By answering the survey link shown below. Hihihihi. Thank you again so much for helping me out, I really appreciate it. Enjoy, hopefully! :) 

The typical store design of an ukay-ukay.
Ukay 101 

Although retail stores in the malls and tiangges are still most popular, ukay-ukay stores are still well-known and are pretty rampant in the country. While traveling around the city, it's not too hard to be able to spot a sign that says, "UK: Imported Goods" or "WAGWAGAN," thus referring that there's an ukay-ukay nearby. Despite the associations linked to ukay-ukay like dirty, clothes of the dead, or horrible smell, putting such words aside, what does the word ukay-ukay really mean?

If you have heard the words "vintage" or "thrift store" well, ukay-ukay is the more popular term here in the country. It refers to a store selling secondhand items such as clothes, accessories, books, toys and furniture. Although ukay-ukay is immediately associated with a store selling used clothes, it actually refers to a store selling ANYTHING secondhand! The term ukay-ukay was derived form the Visyan term, halukay, which means, the act of digging. And that makes perfect sense, since going to an ukay-ukay entails having to dig through racks of clothes, piles of random used objects and a floor of vintage furniture! 

The inside of an ukay-ukay. Look at all those clothes and shoes! Hmmm, I wonder if there's a nice pre-loved Topshop or Abercrombie top in there. 
An ukay-ukay can also sell used non-apparel items, such as books! 
Ukay-ukay shopping is commonly believed to originate from Baguio city, where it was specifically referred to as wagwagan, an Ilocano word that means people would have to shake the dust off before making a purchase. Cebu city is also known to be a cradle of the ukay-ukay phenomenon, and later on, the secondhand industry was adopted in other places. It is believed that the ukay-ukay has gone a long way from its origins in just the sidewalks of Baguio and Cebu city, to a store that has now many branches seen all around the country. Research mentions that when the ukay-ukay phenomenon was growing, it was earning a gross income of P1.2 million on a daily basis! Not bad for a store selling used items. 

Wagwagan sa Baguio! 
For ukay-ukay stores selling clothes, the items are usually imported from Hong Kong and the United States, although through a very different process as compared to other imported items. The imported secondhand clothes are usually purchased from rummage sales of Salvation Army, a humanitarian organization based on Hong Kong, while the ones coming in from the States are usually purchased from neighborhood garage sales and thrift shops. These secondhand clothes are then stored in a balikbayan box and when the box reaches the country, it is then transported to different ukay-ukay stores around Baguio and particular stores around Metro Manila. After transporting the clothes to these particular stores, the clothes are re-distributed to neighboring ukay-ukay stores. This is why ukay-ukay salespeople never buy a random person or shopper's pile of used clothes (I tried this once!); their stock of clothes usually have to be imported and they only accept the clothes given to them by particular ukay-ukay "distributors." Once these imported secondhand clothes enter the Philippines, they are sold at much lower prices precisely because they're secondhand. 

Ukay-ukay clothes in a way are attractive because they're imported from Hong Kong and U.S.! 
Today, ukay-ukay clothes are usually sold at prices ranging form P40, secondhand clothes that are considered to be of poor quality with some damages, to P150, secondhand clothes that are brand-new. It's also good to watch out for signs saying "New Arrivals" since a new stock of clothes are displayed, thus good bargains are most probable though the clothes may be priced on the higher end. Also watch out for signs indicating that there's a sale, so the clothes are relatively cheap, though it may mean that the discounted clothes many be the ones with damages or may be out of style. 

Just like any retail store, an ukay-ukay offers great deals now and then. 
It is commonly believed that a trip to the ukay-ukay means adventure or treasure hunting. It's basically because you don't know what to expect! You enter the store with just 2 tops and 1 bag in mind, but you may end up buying something more or something unexpected. It's also an adventure since there are so many funny-looking items to rummage through that you may end up giggling with friends over an outlandish top, thus making the shopping experience more enjoyable. Also, ukay-ukay shopping entails having to go through a sea of unique secondhand items and with a good amount of patience, once you find that "perfect bargain," it feels like you've found treasure. So aside from Baguio and Cebu, where else around Metro Manila can we find this unique shopping experience? 

Where are thou? 

You don't have to go all the way up to Baguio or take a plane to Cebu to be able to bag great ukay-ukay deals. You can find the stores right here in Metro Manila. In the city, here are some well-known ukay places to check out (in the blogger's opinion of course): 

1. Cubao 
         Cubao is not only a melting pot of various establishments like malls, office buildings and both an LRT and MRT station, Cubao contains a hodgepodge of ukay-ukay stores! The ukay-ukay stores are spread through out the whole Cubao complex, you just need to muster all your energy and with some good walking shoes, you're on your way to scoring some great bargains. Cubao Expo located near the Bus Terminal (near Shopwise) is home to a few well-loved thrift shops. Aside from the art galleries, restaurants (like Bellini's), and the Marikina shoe shops, around 4-5 stores sell secondhand items from clothes, to books, to furniture, and to vinyl records. An ukay-ukay that sells clothes may be found near the entrance of the Cubao Expo compound, while another one, specializing on secondhand books and furniture can be found on the other end of the compound. Some well-known thrift shops in Cubao Expo are Ms. Remy's Thrift Shop, The Grand Thrift Shop, and The Vinyl Dump Thrift Shop. 

The Cubao Expo compound located beside the Bus Terminal. 
Aside from Cubao Expo, another well-known location for the ukay-ukay can be seen in front of the Farmer's Plaza. It's actually a strip of ukay shops! A good landmark would be the Quezon Theatre Building, once you see that, you can't miss the ukay shops. Some names of the stores would be C & W Ukay-ukay, Cawada Fashion, Desibel Ukay, and the most popular, Fashion De-light. These shops specialize on selling clothes and bags for really reasonable prices. Fashion De-light has the best display of bags, and is actually one of the biggest standalone ukay store in the city. There are so many racks of clothing that it's completely understandable if you have to come back the next day to finish looking through the rest of the store. Perhaps the best thing about Cubao is that plenty of the ukay-ukay shops are all close to each other.   

The inside of Fashion De-lite. Make sure you come here on a weekday when there's not a lot of poeple, and make sure you're physically fit! 
2. Aurora Boulevard (EDSA to Katipunan)
          The whole stretch of Aurora Boulevard starting from the corner of EDSA all the way to the corner of Katipunan, is also home to a strip of some of the best ukay shops. Just in the Cubao area, but already along Aurora, a number of ukay-ukay shops can be found. These ukay shops also specialize in selling inexpensive clothing, like jeans, tops and jackets. One such store found in the Cubao-Aurora area is Kabunyan Thrift Shop. This store sells a variety of apparel and accessories, and the store is relatively easy to walk around in, since the aisles are fairly spaced and the number of items on display are not as overwhelming. 

If you continue to walk down along Aurora Blvd. towards the Anonas area, another favorite ukay spot can be found. The landmark would be the St. Joseph Parish, and right beside it is an ukay-ukay mall of four floors! Most of the ukay shops in this "mall" are air-conditioned, and the ukay shops sell different things, from apparel and accessories, to toys. Other than the ukay -ukay mall, beside it is the Anonas LRT station where, in the 2nd floor of the station, there's another favorite ukay store called Chard-Mau that's got a great selection of clothes and bags, all at a reasonable price. The great thing about this Anonas-Aurora ukay-ukay spot is that it's very easy to get to (just have to hop off the LRT) and a huge selection of different secondhand items are waiting to be discovered. 

Finally, if you walk towards the Katipunan-Aurora area, another favorite ukay shop can be found. The store's name is Raberly, and is quite popular among university students, since it's very accessible from UP and Ateneo. Raberly is air-conditioned, and it's also got a good selection of casual wear. The store also occasionally offers an interesting display of shoes and even designer boots. The clothes are priced from P85-P155, but this ukay store is pretty generous when it comes to making tawad, as long as the shopper buys a good amount of items. 

Left: The inside of Kabunyan Thrift Shop located at the Cubao-Aurora area
Right: Raberly, located at Aurora corner Katipunan. They love to go on sales! 
3. Kamuning-Kamias
          Around the area of Kamuning-EDSA-Kamias intersection, we have another wave of three ukay stores offering a good collection of clothes. The names to remember are Ikayman Fashion Fashion located in the Kamuning-EDSA intersection, and Mabunga UK in the Kamias-EDSA intersection, which has two satellite "branches" right beside each other. Ikayman sells clothes that are more expensive than the average ukay prices, yet there's an unusual good number of designer items, especially in the bag section. Mabunga UK on the other side of EDSA also offers a good collection of clothes and accessories. If you're willing to shell out a little more money than the average for nice ukay branded items, then your stops are here in Ikayman and Mabunga! It's also good to note that the ukay shops are air-conditioned and are right beside a Chowking and a Jollibee, so food for energy is no problem. 

Further down the Kamuning street is a building called Swap meet that sells rare secondhand and antique bargains, specializing on furniture and musical records. The two-floor building houses various secondhand stores like Intierro Fenix, and is occasionally visited by some celebrities like Kris Aquino or the APO Hiking Society for their antique furniture and vintage music records fix. Some of the objects that can be seen are wooden and glass furnitures, framed posters, secondhand players, and other kinds of vintage trinkets that can be nice ideas for gifts. 

Ikayman Fashion and Swap meet building in KamuningSource: http://www.spot.ph/shopping/41270/spotphs-guide-to-thrift-shops-in-manila/4 ; http://www.spot.ph/shopping/16018/made-in-the-ukay-recessionistas-reveal-how-to-score-in-an-ukay-ukay/1
4. EDSA-Ortigas Intersection
          Beside the POEA building in the southbound side of EDSA is the place called Uky, a series of ukay-ukay stalls. Although Greenhills is not too far away, some nice deals can be found in this area too. Some of the stores are Ukay-ukay sa Ortigas and Lucky 888. These stores are pretty spacious with much room to walk around, so the whole shopping experience isn't as crowded as the other ukay stores. The stores have good collections of clothes, shoes and bags, almost all coming from the US. Some of the items are well-known brands like Zara and Hush Puppies, so if you're just patient enough, you might just score some nice branded yet inexpensive items. In Lucky 888, don't forget to look above because there are some nice signature bags hanging up there! 

Ukay-ukay sa Ortigas and Lucky 888. EDSA seems to attract numerous ukay-ukay stores. Perhaps because so many people and cars pass by... Good marketing strategy! 
Source: http://www.spot.ph/shopping/41270/spotphs-guide-to-thrift-shops-in-manila/6

Here's a list of other ukay-ukay places around Metro Manila to visit (including me!):

1. Blumentritt corner Rizal Avenue (ex. Cylthia RTW Fashion, beside Mercury Drug)
2. J.P. Rizal, Makati Avenue (ex. Lucky Star Ukay-ukay)
3. Marcos Hi-Way, Marikina City
4. Bangkal, Hizon and Apolinario street intersection (ex. Archaic, Femy's Thrift Shop and Bangkal Thrift Shop)
5. Makati Cinema Square, Pasong Tamo (ex. Ukay-ukay Wagawagan)

Now that you more or less have an idea where to go for some awesome ukay-ukay deals, what are the things to keep in mind before, during and after ukay-ukay shopping? 

A Friendly Guide

Ukay-ukay shopping is definitely very different from the experience of shopping at a mall, a department store or even a tiangge in Greenhills, especially when it comes to apparel and accessories. This is perhaps because ukay-ukay shoppers have to be physically and mentally prepared, have to be very careful while inside an ukay-ukay, and have to pay great attention in washing the clothes properly. Because some people think shopping at an ukay-ukay is somewhat like a chore or is considered to be "hassle," here are some friendly tips aimed to help make your next or your first ukay-ukay experience hassle-free and enjoyable. 

1. Dress down, wear comfortable clothes and be hands-free
          Remember, you're not shopping at a mall! This is not the perfect time to be wearing something fashionable, since you are not really going out to impress anyone. If you wear something too attractive, the salespeople might just change the price of your items since for them, you look like someone who can shell out a little more money. Try not to bring too many stuff with you; a sling bag which can carry only the essential things is perfect. Also, if you're planning to commute or walk a little to the next ukay-ukay store, a simple shirt, jeans and comfy shoes are the key. 

2. Bring cash in small bills, and some coins
          Unlike in the mall, you cannot use your credit card in the ukay-ukay. If you're planning to spend 1k and above, just prepare cash. If you're planning to buy just a few things which will not be too expensive, prepare small bills since some ukay stores tend to have little change. Also, bring some coins with you if you plan to commute. 

3. Have someone accompany you
          It's good to have a trustworthy friend who more or less knows your style, thus can critique and contribute some insight into the items you plan to buy. Having a friend will also make the ukay adventure more enjoyable as you rummage through outlandish-looking items, and as you hop from one store to the next. If you have a friend who wishes to accompany you and go ukay shopping as well, that would make things just as fun. But beware, you just might be targeting the same items! 

4. Have in mind the things you want to buy
          A picture of what you more or less want to look for will be very helpful, especially since you will be going through a sea of secondhand items. If you wish to buy some tops only, it would help to save time not to visit the bottoms area anymore. Of course it's possible that while shopping, you might find something really nice yet wasn't your original goal, but setting some goals before entering the store will help make you feel less overwhelmed by all the items. 

5. Prepare lots of energy and patience
          Eat before you head out to the store and some coffee will help. Some ukay stores are dimly lit and the whole act of rummaging through racks and racks of clothes can be draining, so make sure to have lots of energy in store. Also, make sure you go ukay shopping with a good mood because if you're irritated or already tired, you just might not have the proper mindset of going through all the items. Plus, it might affect your choices of items! 

6. Take your time while looking and reflect
          Make sure you're not in a rush when you go ukay shopping because you need all the time you can get if you want to score lots of nice bargains. Try not to rummage through the items too fast because you might just miss something that could have been a potential buy. You would also need all the time in the world because some reflection upon the items you're rummaging through is needed. You need to ask yourself some questions like "Will I actually use this" or "Does this look unique enough" when you're picking up something that interested you. Imagination at this point will be a big help. 

7. Know your size
          This will be very helpful if the ukay store does not have a fitting room, or if you're simply not comfortable with fitting on clothes on the spot or because it's still not washed. Be very careful with the size of your potential items because although ukay clothes are very cheap, once you're home and you discover that the item is not a good fit, a feeling of regret may creep in. 

8. Grab, grab, grab what you like and deliberate later
          Because ukay items are just so unique, once you find something that caught your attention, after some reflection, grab it before someone else picks it up. Once you've grabbed all the items, that's when you can begin to deliberate more and check for defects. This will prevent you from feeling regret where you realized that you actually liked the item, but it's no longer in the rack or you just can't remember where you left it. 

9. Check for any stains/damages
          Once you have grabbed all the items you found interesting, it's time to check if the items have any stains, holes, missing buttons/zippers, and other defects. Check the underarm part most especially since the underarms are very sensitive and it is the part most susceptible to the previous owner's sweat. 

10. Don't be scared to negotiate with the salesperson 
          If you bought a lot of items, do not forget to try and haggle with the salesperson. Prices relatively change from time to time in an ukay-ukay, so it is much easier to try to get a discount. Although ukay items are already cheap in the first place, if you get to buy them a much lower price, then there's no greater thrill than that! 

11. Be friends with the sales people and ask for New Arrivals 
         Small talk with the ukayukay salesperson just might help you get that discount in the end. Being friends with the salespeople can also lead to a some sort of trusting relationship where they can trust you to keep coming back, and you can trust them to offer good bargains. They can also help out while shopping by giving some tips and insights on the clothes that you're looking at. Another key information you may get from the salespeople by befriending them is the schedule of the new arrivals. That is very relevant information because being informed beforehand when the new arrivals are means that you get to have first dibs on some of the really good items. 

12. Clean your items properly
          Once you go home, soak your ukay clothes in hot water, which will kill the bacteria. What some people do is after soaking the clothes in hot water, they soak it in a mixture of lysol and detergent powder for at least 3o minutes. And then, rinse the clothes properly and then wash it again with the usual detergent soap. You may opt to rinse it and then re-wash with the detergent soap, but once you're satisfied that the clothes are clean, soak it in fabric conditioner to remove the distinct ukay smell. In the case of bags and shoes, it's alright to wash them, but if the material is leather, perhaps it's a better idea to clean it with a leather cleaning solution. You may opt to spray the bag/shoes with some lysol. 

Spotlight on Ms. Remy's Thrift Shop

Ukay-ukay is not just about secondhand apparel and accessories! If you're not just a fashionista, but someone who appreciates shopping for other secondhand items like books, music records, old magazines, and vintage trinkets as gifts for friends, then the world of ukay-ukay has so much to offer you. One ukay-ukay that specializes on non-apparel items is Ms. Remy's Thrift shop, found at the heart of an ukay-ukay melting pot. 

Ms. Remy's Thrift Shop is located in Cubao Expo, Araneta Center. This store is popular for selling hard-to-find merchandise since the nineties. The store's owner is Ms. Remy Cabaltera, a very pleasant and accommodating woman, who up to now, personally supervises the store on a daily basis. She herself loves to read and collect antique items, and this passion of hers was what triggered her to set up the thrift shop selling all sorts of secondhand items since 1994. As a businesswoman, she prioritizes creating bonds with her customers, and this is why her customers are very loyal because they not only come back to buy items, but to have a conversation about the latest books with Ms. Remy. 

Some of the items that can be found in her store are hard-to-find books priced P150 above, some glassware which Ms. Remy herself loves to collect, some vintage magazines priced at less than P100, and other random objects like cameras, luggage, old records and even a vintage music player. Fashionistas will also enjoy this place because there are some vintage bags and wayfarers on display too. 

Walking along the side streets of Cubao Expo
Ms. Remy's collection of old glassware
Ms. Remy really does love to collect anything old and antique!
The shelf of hard-to-find pre-loved books
Wow! Those vintage lamps are pretty cool. Wonder if I should buy them for my bedroom...

*** Pictures care of Isabel Ibarra 

Look for Less

For some of you, you're probably wondering how ukay-ukay clothes and accessories can blend with the rest of the items in your closet. Well, here's something to give you an idea. Below are pictures of outfits consisting of some ukay pieces, modeled by friends, Bea and Gico. But to give it some twist, I challenged Bea to come up with 3 outfits showcasing 5 recently bought ukay-ukay items that cost only P500 and below! In the same time, I challenged Gico to come up with 2 outfits, also showcasing his recently bought ukay items, also under P500. Let's see how they did... 

Casual Look: Ukay gray dress worn as top (P100), plus silver pumps and jeans

Sunday Family Brunch Look: Ukay blue butterfly print dress (P150) and Ukay white heart belt (P50), plus silver pumps

Party Look: Ukay zebra print skirt (P100)  and Ukay lime green clutch bag (P100), plus pink flowy top and black cut-out booties
TOTAL FOR BEA'S 3 LOOKS: P500! Yay! By the way, she bought all her ukay items from Raberly, Aurora-Katipunan. NOW, let's see how Gico did... 

Ukay gray shirt (P85) and Ukay blue shorts (P50), plus checkered Vans
Ukay light-washed denim jeans (P170) and Sperry boat shoes (P370), plus a dark gray shirt

TOTAL FOR GICO'S 2 LOOKS: P675! Ok, he might have gone over budget, but 4 great pieces under P700, not bad for secondhand! I mean c'mon, Sperry Boat shoes for less than P400! That's definitely good vintage treasure. Good job Gico! And let's consider that boys' clothes and shoes are really more expensive than girls' hehehehe :) By the way, Gico bought these items from Raberly too! 

So there you go, 5 ideas for outfits that look great, yet inexpensive! This is precisely what you get out of the ukay-ukay: a money-saving, thrilling and treasure-hunting kind of shopping experience! 

Good job to Bea and Gico, and many many thanks. ♥ 

*** Pictures care of Gico Sinjian and Bea Castro

And so this blog post comes to an end. Though please do watch out for upcoming posts on more secondhand stores! Although most of the information in this post was gathered from other blogs and websites, this was basically an attempt for me to put together an enlightening piece of literature that aims to give a glimpse into the ukay-ukay world. I think that one reason why some people are still hesitant to visit an ukay-ukay is that they are still misguided about what an ukay-ukay is really about. And for those who have visited an ukay-ukay already, I hope that you learned something new from here. The ukay-ukay is a good source of adventure and thrill, and it's just waiting for it be discovered. :) 

Luisito Abueg, “The Economics of Second-hand Retail Trade,” Philippine Journal of Development
Interview with Remy Cabaltera, interviewed by author, Sept. 04, 2010. 

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Again, thank you and have a good day! 


  1. I find your post really informative. Ask ko lang po if an ukay clothing can contaminate a brand new clothing. My new blazer got mixed up with an ukay blazer. The fabric's kinda delicate and I'm a clean freak. Just saw on tv that some ukays are positive sa fungi. Any powercleaning tips?

  2. Hi! your blog is so perfect! thank you so much!! :)

  3. Great post. I enjoyed reading it. I have heard many tales from friends about the wonderful outfits they came up with thru ukay but personally all my ukay trips have been disasters. But your tips on how to make the most of one's ukay experience are really great! Thank you and I'll definitely keep them in mind!

  4. Thank you for this on point details. We'll be having kasi a youtube vlog for thrift shops here in Philippines and this one really helps us a lot.