By Mafelou C. Leagogo-Agriam
There are some people who seem to have a strong dislike for UK (ukay-ukay) clothes. Understandably so because a lot of them look more like over-used, old, frumpy and crumpled hand-me-downs. They also emit a certain unpleasant odor common to UK clothes heaped high on long tables in public markets or in dusty corners of commercial stores hereabouts. Furthermore, to find a suitable purchase from the mountain of clothings, one must dig in with both hands ukay-ukay style. But take heart, dear folks: No need to go through such rigors anymore.
There is a number of fashionable shops called Magarbo in Iloilo City that displays clean, neat, stylish and well-selected UK items like dresses, blouses, skirts, pants, coats, suits, jackets and shirts orderly arranged on the racks. “Ninety percent of the clothes are new and only 10% are slightly used,” the pretty owner Jing Onas says, herself a fastidious dresser and a chic Magarbo clothes user. “Our stores are very attractive to the eyes because the interiors are designed to look like a boutique.”
Art and Jing at their Magarbo store at City Mall-Parola
GO FOR THE GEMS
Shopping for beautiful clothes is the main event inside Magarbo. Finding the best of the crop is the ultimate challenge. The wise male and female buyers should be quite familiar with well-known fashion labels or names to enjoy the “treasure hunting” expedition in this mecca of fashionable wearables. Patience and time to check the clothes rack after rack are needed to spot the rich rewards.
In the course of doing closer scrutiny, one may chance upon — hold your breath — originals bearing the labels Max Mara, Diane Furstenberg, Miu Miu, Marc Jacobs, Paul Smith, Zara, Burberry, H&M, Polo, Gucci, Missoni, Armani Exchange, DKNYC, Giorgio Armani, Bottega Veneta, Chloe, and a lot more sacred names in the international fashion industry. These are precious acquisitions to the well-informed fashionistas.
On a luckier day, a vintage and rare Bill Blass or luxury brands Valentino and Hermenegildo Zegna might resurrect from among the rows of clothings. And here’s more incredible good news! Magarbo clothes are priced from between P150 – P350 each on an ordinary day, branded or not.
WAY TO GO
Shop owners Art and Angelina “Jing” Onas have successfully run their clothes business for over a decade now. Twelve shops are spread out at selected malls in Luzon, Manila and the Visayas. As indicated in her business card, there are three found inside Mary Mart Mall (Iloilo City); one in GT Mall in Molo (Iloilo City); one each in City Mall Tagbac in Jaro and City Mall Parola (both in Iloilo City), and City Mall Roxas City (Capiz); Paseo Magarbo in Mambusao (Capiz); D’Boracay Mall in Boracay (Aklan); in Consolacion (Cebu); Alpha Land Mall (Makati City); and Westgate Alabang (Muntinlupa City). The latter is located a short distance from the Onas residence in plush Ayala Alabang Village.
Among the Magarbo branches, the Cebu City store is the most saleable, it is learned. The Ayala Alabang shop, however, attracts the A-listers, you know, the affluent and chauffeur-driven. Among its high-end clients are wives of politicians — including the politician-husbands themselves — movie stars, society matrons and socialites. Some noted fashion stylists even dress up their celebrity clients in Magarbo clothes.
Jing counts a lovely and popular granddaughter of a former president as one of Magarbo’s loyal clients and valued endorsers. She also likes to retell that a good-looking grandson of another famous former president used to drop by her Mary Mart Mall outlets not a few times with his foreign model-girlfriend then, to purchase bundles of UK clothes he described as classier than the ones in Manila.
Jing is quick to point out that she herself meticulously sorts out and chooses the items worth displaying in the Magarbo shops. Preferable are those that look fabulous or extravagant to conform to what the shop’s name connotes. Afterall the Filipino word magarbo means extravagant or lavish in English. “Our customers need not go to Baguio anymore to buy beautiful branded clothes,” she adds.
TRACE THE ROOTS
Magarbo clothes are mainly sourced from the country’s summer capital and the biggest “gold mine” of quality UK items. Unbeknownst to many, the widespread ukay-ukay business in Baguio City is its biggest revenue earner. Sixty percent of this highland city’s annual income comes from the UK shops, Jing says.
Aside from slightly or unused clothes, here one can purchase signature bags, jackets, and accessories at ridiculously low prices in the commercial buildings devoted to the trade. Jing gives a brief outline on how this buy-and-sell scheme happened.
The concept of a UK trade started with our hardworking DHs (domestic helpers) in Hong Kong in their desire to augment the money sent to their families in the Philippines. They bought unsold, off-season clothes at a lower cost from shops and malls changing their displays for the new season’s apparels, packed them tightly in many huge plastic bags and sent them to their homeland for reselling.
Later on, the more seasoned, entrepreneurial and well-funded Pakistanis and Hindus (or Bombays to us Filipinos) with strong connections to numerous Hong Kong and Singapore shops emerged. Unlimited bales of Class-A clothes entered Baguio City through these swarthy entrepreneurs, and industrious clients like the Onas got their stocks from them.
The items contained in the bales are then classified to replenish the stocks in every Magarbo outlet once or twice a month. In Iloilo City alone, 5,000 pieces of clothes on the average are sorted out in one day to stock up the city branches, certainly a back-breaking job for Jing, who is hands-on in the sorting and selection processes. Clothes that don’t meet her standard are stock-piled in warehouses for future donations to calamity stricken areas.
“You have to love and enjoy what you’re doing so that it doesn’t feel like it’s work at all,” Jing says. “What’s more, you need to be creative on how to stir-up the customer’s interest — like attractive window dressing — so that they will enter the store and look at the clothes. We also cultivate a personal touch with our loyal clients. Our staff calls them when new items are on display so they get to pick and choose the finest from among the new arrivals.”
FASHIONISTA AT HEART
Jing’s undiminished interest in clothes started in her teens and while still in high school. A native of Baguio City, she describes herself in her youth as already a “maarte” girl keen on the latest fashion. She loved to visit the UK shops and pick-out trendy stuffs.
One day she bought herself a jacket that caught her fancy and wore it to school. It must have looked gorgeous on her that not a few classmates offered to buy it off her back instantly. From then on, confident of her good fashion instincts, she went into the buy-and-sell trade up into college. She even once opened a small shop at an arcade in Baguio.
Her early sense of industry and independence were put to good use especially when her parents migrated to the United States, leaving her to the care of an older sister. Wanting to venture beyond her birthplace, she went to Las Pinas City where she earned a college degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management from the St. Francis Academy. Here she met Art Onas whose family owned the school.
FOR ART’S SAKE
A graduate of a premier flying school in Paranaque City and himself an able pilot of small planes, Art opted to work in the family-owned educational institution instead. On December 2000, Art and Jing married. As expected their first business venture together was a UK store opened in the Manuela Mall in Las Pinas, specializing in stylish and gorgeous clothes. It could very well have been the forerunner of the Magarbo shops.
Although raised in Manila, Art traces his roots to the town of Sapian in Capiz, where his mother Remedios Onas served as town mayor for three terms. Among the businesses he runs today, as listed in his calling card, are a gas station in the bustling town of Mambusao in Capiz, a two-storey 16-room bed and breakfast named Panay Resort and Hotel in the same town (for stranded Boracay-bound tourists, he says), The New Coast Boracay Hotel in the island paradise, and a four-room Baguio Transient Home in Baguio City. Two years from now he envisions to open an eight-storey, 54-room hotel in the Megaworld Business Complex in Iloilo City.
Add to this growing list of businesses the 11 Mang Inasal outlets the Onas couple owns. These are spread out in Baguio City; Trinidad in Benguet; Tagaytay City; Bicutan in Paranaque; at the SLEX in Manila; and in Mambusao, Capiz.
Art has only the kindest words for Mang Inasal’s originator Edgar “Injap” Sia. He still remembers that his fellow Capiznon and now turned young billionaire offered him an easy to pay term — along with four other pioneering franchisees. The maiden franchise fee then was only P400,000 for a Mang Inasal outlet.
“Hulugan na, pay when able pa!” he exclaims. “I opened the first Mang Inasal franchise at SM Muntinlupa in 2006. Nauna kami nang three days when Injap opened his own Mary Mart Mall branch.”
ONLY THE BEST
Given such diversified businesses to look after, their hands are full to say the least. Art and Jing check their Magarbo shops every month — not to discount visiting their other enterprises — which certainly entails a lot of traveling and living in a luggage.
“Parang we don’t stay that long in our house anymore,” Jing says of the kind of life they lead. Is there still a bit of room for them to unwind together with their 14-year-old son John Matthew?
The swimming pool at the Panay Resort and Hotel
The Onas couple is obviously resigned to their kind of reality. “We have no social life. Actually it’s no big deal to us because we don’t really crave for parties. In a sense, you can call us party paupers,” Jing laughs.
On the other hand, Art, who is the more candid of the two and such a modest fellow, derives pleasure in simple things. “Our Magarbo shops are found inside the malls. Somehow we manage to entertain ourselves there. We micro-break when we are overworked or overstressed. We stop what we do, get out (of the store), go around the mall and then back to work again. Do you know that our son grew up doing the rounds of Mary Mart Mall?”
Art and Jing are without question happy the way they are. They laugh at the stories revolving around their lives with spontaneity and mirth, which they share to their new-found friends during this casual conversation in a restaurant at Megaworld.
And because clothes are a female’s main interest, Jing gets the last say, which comes as a slogan. “Magarbo clothes are ultra-stylish and super gorgeous. Just everything is fabulous. Buy one today before it’s gone tomorrow.”