Wanted: Affordable Filipino Global Culture
After traveling to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam and Siem Reap, Cambodia in March, I was reminded once again that the Philippines is the last one to catch up, this time culturally, to our Asian neighbors.
Why? In Ho Chi Minh, shoppers make their way to bustling Ben Thanh Market or street night markets for affordable local goods like bags, hats, chopsticks, fans, lacquer ware, tea, coffee and more open until midnight every day. Adjacent to this is the Ben Thanh Street Food Market, a clean, well-lit and safe place for visitors to sample all kinds of Vietnamese specialties such as pho, barbecue, spring rolls, noodle salads and more. In Siem Reap, tourists head to the Night Market and Pub Street for shopping, eating and nightlife. These places are easy to find and offer visitors a centralized place to eat or shop.
I’ve also been to Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Bali, Taipei, Hong Kong, Shanghai – our Asian neighbors which all have their own markets selling local goods and food at fair prices. What does Manila have? How come we don’t have somewhere visitors can always go to for inherently Filipino finds much like the colorful embroidered bags of Cambodia and Vietnam or silk offerings from Hong Kong or Thailand?
When I was working at the Mandarin Oriental we used to direct our guests to Balikbayan Handicrafts and Tesoro’s for local handicrafts but these are pricier than what you might find in a market. Some stalls in Greenhills, Tiendesitas and Market!Market! offer local goods at fair prices but you have to really look amongst the stalls peddling fake branded items or other things imported from China. Then there is SM’s Kultura, which has cute tees and beach bags, abaca placemats and Don Papa Rum for my family when I visit them abroad. The typical shell picture frames and the occasional wooden man in a barrel I grew up with are still out there but I believe we have come a long way in modernizing items yet keeping them inherently Filipino.
You might find one-of-a-kind items in Salcedo Market on Saturdays and Legaspi Market on Sundays. Echo Store in Serndra offers locally made products like virgin coconut massage oil, local artisan chocolates and more. Team Manila has hip T-shirts featuring Filipino icons like Jose Rizal or a jeepney coupled with cool typography and catchphrases. The online shopping site Seek the Uniq is doing a wonderful job offering price-friendly, gypsetter-worthy Philippine-made apparel and accessories for a global market. For those with a higher budget and certain aesthetic, you can find amazing finds in pop-up bazaars all over the metro curated by The Maarte Fair, Cura V, Bungalow 300 and many others, although you have to be in the know to find out when they are happening. You might find some designers in Greenbelt 5 or Power Plant Mall as well as visit local designers showrooms by Googling their information.
My dream for Manila would be a centralized market that embodies the spirit of Manila FAME, the Philippines premier design and lifestyle event showcasing what our country has to offer for global buyers – local merchandise with a global appeal yet at affordable prices. It would be a place that both locals and foreigners would know where to go for all creative things Filipino made. Manila FAME demonstrates what our entrepreneurial generation are doing right. It’s here where I see the new collections of BEATRIZ designed by Carissa Cruz-Evangelista and Ken Samudio’s straw bags featuring embroidered comics-like sound effects. The all-leather Eve bags by Maco Custodio are a testament to how great design can come from simplicity and ingenuity. Tadeco features local weave, the t’nalak, or embroidery designs made by Mindanao tribespeople, the T’boli, made into throw pillow covers.
Once such event is happening right now. Check out the Great Women pop-up event from July 1 to 31, 2016 at 3/F Power Plant Mall, Rockwell, Makati City. One of its Great Women is entrepreneur Zarah Juan, who has an amazing collaboration with Bagobo tribeswomen from Mindanao and uses their designs for beaded shoes and bags, which was also first seen at Manila FAME in April.
Yes, we need to not only promote what the Filipino can do, but continue to uplift our culture and celebrate it, at prices that every traveler can afford and be proud to bring home and say, “I bought this in the Philippines”. Thankfully, slowly…we are getting there.
May all your gypsetting dreams also come true,
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We are two friends who were former magazine editors. Having moved onto other things, we both realized that the creative flow the publishing world used to offer us was missing from our lives. Armed with a common love of travel to the exotic and familiar, a penchant for the bohemian, an obsession with food and a lust for writing, we decided to collaborate our unique and fashionable journeys through life together in one passion project.
We are The Gypsetters.