In the Philippines, fashion, too, is an art that we should develop and be proud of.
On this episode of CHiNOY TV’s Chinese by Blood, Filipino by Heart, we’re taking a dive into the fabulous world of Filipino fashion! From local roots to global dreams, brothers Bryan and Brandon Liu of the Penshoppe Group, alongside bridalwear and evening designer Rosenthal Tee, share their insights on the developing Philippine fashion scene and what it means to elevate their artistic visions to international heights.
Think global. Act local.
Golden ABC Inc., known by its flagship brand Penshoppe, is a multi-awarded international fashion enterprise that was established in 1986. Once a garment manufacturing company, the Cebu-grown firm came to life in the hands of architect-turned-entrepreneur Bernie Liu.
“That’s [how] the word ‘Penshoppe’ came to be. Because [a] pen is a tool used by an architect and ‘shoppe’ is actually French for the word ‘shop,’” shared son Brandon Liu, the associate brand manager of the Penshoppe Group.
The brand name itself is already indicative of the modern imagination that pushes forward the fashion industry. It’s no surprise then that the Penshoppe Group has established itself to be one of the country’s leading names in fashion retail. After more than three decades since its inception, Penshoppe grew into a network of over 600 sites, with more than 20 franchise stores abroad.
Bryan Liu, e-commerce and business transformation director, reveals that the ideology driving the company was reflected in how he and his siblings were raised: “We grew up knowing that we were always Chinese and Filipino at the same time. But at the end of the day, I think, with the way we were brought up, we were always told to have a more global perspective.”
Perhaps this is why Penshoppe is known for its international brand ambassadors, which includes high-profile names like Zac Efron, One Direction, and Lisa of Blackpink. Divulging the story of how the endorsements started, Bryan said, “I do remember seeing the stores from their simpler designs back then to the more modern ones today. I’d like to think [my dad] was always looking for ways of how to engage with us as kids. One of the things that he always does is to ask, ‘What are the kids doing today?’”
“If there was a popular movie back then with Zac Efron, he would watch that with us. I think that’s what triggered him to see that, ‘Hey, if my kids are looking at these actors, maybe our market will appreciate it also if we brought them in and made them represent the brand,’” Bryan continued.
But despite the spotlight they have cast on international celebrities, the company is firm on honing Filipino brands and talent. Throughout its entire history, Penshoppe has raised five locally grown brands along its side: OXGN, FORME, MEMO, REGATTA, and BOCU.
And the fashion enterprise won’t stop there. “We continue to evolve as a brand year by year. The Penshoppe you knew five years ago is not the same Penshoppe you know of today,” said Brandon.
Be free to pursue where passion lies.
Despite now being a designer specializing in bridal pieces and eveningwear, Rosenthal Tee did not always plan to pursue fashion. Her undergraduate major in Ateneo de Manila University was, in fact, management economics; and during that time, Tee thought she would be happily pursuing a career in a related field.
Ultimately, however, her initial work after graduation was not something that she was satisfied with. “I had this vision of the job I’m going to do: I’m going to love it so much and have so much passion for it. When I didn’t see that, I formally requested and I asked [my parents] if they would allow me to leave this place and study abroad. Thank God for semi-liberal parents and for letting me go and letting me grow,” said Tee laughingly.
Shortly after, Tee studied womenswear design and graduated with distinction from the Istituto Marangoni in London in 2013. She then completed a pattern cutting course at the London College of Fashion, as well as jewelry design and textile print design courses from the Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design.
Tee revealed, “I wouldn’t call myself a kikay kid. I was practically never interested in shopping for myself, but I did always enjoy the feeling of seeing how pretty my mom and my grandmother would be once they dressed up and donned a certain frock by a certain designer. And so, that kind of creative expression did lead me into this interest in producing wearable art.”
Eventually, after returning to the Philippines to start her own fashion business, Tee was invited to the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Malaysia. She was the youngest Filipino designer to participate in the event. Following her successful international debut, she was also invited to the 2016 New York Fashion Week.
“The first impression that I got for myself was that I had to show my culture. I love literature, so I really wanted to bring that sense of being Pinoy — Chinoy — onto the New York stage. And so, I created this contemporary vision of the Maria Clara – Sisa effect,” shared Tee.
Tee credits this open-minded creativity to her mother. “I feel like I ended up being a fashion designer because my mother particularly manifested for each of her kids to embark on their own creative journeys. I feel like they really just manifested everything that they wished they had more of an opportunity to have — learn the arts, learn how to sing, learn how to be creative, learn sports. Meet other people, not just anyone else who looks like you.”
“What I wish and I hope to share with anyone watching this is [that] Chinoys are also quite the talented bunch. We can be very creative, and we can monetize from creativity without losing who we are. We can create products that people will love and cherish for time immemorial,” concluded Tee.
Catch the next episode of Chinese by Blood, Filipino by Heart on Sunday at 8 PM, airing on CNN Philippines.