The term “ukay-ukay” about digging from the piles of discounted clothes and other products up for sale came from the local word “halukay,” which is the act of digging. Ukay-ukay originated in Baguio City in Luzon and eventually spread to Metro Manila and Cebu and in other parts of the country.
The ukay-ukay started back in the 1980s. Because of the frequency of calamities happening in the Philippines at that time, the religious and humanitarian organization of the Salvation Army used to ship secondhand garments and other goods as humanitarian assistance to the victims of the calamities.
When the goods started to pile up, some business-minded people bought them at a very low cost and sold them to the public. It eventually became popular with bargain conscious Filipinos looking for imported American clothes and other items at rock-bottom prices.
Here in Cebu, the biggest center of the ukay-ukay trade is in the Cebu City downtown area of the stretch of Colon Street and the Carbon District and in Tabunok, Talisay City. Nevertheless, there are also small-scale ukay-ukay centers in different parts of Cebu.
The ukay-ukay items you will see are a mixture of clothes and other items that could be new signature brands, looks like brand-new, secondhand, and poor quality with some damages.
When you go ukay-ukay shopping, bear in mind that many of the products may come from the United States but a lot more actually came from other countries and then exported to the U.S.
When you shop for clothes or any other items in a pile or hanging from a rack, make sure to inspect the item if it is in good condition and for any damages.
If you want a new and signature brand, find the brand name of the item and an attached price tag. This would indicate that the item is newly arrived and came straight from the factory outlet. Other than that, the item would either be a factory surplus or a secondhand that has been repaired or with some damages in it.
I went ukay-ukay shopping in December 2007. I went to the downtown area in Colon Street to shop for some retro clothes I could wear in our costume Christmas party for the company I previously worked in. I was looking for a vintage-looking jacket or a leather jacket with some fur on the collar similar to the ones popular in the U.S. in the 1950s.
I went to several stores and looked at all the clothes racks and the piles of clothing but I still could not find the jacket I was looking for. I thought of going to the Carbon district but since it was the Christmas shopping season, I decided not to go for fear of the mad rush of the large shopping crowd in Carbon at that time. This just shows that when it comes to ukay-ukay shopping, patience is a virtue if you want to get the prized item you are looking for.