Words by Marga Buenaventura
What does it take to make it in Philippine fashion today? Passion, determination, and distinct style, of course. What is for sure is that it’s not as easy as it seems.
The young designers featured at the SOMA Stores in Makati’s Green Sun arts center are all too familiar with the difficulties of surviving the Philippine retail scene. As a bevy of independent labels with aesthetics that range from classic to kitschy, the local outfits featured in SOMA’s vast space are constantly challenged by high-capital competitors and cost of production.
Having the kind of space to showcase independent labels definitely helps. It only felt right, then, to style some of SOMA Stores’ daring young designer pieces with apparel from BENCH. Pairing an everyperson brand with the renegade vision of emerging local talent? No better way to show how collaboration and support looks good on Philippine fashion.
There’s a certain sense of cool that seems to come with wearing a Proudrace piece, and it isn’t accidental. A veteran, if you will, among contemporary independent labels in the country, the eclectic streetwear brand chiefly draws inspiration from various subcultures. Known for its tough, take-no-prisoners separates that come in a severe palette of black, white, and the occasional gray, it’s certainly brimming with sartorial vision. It’s this clear perspective that hints that it may grow even bigger than it is now, much like BENCH. “Honestly, I think BENCH should be the benchmark for some of the brands,” says co-designer/co-owner Rik Rasos. “It started way back in the ’90s, and it’s still here now. Sustainability is an important thing for your brand, and we should learn a thing or two from BENCH.”
OS Accessories co-designer/co-owner Paul Jatayna shares that his parents were first doubtful of the brand’s success; they didn’t think that people would be into buying bracelets that looked like bones. A partnership between Paul and AJ Omandac, OS has been around for years, and the street accessory brand is not only known in the Philippines for its polyurethane bone reproductions. It’s stocked in various retail stores worldwide, with fans from hailing from some of the world’s coolest cities like Tokyo and Taipei.
Kirv Apparel traces its young roots to menswear, but now also offers sportswear for women. Minimal and sleek, Kirv might just have what it takes to keep up with local fashion appetites. Its biggest problem, however, is that competition is getting fiercer by the day. “It’s hard to compete with big brands. The price tags are super low,” says co-owner Miko Raval. “It’s hard to compete with that. Especially in the Philippines, people are like, ‘I’d rather buy that than buy local.'” Of course, this hasn’t dampened the Kirv team’s spirit in any way. “It would be great to be that big too, one day. Who wouldn’t want that, diba?” Miko says. “I think it’s possible!”
SLAVES ØF LIBERTY
It’s a common misconception that being an independent brand means maintaing a small company. For Slaves Øf Liberty owner Derek Tumala, independence and growth aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, they can definitely thrive together. “Well, I think it’s always nice to make it big,” he shares. “Independent naman doesn’t mean you’re just small. There are so many big brands that have made it and maintained their independence. Derek’s unique take on independent retail reflects on his clothing as well. As a counterculture brand, Slaves Øf Liberty offers free-flowing clothes such as drawstring pants and tunics with kitschy notebooks and postcards decorated in old photos from vintage magazines and books.
Casual clothing and accessory brand Randolf is known for its quirky T-shirt prints featuring fashion figures such as Karl Lagerfeld and Grace Coddington. Designer/owner RJ Santos is always eager to inject some personality into every piece he designs, but he still keeps his feet planted firmly on the ground. While he’d love to take on designer full-time, he’s aware of the financial considerations that come with owning a label. “(After our stint in SOMA Stores) we’ll probably go back to online selling. I also plan to get employed so I can fund the brand,” RJ says. “It can’t sustain itself pa. Malaki pa yung overhead.”
Fresh out of design school in early 2014, designer/owner Esme Palaganas and her casual womenswear brand has developed quite a fan base. Already known for its clean lines and classic silhouettes, Basic Movement keeps it hip through its use of fabric and curated color schemes, as seen in its latest collection. Having the freedom to execute her vision through and through is something Esme believes is one of the great things about being an independent label. “Siguro our capital is the identity and the vision of the brand. We create clothes that aren’t that exclusive, but also not mass-produced. We want people to still feel unique when wearing them,” she says.
Salad Day’s Willar Mateo is aware that his clothes have yet to be the fast food of Filipino fashion: simple, accessible, and easy to (visually) digest. “Makulay kasi siya,” he explains. “It’s a bold statement. But that’s my goal. I want to bring more of that here.” With pieces that heavily feature pink, faux fur, and holographic prints, Salad Day would feel more at home in Harajuku than Manila. Still, Willar is still glad that he gets to share his unique aesthetic with local coolhunters, and is glad to see that his sticker-happy sense of style is drawing a very positive response. “Most people who see our clothes (respond well to them) naman,” Willar says. “Pero kaunti pa rin.”
URSUS ET CERVUS
The last thing on any college student’s mind are scented candles, but the proprietors of Ursus Et Cervus are only too happy to talk about them, let alone make them. Established in 2012, the lifestyle brand not only offers home accessories such as room sprays, but also t-shirts with cool graphic prints, stationery, and an online zine to showcase its design savvy. With so much going on, it would be crazy to pair that up with school, but co-owner Sean Bautista says they manage just fine. “If you’re doing what you really should be doing, you’ll find time for it,” he says.
Born during the university years of its owners, Newspaper Boy is an effort to marry the best of vintage with contemporary silhouettes. With the paperboy of the 1930s in mind, every piece is a play on the idea of enjoying one’s youth and looking forward to what will come in the future. Featuring Bermuda shorts and men’s tops in muted patterns, Newspaper Boy manages to balance modern and old-fashioned elements for its contemporary crowd. It’s certainly important to look both ways, and co-owner Paco Naguiat believes to “grow older, (one must) think younger.”