Macklemore once rapped, “One man’s trash, that’s another man’s come up.” The song, of course, was aptly named Thrift Shop—a thing we know here in Philippines as an ukay-ukay.
Further into the song, he talks about walking up in the club dressed in head-to-toe pink and alligator shoes, all of which he bought at the price of just 99 cents. Now if you take that price and convert it into pesos, you’d still end up with something less than P100. Does that sound too good to be true? Think again.
Yes, you can get a new outfit for just P100. All it takes is a little patience, perseverance, and a good eye for interesting pieces. Photographer Shaira Luna would hardly consider herself an expert at ukay-ukay shopping but it amazes us how she’s able to find the cheapest of thrills at these shops. Flipping the tables, she shows us some of her most interesting finds as she puts together outfits inspired by different eras in fashion.
Shaira channels her inner flower child with a '70s inspired look. Top, P50; Pants, P50
Do you remember your first ukay-ukay experience?
I was around 13 when I went on my first ukay adventure in Baguio. I think we were on the way home from a convention when our local contact asked if we wanted to drop by the ukay-ukay before leaving. I had no idea what it was and they just described it as a place with cheap second-hand clothes (complete with digging motions). The building we went to was old and shabby, but I had never seen so many clothes and for so little! It was a nice shock, of course.
Where are the best ukay-ukay in Manila?
I haven't been to the four-storey building in Anonas, Cubao that I keep hearing about. They say that's a good one! The bestukays for me aren't actually in Manila, but in Tagaytay, where they are scattered near the roundabout. I always find high-quality pieces there, and if you want original branded stuff, the shops don't disappoint. If I had one whole day to treat myself, I'd spend it there. [Laughs]
Other than personal use, Shaira uses her ukay-ukay finds to style some of her shoots. Here she puts together an outfit inspired by '60s menswear. Cardigan, P35; Top, P35; Pants, P5; Shoes, P500; Hat, P85
What’s the first thing you look for when you go to an ukay-ukay?
The sign with the cheapest amount! Then when I've exhausted those racks, I go through all the sections, including the toys, children's and menswear. I've found nice robes hidden between sheets in the home section, too, so I don't skip that. And I always keep an eye out for unique prints and items reminiscent of other eras, both for personal use and for shoots.
Can you name five of your most interesting ukay-ukay finds?
A leather backgammon case that I use as a little clutch. I found it in the toy section while looking for vintage glasses to use as props. A See by Chloe blouse in perfect condition and in my size, too! I could hardly believe it, and when I checked out past designs online, it was legit and cost around 30-thousand! A really old shirt case from Harrods’ that I put books in when I travel. Original Dr. Martens boots! I have quite a collection of these that I have to buy from abroad, so it's always nice to find a pair or two here at a fraction of the cost. A vintage striped leather motorcycle jacket that looks like it came straight out of a movie. It's huge, but it's too amazing-looking to even complain about.
Shaira tries her best to imitate twiggy with a '60s mod dress. Dress, P75
Do you put a cap on the amount you plan to spend? What’s expensive for an ukay-ukay find?
On average, I spend around P1000 for three large bags of clothes. It's a special treat when I get to go, so I really make the most out of my trips. Also, I really get to use most of the pieces for my personal shoots, which I style myself. The most I ever spent in one store was P3000, but only because in addition to the clothes, I got a camera bag, leather ankle boots, a felt hat, and an army helmet. I once spent P190 for a top, which is already expensive based on my usual P15 to P50 finds.
Now here's something that looks like it was ripped straight from the That '70s Show wardrobe. Sweater, P35; Vest, P35; Pants, P35
What’s the best and worst part about shopping in an ukay?
At first I went just because it was a bang for the buck. But now it's one of the best ways to be creative, try new things and explore different styles. Aside from having no sales people or visual merchandising to distract you, it's definitely the thrill of the chase! I'm always very, very excited each time I step into a store because I never know what I'm going to find.
Of course there are minor drawbacks when it comes to the pieces, such as missing buttons, or holes that I didn't notice, especially on patterned clothes. But I inspect each piece very carefully before bringing them to the cashier, so all my experiences have been good, so far. The worst part is when it's time to go home. [Laughs]
Shaira saves that last bit of the '80s with a color blocked sweater and mom jeans. Cardigan, P90; Jeans, P35; Top, P65; Belt, P10
To shop alone or to shop with a friend?
I shop alone because it's a rare “me” time, and I do really take my time. I imagine it would be nice for first-timers to bring a friend with them to make it fun.
Given that the prices are already cheap, is it proper to bargain with the sales lady?
I'm not good at bargaining, in general, so I don't bargain when I ukay. It depends on the store, I think. Sometimes the cashier at my usual haunts takes off a few bucks because I buy so much.
Here's a tip: stretch your creativity and come up with new ways to wear your ukay-ukay finds. Tank, P90; Button-down (worn as skirt), P90
What are the things that you need to remember when thrift shopping?
Look through your closet to see if there's anything you need or want to have, and scan through the colors, patterns, and silhouettes of your existing items.
Take out the clothes that fit you best and hold them out in front of you, then take mental notes of the size. I rarely ever try things on at the ukay because I can tell if an item fits or not just by looking at it. This will save you a lot of time.
Allot at least 30 minutes to an hour to do your shopping. Don't go when you're on a time crunch. It'll leave you feeling flustered and frustrated because there are lots of clothes to go through.
The way most ukays work is that prices go down every few days or weeks. Unless I want to get something branded, I generally avoid going into an ukay when the sign outside says “New Arrivals.” There may be a better selection, and prices are still a fraction of what you would pay for brand new clothes, but you get a better deal waiting for the markdowns. What you don't know won't hurt you!
In case you do go into the “New Arrivals” section and you see something you like, buy it. You may not be able to come back for it, or will most likely be gone by the time you return.
When you visit a place that with signs that say 70% off, or are P35 or P50 each, set a budget. It's very easy to go overboard! Sacks of clothes are harder to carry than you think.
Newbies will usually experience regret for not having purchased something. Laugh it off and resolve to do better next time.
Here's another take on the '90s inspired by the ladies of The Craft. Top, P25; Skirt, P50
Photography by Nikki Ruiz