Abu Dhabi’s thrift shops – or ukay-ukay shops, as they are more commonly referred to – are popular among NYU Abu Dhabi students. The most frequented thrift stores are in a building next to the Dunkin Donuts on Hamdan Street. Snatched, a fashion-focused Student Interest Group, plans around three trips per semester to visit these thrift stores with hopes of transforming the outfits into something new. This semester, Snatched hopes to find more outing locations in the city.
“When we go, you may only make an outfit out of what you bought. Or you go to the thrift store and buy something with the intention to sew it into something new, change it up, or cut it up. Then, we put on a fashion show with those outfits,” said Gianna Pendergrass, Class of 2022 student and a member of Snatched’s Executive Board.
Last semester, Snatched held the Midas Fashion Show to commemorate their shopping trips for the semester. Participants in the show presented outfits they modified in the Arts Center Costume Shop to fit the fashion show’s golden theme. These events and outings provide a community for fashion lovers on campus.
“Everyone brings their friends and you help each other look for items,” commented Pendergrass about her experience thrifting.
“When I went the first time, I was scared to go because I didn’t have many friends. Then when I went people would say ‘that looks cute on you’ or ‘this would look cute on you’... that provides a sense of community because people you didn’t think you would get along with or talk to help you.”
This communal activity based around sorting and sifting through clothes is the goal of these shops. In Filipino, ukay-ukay is derived from halukay meaning to dig through. Ukay-ukay shops originated in the Philippines around the 1980s, but are now illegal in the country. Rather than taking direct donations, ukay-ukay shops import mass amounts of second-hand items to sell in their stores. The Filipino government enacted this law
to "safeguard the health of the people and maintain the dignity of the nation." Because these clothes are second-hand, it is important to wash and disinfect them before wearing. Although this law is in place, they are still prominent in the Philippines.
In the Emirates, ukay-ukay shops are legal and scattered throughout the city. The ukay-ukay shops in the warehouse on Hamdan Street offer a wide variety of clothing. Each shop has piles of clothes sorted into their respective categories: blouses, trousers, cardigans and more. On the walls, racks of dresses and blazers fill every empty space. Select shops are lined with large containers overflowing with the aforementioned items. Fitting rooms consist of a bed sheet laid over a divider and customers sift through the piles as they wait in line to try on their finds.
Fridays are the most common day for NYUAD students from Snatched to go on their outings because many of the shops offer discounts on Fridays. For example, three blouses in good condition may cost 20 AED, and a pair of pants only five dirhams. The stores place the clothing in piles outside their shops to attract onlookers on sale days and the building is filled with a diverse selection of people, usually migrant workers looking for affordable clothing.
Store owners utilize these sales to engage in competition with adjacent shops. “You can get this for twenty dirhams here. At the other shop it is twenty-five. My prices are better,” explained a FIlipina vendor about her inventory.
With everything under 25 AED and the possibility of Friday discounts, ukay-ukay shops are an attractive choice for workers and college students alike. Because shopping in these stores takes longer than a conventionally set-up thrift shop, they are perfect for bonding with friends and meeting people from other communities, especially those in the Filipino expatriate community.
While shopping, buyers can sit down and eat in a central Filipino cafe offering food for less than ten dirhams per side dish. With this combination, the warehouse on Hamdan Street provides a space for Filipino culture to thrive in the Emirates and patrons at ukay-ukay shops support the community formed in this environment.