It’s Sunday and it’s “ukay” day!
I first came across the word “ukay-ukay” (pronounced uk-ie like a pie) from a cousin who told me that the branded pair of tennis shoes he’s wearing is from UK. I thought he meant United Kingdom and that one of his cousins gave it to him. Then with a wide sheepish grin he said, “ukay-ukay”. I had to ask him what he meant by “ukay-ukay” and he responded with a digging gesture.
“Ukay” means “to dig up”, literally going through a pile of used clothing. Simply put, “ukay ukay” is the Filipinos’ counterpart of thrift store shopping. Filipinos’ passion for imported and branded items probably paved the way for “ukay ukay” stores, which I believe started in Baguio City, the Philippines’ Summer Capital. “Ukay” stores have since evolved from when it all started selling essentials for cold season months such as gloves, boots, sweaters and caps in Baguio City where the climate is similar to the west coast. It is also the preferred shopping site of Pinoys travelling to western countries. It is not wise to spend a lot on apparel for cold climate and thereafter, not use it frequently since Philippines is a tropical country. Nowadays, the stores are set up in strip malls and carry almost anything and everything for a lot less.
My sister currently runs a home-based “ukay-ukay” store from her house. Her daughter helps her tend the store. They would lay down the merchandize on buri mats in the front lawn. One part of the house was transformed into a fitting room equipped with a full-length mirror. Once a month, I send her 1-2 balikbayan boxes containing used clothing that I purchased from thrift stores here.
Currently, my sister has regular customers who inquire on when the next shipment is due. Sometimes they even give her requests on what they expect. Thinking about my four-year old niece being an Ukay Princess makes me smile.