I recently had another ukay-ukay haul with my sister and a friend. This time, we budgeted 500PHP each, and it took us 3 hours to be able to use up our money. In the Philippines, ukay-ukay (thrift shopping) was derived from the term hukay, which means to dig or to turn over and back either in search of something. Most used clothes are imported from South Korea and Japan, respectively.
Reasons why I mostly buy used clothes and why you should too:
1. They’re cheap.
I am considered a middle-class millennial in a third world country, and to be honest, this is one of the main reasons why I buy used clothes. According to Business Insider, the millennials are the most underpaid generation. What more if you’re living in a third world country? Yes, some might have wealthy parents, but if you only earn 15000PHP (300USD) or less per month, you can’t just do away with buying clothes from fashion chains F21, H&M, Uniqlo, etc., and still be able to save up for at least one out of the country trip every year.
A cute, good quality, rarely worn Japanese or Korean top would only cost me 25PHP (0.5USD), whereas an H&M low-quality top would cost me at least 400PHP (9.5USD), and I expect that top to only run with me for a few months, and its color would just fade.
2. The clothes I get are unique.
I’m 99% sure of that! While some ukay2x from South Korea are also mass-produced, there would only be a 1% chance that you run into someone wearing the same clothes as you do. What are the odds?
3. I get a sense of accomplishment
Digging over the pile of clothes is no easy task, but if you’re really into getting great finds, you’ll have to dig more. You’ll never expect what you’ll find. After every ukay2x spree, I always get a sense of excitement and accomplishment that I was able to get really nice clothes for cheap. I know that many will agree with me that you get guilty when you buy branded clothes, especially on a whim. While there’s an element of surprise to buying ukay2x, you get to plan your next ukay2x trip and ready your large eco bags and budget. No one’s ever guilty of it.
Now, let’s get to the serious stuff.
4. The impending rise of fast fashion
Here’s Fast fashion’s definition, according to Merriam-Webster dictionary:
“an approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers.”
Fast fashion started in the 90s. By the word fast, it means that the latest luxury trends from the catwalk travel swiftly to affordable staple brands in malls. Fast fashion brands are Forever 21, H&M, Gap, Zara, Uniqlo, and River Island to name a few.
People in the first world, especially high school kids get to wear different outfits to school almost every day since they could score trendy F21 or H&M clothes at only 100-500PHP (2-11USD) each. What happens is that since they bought it cheaply (like more or less the price of a lunch meal at their favorite fast-food chain), they tend to only use those cheap clothes once and they just throw it away. So much for sustainability.
In the Philippines, thousands of retailers from China account for cheap fast fashion clothes. What you see in tiangges and in wholesale establishments such as Divisoria are clothes that cost as low as P50 or even less. Buying these clothes is dangerous, especially if you won’t be able to use them for a long time or recycle them.
5. Fast fashion’s environmental costs
According to Marc Bain, in his article The dirty industry of fast fashion is causing an environmental emergency on QZ.com, the fashion industry is one of the largest users of water globally. It has been noted that producing one cotton shirt takes up to 2700 liters of water. I don’t believe what they say that there are limited resources in the world, based on my New Age Philosophy, but isn’t 2700 liters of water for just 1 cotton shirt (that might not be even used) just too much waste? Too much energy is also used when producing these clothes, and it contributes to climate change. Fast fashion is accountable for 8% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Aside from all its resource problems, fast fashion is a heavy polluter. Since they produce cheap clothing, the raw materials should be the most inexpensive right? There are a lot of dangerous chemicals and dyes that are involved in creating such clothes, so what happens is they pollute our air and water. Many fishes in the sea die because of these pollutants.
6. Fast fashion’s humanitarian costs
Most global fast fashion brands outsource third world country workforce for their manufacturing. One might think that it is good that these poor people have stable jobs, but it isn’t what it is. An article from Stars for Workers stated that in 2016 and 2017, workers from Bangladesh have been on strike because of the unfair practices of their employers Zara and H&M. Bangladesh textile workers are among the lowest wage earners in the world at approximately 70USD per month salary.
Aside from that, the workers’ safety is at risk due to their dangerous working conditions. According to BBC News, in 2013, more than a thousand workers died because one of the factories in Bangladesh collapsed. One has to wonder why, despite being a multi-million or even trillion brands, H&M and Zara fail to be at par with the global factory safety standards. They seem not to care and may even look down on their employees.
Up to this day, China is still the leading global manufacturing outsource since a lot more western and first-world eastern brands tapped the country’s workforce to be able to save up on their manufacturing costs. The issue of child labor has yet to really reach its judicial peak.
Aside from the fact that these children don’t get to enjoy their youth, according to a study by Voices of Youth Organization, they work up to 14 hours a day, with little or no breaks. Most children live in the factories’ crowded dormitories with little provisions for them. Apart from that, the children also get punished when they commit mistakes, although they only get minimum salaries.
Awareness and Anti-Fast Fashion Movement
On this day of “wokeness,” many human and environmental activists have risen up against these multi-billion fast fashion industry. They have become successful because according to Fashion Law, more and more brands and retailers have become bankrupt because of low sales.
It is a fact that when buying from brands such as Forever21, Cotton On, etc., you get a sense of belongingness and up-to-date style because that’s what these brands advertise to us. In third world countries, you seem to be rich when you’re seen carrying paper or plastic bags from these brands. However, one would definitely agree with me that what has been purchased from fast fashion brands have worn out so quickly. It’s such a waste.
These are the critical reasons why I buy used clothes. I’m glad that there have been efforts by H&M when they launched their recycling campaign. However, I’m expecting them to release more public announcent of it to encourage more of their customers to recycle, and especially to stop their employee malpractices.
I hope you have now understood how the fast fashion industry harms our planet and its people. Since almost all of the clothes being sold in the market are now fast fashion, I’m not going to discourage you from buying them because we are now faced with less choices, and non-fast fashion clothes can be very expensive. However, I highly encourage you to buy used clothes, recycle your old ones (e.g., H&M’s recycling campaign), and donate them to charitable institutions.
Stay tuned for my other suggestions on how you can recycle clothes, where to buy the best ukay2x, and related issues, in some of my future blog posts.