Filipinas Clothing Co., a Toronto-based brand that is inspired by empowering Filipino youth across the globe to bring them closer to their Filipino roots and represent the beautiful, glorious, and great about the Philippines and its peoples. Started by 4 brothers in 2009, they have continually shared knowledge about Filipino culture and continually reach Filipinos globally. We had the chance to sit down with the founders and talk about their mission as a brand. Here’s how our conversation went:
It seems to me when researching Filipinas Clothing Co. It’s more than just a brand and a clothing company. What is Filipinas Clothing Co. Exactly?
Yes, indeed! Filipinas Clothing Co. is a dynamic brand that aims to represent and empower Filipinos worldwide while providing them with authentic products that add value to their lives and loved ones.
The majority of our pieces are thoughtfully designed to represent or symbolize something significant to the Filipino people. We strongly believe that educating our people (about our rich history, our colorful culture, and our beautiful heritage, to name a few) can uplift, inspire, and create a positive impact on their day. That is why we strive to create and publish valuable content that will keep our followers engaged. In today’s world, where information can be absorbed instantly (whether it’s negative or positive), we aim to be a vessel of positivity where people can draw positive energy from.
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The pieces that we create are not like most clothing in people’s drawers and closets. 99% of the time, people buy our products because of the meaning of the design and how it relates to them as an individual. When people wear our clothing, they feel a great sense of pride in their roots, and they wear it to represent who they are.
These people are the ones that have migrated to another country, were born in another country, or even non-Filipinos who are inspired and uplifted by our brand that they whole-heartedly support us and what we do. That is enough reason for us to keep on pushing forward through the difficulties that we face time after time because we know that we are making a positive impact on people’s lives each living day.
Can you please introduce the people who started this movement/brand, and the inspiration why FCC started?
The brand was co-founded in 2009 by the Agra Brothers (Nikki, Gino, Harvey, and Corwin) in Toronto. We were born in the Philippines in the 80s, and our whole family migrated to Canada in 2000 to seek better opportunities.
Our inspiration, even from the beginning, was our people. Out of all the big clothing brands that were available to us then, none of them really represented who we are as a race or as a community. You could purchase some t-shirts from small Filipino stores that had the three stars and a sun (popularized by Francis Magalona) or the famous Philippine map design. Even with those two simple designs, we saw hundreds of people rocking it.
That validated our theory that Filipinos are so connected to our roots that we would even wear it to show how proud we are of where we came from. However, those two designs did not satisfy everyone’s taste in fashion. We knew that there is more to those two designs that can represent our people from different walks of life.
So, we established Filipinas Clothing Co., where we aim to highlight everything we can about our rich culture, amazing heritage, and deep history by creating dope, meaningful designs using whatever resources we had available to us at that time.
What was it like starting a Filipino-centric brand in Canada? Can you speak about what had been the challenges as well as those you found rewarding?
It was challenging for us in the beginning because we have such a niche market, minimal resources, and we didn’t have any business background at all. We didn’t have a solid plan to go off with, and we had to learn everything on our own to get us to where we are right now. Our most valuable resource at that time was our family and our closest friends. We just knew that we got to do what we got to do to progress towards our ultimate goal: to have a full line of clothing – from head to toe – for all seasons of the year.
Our first-ever “hustle” was at the 2009 Filipino Day in Canada’s Wonderland (a Filipino festival at an amusement park in Toronto). We took our chance and deliberately came up to people that we crossed paths to tell our story and attempted to sell our clothing to them. Not everyone was receptive, but the ones that copped gave us the initial strength to keep pushing forward.
In 2010, we came across an opportunity to acquire a silk screen printing business, which afforded us more resources and allowed us more flexibility to produce more designs that we have conceptualized. However, we still heavily lacked visual design because we didn’t have an actual graphic designer or an illustrator. We connected with local graphic designers Joan Cabalquinto, Bernard Malijan III, Louie Carreon, and Roy Urbanozo to help us out in illustrating our ideas and concepts into an actual design. We will always recognize their efforts during the early years of our brand. In 2013, we connected with an exceptional illustrator Mark Tutor from Cebu, and he has been our main illustrator since. His expertise allowed us to take our brand to the next level. With him in our team, we are unstoppable.
After years of successful pop-up shops around Toronto, Virginia Beach, Edmonton, Montreal, and Ottawa, we decided to tap the Philippine market in 2015 to see if we could expand our company back home, so we filled 2 suitcases of FCC gear that we printed hours before our flight and flew back home hoping to sell out. We landed in Manila at midnight and had to set up shop at 5 in the morning. We had no sleep and no time to prepare, but we were motivated to finish what we started. The overall outcome of that 3-day event was not that great compared to what we were used to. We felt defeated and realized that it wasn’t our time to shine in a very competitive market (Shoutout to all the local brands in PH!). The reason why people buy our stuff in North America is that representation means so much more to them than someone who lives in the Philippines. That’s when we decided to shift our focus to Filipinos in North America and Europe, where the Filipinos are more likely to buy.
Fast forward to today, even with the Covid going on, we have been blessed enough that our online sales have steadily increased and have even expanded as far as the Netherlands, Germany, United Kingdom, and all over the United States. Throughout the years, we have gained many loyal supporters that continuously support us and our vision. We would often get messages from our supporters thanking us for doing what we do. I think that’s the most rewarding part of our journey. It sure boosts our morale when we know that our hard work is appreciated after all these years.
Can you share with us your favourite design so far and why?
One of our favorite designs that we ever created is the “Haribon.” It was our first project with Mark Tutor, dating back to 2013. We have carried this design throughout the years and have printed it on different kinds of garments (Current: Youth Hoodie). Our solid followers will notice that it’s an old design, but to many of our new followers, the Haribon design is still fresh to their eyes. It’s definitely one of our bestsellers, whatever the season might be.
Having an in-house screen printing shop has been a great advantage for us. Our thoughts have come to fruition without relying too much on other people. The only downside is that we have to print it ourselves and put in a lot of work to produce good quality products. The thing with screen printing is if the design has many colors, then the workload also multiplies.
During our early years, a lot of our designs had at least 3-6 colors, so we spent a lot of time and effort doing those projects. Most of our designs now are 1-3 colors to reduce the workload so that we can focus more on other things like research, marketing, web design, content creation, etc.
What do you believe are the key elements Filipinas Clothing Co. has done so far and plan to do in the future to increase representation?
Representation is an important aspect of our brand and one of the reasons why we created this company. We have sold thousands of shirts and we know that every one of those customers is proudly wearing it and representing it to the fullest.
FCC will forever live on because we strongly believe that the Filipinos overseas will never stop representing the culture. To see our supporters proud when they post their FCC gear shows that we are on the right track.
What’s next for Filipinas Clothing Co.?
Last year, we finally constructed a concept store in our garage where our loyal customers can visit and see/feel our products.
We were supposed to open last year just before Christmas, but with the Ontario lock-down and no signs of Covid-19 going away anytime soon, we have to wait out and hope that the lock-down doesn’t extend anymore so that we can finally open to the public.
Other than that, expect us to have more collaborations with other brands this year.
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Raphael Tigno is the Founder and Creative Director of the magazine website vibeant.com. VIBEANT is an online magazine bridging global culture in fashion, art, music, culinary, subcultures, and lifestyles across the world. Pronounced as "VIBE" + "ANT", a literal translation of "ANTS ENERGY" a reference to "BAYANIHAN" virtue of Filipinos.