A year and a half ago. Who would of thought any of us would be here. Much less, on business. Fast forward; September 20th of 2012 to November 15th of 2013. Taking our first steps as businessmen in a semi-foreign land. I say semi, since the coincidence is that our ancestors and family all came from this country. It doesn't make it home, but it makes it comfortable enough to a point where we're not total strangers. At least, at first glance.
It had been 13 years since I had personally set foot upon this soil and a couple years for the other three gentlemen who collectively form the clique. Travelling from a country that was experiencing a colder than normal fall to a country who was regaining its wits after being battered by Super Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda was quite an experience. Many were fearing for our safety before we left, and while only one of our families were affected, the Typhoons impact was relatively segregated to a specific region of the country where we were not pitching tent. However, TV never let up at how bad it was in the region affected. Even before we left, Tacloban was still in shambles. Relief efforts were slow to come, the CNN coverage when we were able to view it showed nothing but disorganization and chaos between government officials and those trying to help. But the segue is that as disorganized the officials were to help provide aid for those in need during a time of crisis, the chaos stems from everyday life. The government corrupt, legal aid and officers of the law are some of the most crooked individuals you'll meet and thus you begin to fully comprehend why money speaks volumes in a land where the average yearly salary is $2100 US.
Filipinos are generally known as hard workers. Due to the economic standards, having a job anywhere is seen as a gift. The idea that by being employed, you're able to provide for your family, which is the ultimate responsibility and honourable thing to do as the next of kin and lineage. As the eldest child in a family, you begin supporting or aiding your parents the way they took care of you. In the Philippines, most people have a hard time starting a new life away from home because the cost of living compared to wages paid don't add up. So many get married and still shack up with their family or add a new living quarter to an already over-crowded house. This being said, we stayed in mine and my Father's home in the township of Carmona, Cavite. What started off as an expansion from my grandparents two floored home, turned into an extended "tindahan" (english translation: convenience store) with an additional floor/living quarters built on top that would resemble a bachelor's apartment with a combined living room and kitchen with a bathroom and bedroom. All this to house 4 larger than average Filipinos (And yes, I too am considered larger than average in the Philippines).
Carmona, Cavite would be what I consider a great blend of country/provincial life while still being very urban. There's a downtown core which isn't much of a main street, filled with many fast food establishments, banks and stores that even North Amercians would be familiar with. Then you have a region to the southeast of the city township that is surrounded by rice fields and farmers. These regions are visibly poor and it was hard looking at the local inhabitants. Walking the street south of my home away from home was like walking into a city of favelas. Wide eyed individuals at every turn, looking for that one glimmer of hope that'll assure them that tomorrow will be a better day. The memory is depressing but it's one I care not to forget because I see in them a hunger and fight that most people in my native land don't have. In the centre of the town is a large Roman Catholic church, St. Joseph's. More than 80% of the country is of said religion and during the weeks leading up to Christmas, they celebrate mass 3 times throughout the day at 5 AM, 11 AM and 7 PM. Yes, everyday. And just south of the church on the main street of San Jose was where my family lived.
We had plenty of objectives going out to the Philippines. Mainly, it was to be a destination port for visiting our friends over in Taiwan at Malformation and Hysteria Store who are part of our current stockists. Unfortunately due to time constraints on both our parts, we were unable to visit them and we turned our attention into production and textiles. Although we're not looking to move production of our cut and sew lines and collections overseas, we did see the value in finding a house or atelier that we could potentially collaborate with in the future. After a long search, we found one who we developed a very good bond and relationship with. From attention to detail to quality of work, we were surprised at how great the workmanship and how business-savvy these individuals were as likened to the great people we are working with back home. To give you a hint of the things to come, we had pieces produced specifically that we're proud to introduce into our Elegy collection coming soon, which was initially complete before even departing to Asia.
Aside from producing apparel, we also looked to expand our business in Asia by tapping the unsaturated market in the Philippines. Unbeknownst to most, the Philippines is one of the fastest growing luxury markets in all of Asia with three of the top 5 largest shopping malls in the world, coming from here. Those influenced by recent fashion would find it hard to believe a third world country such as the Philippines can house it's own Comme Des Garcons flagship as well as world renown luxury boutique Univers, and Rustan's, their version of Saks/Nordstroms. On top of that, most luxury brands have their own boutiques that rival the aesthetics of those in North America (eg. Hermes, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, etc) and to those unable to spend that amount of money, Zara and Uniqlo have a strangle hold of the lower end of the totem pole with multiple branches and the first H&M is said to be opening later this year. During our 5 week stay we met with some great people from various shops in particular, thank you to JP Singson of Unisex Rewind and Carlo Pabalate of Hoodwink PH as well as Carlos and the guys over at Y-3 for your hospitality. Your insights and feedback were very much appreciative and we're excited to see you guys again in the near future and see where the future takes us all.
Disregarding all the business we made, had completed and achieved, my favourite times personally were the ones spent with family. Not just my own personal, but the new family I gained thru the men I have a career with. One of my fondest memories which has left a profound impression on me remains the day we were leaving. All of our families gathered at my house, connecting and bonding over the four men they live thru vicariously who live halfway around the world. Anything could of happened during our five week work-cation. None of our goals could of been attained. We could of all hated one another by the end of our trip. But what happened I believe has strengthen our desire and commitment not only to seeing this brand to it's fullest potential, but to our brotherhood. I had 3 friends before I left for this trip, I came back with 3 brothers. Thru all the chaos of plans going up in smoke, we found time to get work done. We found time for ourselves and to reset and rest. And we found time for family.
The beauty of the country of the Philippines is not what is visible at first glance, but at the heart of it. It's people, it's natural resources and land, and it's principles. Until we meet again...
Words by Bernard Manarin
Photography by Jaz Panaguiton