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IN MY EYES: Ukay-Ukay

Mang Maing usually boasts of his two branded jeans he bought at the ukay-ukay store.

You see, his waist ballooned to size 36,” fellas, and he could not find any of that size anywhere in the department stores. He found a couple at a local clothes shop, but the bottom was skin tight which he found too uncomfortable. He likes to wear one where he can move freely.

“Too tight jeans offer a lot of health problems especially in the crotch and bottom areas, besides being too uncomfortable in moving,” he said.

So, he frequents the ukay-ukay shops, not only for jeans, but also for shorts, shirts and leather shoes.

Why ukay-ukay, fellas?

The term ukay-ukay is derived from the Filipino verb hukay or halukay, which means “to dig” or “to sift through” respectively. It is synonymous with the verb wagwag, an act of dusting off a piece of clothing by taking hold of one end and snapping it in the air, and shake the item chosen to dust it off and SM, meaning segunda mano (secondhand).

The first ukay-ukay was believed to have been founded in the early 1980s in Baguio. When calamities frequented the Philippines during that year, the Philippine Salvation Army would send secondhand garments and other goods to the refugees and victims as humanitarian assistance to the victims of the calamities.  Soon enough, the shipped goods, upon piling up, were bought in bulk by traders and sold to the public at significantly low prices. They used to market it to the low-income bracket, but following ukay-ukay’s increase in popularity, relatively richer customers who seek low-priced branded goods patronize ukay-ukay stores.

Are ukay-ukay commodities safe?

One blogger shares his post: “Used clothings sold in the market come from various sources including from morgues, from cadavers who died in hospitals and from people who see it fit to throw away their old clothes with the belief that all things old should be disposed off.”

One sanitary officer said: “Some come from sick rooms where the disposed clothes of dying people infected with contagious diseases are gathered for garbage disposal, but some business-minded people prefer to sell it at the ukay-ukay bodega.”

According to Dr. Dana Ruiz, ukay-ukay clothes may cause skin diseases, trigger allergies and atopic dermatitis. These skin infections are caused by either the dust mites that are found in the items, or the chemical additives that are used to preserve the fabric. Aside from skin infections, the bacteria brought by the dust mites and chemicals could also cause body odor.
Based on testimonies on some people, buying ukay-ukay shoes also have affected their bone structure and brought discomfort to their feet. Experts have pointed out that this is caused by the unmatched sizes of the previous owner’s foot to the ukay-ukay buyer. Mismatched sizes often happen because the foot size of an average American woman is different from the foot size of an average Filipino woman. If the size of the shoes is not the contour of the person’s feet, then normally, aching heel and sore toe occur which could cause long term damage to the bone.
Ukay-ukay also may cause asthma and difficulty in breathing. According to some accounts of ukay-ukay shoppers, they have experienced difficulty in breathing while they are at an ukay-ukay store. Experts say that this due to the response of our system’s antibodies to the viruses present on the ukay-ukay items. Furthermore, experts pointed out the effect brought by chemical additives that are added onto the clothes and other products. These chemical additives prolong the shelf life of the ukay ukay items and preserve the quality of the items; if inhaled, these chemical additives may cause asthma and difficulty in breathing.

The environmental watchdog Eco Waste Coalition has reported that they have detected high levels of toxic metal elements in the material used to make plates, mugs and food bowls that were sold in surplus stores across Metro Manila and provinces. The group warned buyers after their cross examination of 30 plus items from more than 10 different surplus stores in the Metro.

The environment conscious group tested the items using X-ray fluorescence spectrometer to found certain toxic metals that are above levels of concern that are detrimental to one’s health. The items are made in China, Japan, South Korea and US.

Some items contain a potent neurotoxin, over 100,000 (ppm) “ parts per million, others with cadmium “ a probable cancer causing element up to less than 4,000 ppm passing the US standard limit of 90 ppm for lead and 75 ppm for cadmium in user products.

According to EcoWaste Project Protect spokesperson, Aileen Lucero, they have detected harmful chemicals in the samples, like arsenic, chromium, antimony and in some cases are traces of mercury. Products used for eating and drinking must not contain any lead or other toxic metals because there is no level of exposure for these toxicants, she added. These toxicants can migrate out of these containers promoting chronic poisoning due to constant adjoin between the tainted container and the drinks or foods a person consumes.

However, some ukay-ukay store owners and retailers claim that they have disinfected their products long before they are displayed in their stores. Some say that their suppliers have already cleaned and disinfected the items before they enter the Philippine market.

Maing says he doesn’t mind all the health warnings because he says he doesn’t buy ukay-ukay kitchen utensils. He only buys ukay-ukay clothes and accessories.

“I have my own way of disinfecting ukay-ukay clothes,” he said.

He said that first, he washes the clothes items with clean water. Next, he treats them with an anti-bacterial powder soap. Then, he adds a powerful chlorine solution for colored clothes. The items are soaked overnight, with soap and all, to be sure all the viruses or bacteria are killed. The following day, he washes the items via the washing machine then hand-washes them. Finally, he hangs the items under the sun.

“I found no problem when I do it like this. I am 100%  it will be safe to use,” he said.

Is selling ukay-ukay legal, fellas?

The importation of secondhand clothes is illegal. Republic Act 4653 prohibits “the commercial importation of textile articles commonly known as used clothing and rags.” The law, however, was enacted in 1966 – years before the rise of ukay-ukay in the Philippines. Despite this, the industry of selling used clothes in the Philippines is not particularly hidden – especially in Baguio City. In fact, it has even gained a huge following among Filipinos because of the low prices of the usually branded clothes.

Health concerns is the number one reason why the commercial importation of secondhand clothes is prohibited. When the law was introduced, its rationale stated that the banning is to “safeguard the health of the people and maintain the dignity of the nation.”

Those found guilty of importing used clothes for commercial purpose can face imprisonment ranging from 2 to 5 years. They are also required to pay up to P20,000 ($391). The existence of the law, however, does not deter the abundance of ukay-ukay across the Philippines. In fact, the Bureau of Customs (BOC) has seized millions of pesos worth of smuggled secondhand clothing throughout the years.

A news item says that in 2015, 21 containers containing used garments were discovered in Misamis Oriental. The used clothes, estimated to be worth P52.5 million ($1.02 million), came from Malaysia and Korea.
“Ukay-ukay shops are for the practical person. Aside from being cheap, the items sold are durable, branded and fashionable,” Mang Maing said as he enumerated the items he has bought  through the years at Cecille’s Ukay-Ukay Shop there at the public market.

So what’s the issue, fellas?

For Mang Maing, there is no issue.

“If you have the money, then you can buy your clothes at the department store. But if you are poor like me, I frequent Cecille’s Ukay-Ukay shop.  Besides, Cecille is not only young but also charming and pretty!” he said.

What else can I say, fellas?

Let’s halukay it!

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