Thrifting in the Philippines: Part 1

In the first of this two-part series, we’ll deep dive into the exciting world of thrifting, its many advantages and the benefits that it offers not only to the customers but also to the community and our planet! 
Happy learning!

What is thrifting?

Simply put, thrifting means shopping for previously owned items. These items may range from appliances, bags, books, children’s toys, clothes, furniture, home decor, shoes, and more.
Here in the Philippines, thrift shops (locally known as ukay-ukays) have been around since the 1980s. This means Filipinos have had access to imported second-hand items—usually sourced from developed countries—for almost four decades.
However, some thrift shops also have brand new products (with their tags still attached) mixed in with their pre-loved merchandise. 

What do people think about thrifting?

People’s perceptions about thrifting have evolved over the years.

In the past, thrifting was generally looked down upon. The fact that the first ukay-ukays sold used items donated by the Philippine Salvation Army may have contributed to the idea that the stuff in thrift shops are unsanitary. The extremely low prices of these goods—intentionally set to make them accessible to the masses—also carried with it notions that thrifting is only for those who cannot afford to buy brand new items from other retailers and shops.

But today, thrifting is viewed in a much more positive light.

Thrifters (the term for those who buy and sell products in thrift shops) have found their own ways to address these cleanliness concerns (e.g., disinfecting pre-loved items with boiling water, washing with anti-bacterial detergent, soaking with salt, among others).

It is also now common for individuals from higher socio-economic classes to frequent thrift shops, even though they can afford to buy never-been-used items from expensive stores. The reasons why more affluent consumers buy from thrift shops range from experiencing the thrill of finding a unique item, exploring different styles of fashion items to proactively responding to the environmental crisis.

What category comes to mind when they think of thrift?

Majority of ukay-ukays in the Philippines sell bags, clothes, and shoes so the primary category that comes to mind when Filipinos think of thrift is fashion.

Long-sleeved polos hung in a rack

In a typical ukay-ukay in the Philippines, you can expect to find aisles of clothes, hung in racks and organized according to their category. There’s a separate rack for t-shirts, sleeveless blouses, jeans, shorts, jackets, long-sleeved polos, dresses, shawls and scarves and children’s clothing. Men’s clothing and women’s clothing are usually separated and placed in opposite sections of the store. The shoes are placed on shelves.

There is also a growing number of stores selling pre-loved books in the country.

What are the advantages of thrifting?

New and seasoned thrifters alike will tell you that there are many advantages to thrifting! Here are just four of them.

1. You can buy more items for less.

Considering the record-breaking inflation rate we have today, buying second-hand items is not only logical but necessary! Since most of the items sold in thrift stores are pre-owned, the sellers can afford to sell them for very low prices and still make a decent profit. This means customers can stretch their shopping budget and buy more items than if they shopped in the mall. 

For example, shopping in a thrift store with only Php 1,000 may allow you to buy a pair of pants, a jacket, two shirts and a small bag. But if you go to another retailer selling brand-new products, your Php 1,000 may not even be enough to buy one piece of clothing!

For consumers on a tight budget, thrifting is the best choice to shop for these everyday essentials.

2. You can find gems at unbeatable prices.

Thrifting gives you the opportunity to discover unique and valuable items that you may not find anywhere else. The best part? They’re sold for a very affordable price!

You may find a gorgeous leather jacket that looks exactly like what the influencer you admire wore. You may stumble upon a pair of high heels that will complete your outfit for an upcoming party. You may come across a copy of your mother’s favorite book. You may lay your hands on that perfect vintage dress. You may even encounter a rare painting by your favorite artist!

Regardless of their ownership history, one thing’s for sure: thrifting will give you the best deal for these gems than any other store could!

3. You can feel exhilarated simply by searching for an item.

Some thrifters think of thrifting as a treasure hunt. They step foot inside a thrift store, with an open mind and no expectations at all about what they will find. All they know is that they will surely chance upon an interesting and unique item.

That experience of sifting through racks and shelves of items and the exhilaration of finding something extraordinary is already enough for many thrifters. The thrill of the hunt, as many thrifters would attest, is a rewarding experience in and of itself. 

4. You can have fun while doing your part in protecting our planet.

It’s always fun to search for unique items to add to your wardrobe or home. But thrifting offers more than just a fleeting feeling of enjoyment. It also addresses the need of environmentally-conscious consumers who are looking for a low-cost but big-impact way to care for our planet.

Buying pre-loved items extends their life and saves them from ending up in landfills, which are major producers of greenhouse gasses that contribute to global warming. Thrifting is also a more sustainable alternative to fast fashion, which is notorious for generating tons of textile waste and a high amount of carbon emissions. 

In other words, thrifting is one of the best ways to minimize your carbon footprint while exposing yourself to one-of-a-kind and budget-friendly items!

Does supporting thrifting help anyone?

At first glance, thrifting may look like it only benefits consumers needing access to low-priced items. But in reality, thrifting helps more than just the individual buyer. Here are the other stakeholders who benefit from thrifting: our community, our ecosystem, certain individuals and companies. 

How supporting thrifting can help our community

Thrifting helps local communities address unemployment. As more thrift stores open up and expand their selection, more unemployed residents from the community are given opportunities to work as sorters, sales assistants, cashiers, and baggers in these businesses. 

Employing these individuals in thrift stores also has positive effects on the community at large. Keeping them busy and productive minimizes their chances of engaging in potentially harmful activities like addiction to dangerous substances, fights, gambling and crimes.

Thrifting can also empower the entrepreneurial members of the community to start their own business with a minimum capital requirement. Second-hand items can be bought in bulk and sold to consumers for a profit, resulting in a sustainable business that can augment their family’s needs for the long-term. 

How supporting thrifting can help our ecosystem

By making pre-owned items accessible to all, thrifting is simultaneously promoting the reduction of manufacturing and consumption of new items. As you may already know, the manufacturing process of fast fashion items is environmentally-degrading, from its wasteful use of water to its production of microplastic fibers that end up in our oceans.

Supporting thrifting is one way for you to express your commitment to sustainability, particularly sustainable fashion and the circular economy. Buying and using pre-loved items saves them from being burned or disposed of in landfills, both of which have serious consequences to our atmosphere and health of all living organisms. 

How supporting thrifting can help individuals

Thrifting addresses the needs of certain individuals: low-income consumers who need access to quality items and the creative souls looking for unique items that are not available locally. 

For consumers on a limited budget, thrifting can boost their self-esteem by still giving them an opportunity to shop for items they need and want at prices they can afford. This may even help prevent them from being tempted to acquire items illegally such as by stealing. Put another way, thrift shops help empower the masses by making it easier for them to buy their essentials.

Two Asian women examining clothes while shopping

For creative souls, thrifting grants them access to one-of-a-kind merchandise that truly reflects their personal style. Some online thrift stores in the Philippines specialize in vintage finds; others rework the thrifted items to make them more appealing to today’s consumers. Either way, thrift shops cater to the needs of artists and designers with a passion to stand out from the crowd. 

How companies can benefit from thrifting and their impact 

Even companies can benefit from thrifting!

Small to medium-sized businesses that cannot afford to purchase brand-new tools or equipment can check out thrift stores selling office and industrial appliances. 

By supporting the use of second-hand items, businesses can show their commitment to our environment and set an example for their competitors to follow. This can also positively impact their bottom line as more and more consumers are now patronizing businesses with sustainability efforts and goals.

One, two, thrift, go!

We hope this article has given you many interesting insights about thrifting in the Philippines!

In part 2 of this series, we’ll share with you more facts about traditional thrift shops and explore digital thrift shops in more detail. See you then!