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Local alternatives to instantly recognizable logomania

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When the lady sitting next to you has the exact same bag, the exact same shoe, can you call something truly your own?


WORDS JOSEPH L. GARCIA

Your closets could be full of the world’s most expensive shoes, bags, and jackets. But when the lady sitting next to you has the exact same bag, the exact same shoe, can you call something truly your own? Instead of looking at brands under global luxury conglomerates, why not consider these local purveyors of high style.

SHOPPING AS PRIVATE PLEASURE
The story of Idée Clothing Store starts with the last cigarette Rica Lorenzo, CEO and Chairman of Lapanday Foods Corp., smoked. She picked up the habit at 14 and decided that decades of nicotine and tar was enough. Quit, she did. “I never knew I could do it and I didn’t expect to, but I felt it was time. Otherwise, I’d die of lung cancer,” said Ms. Lorenzo, who is in her 50s.

Initially, Idée, located in a space in her family’s Lapanday Center in Makati, was a hobby, something to keep her mind off cigarettes. “I guess it was a way to cope with the sudden change,” she said.

The boutique, which carries items from local designers, has outgrown the ephemera of smoke and burning embers that gave birth to it. “It’s way beyond that now. It has a life of its own. It’s more than just simply a crutch for me. It’s a full-fledged store with its own reason for being.”

Today, her daughter handles most of the store’s operations since Ms. Lorenzo’s day job, as she calls it—heading Lapanday Foods (one of the country’s largest exporters of fruit, specifically bananas and pineapples)—keeps her busy.  “I can live without Idée, for sure. But it can live without me, too.”

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Idée specializes in one-of-a-kind designs and limited runs. Photo courtesy of Idée. 

Still, her presence is very much felt in Idée since Ms. Lorenzo’s impeccable taste is the measure by which all things are judged. Items designed by talents like Mai-Mai Cojuangco, Bea Valdes, Sofia Borromeo, and Carmina de Dios stock its shelves and racks. “That’s the only requirement: that I like them,” she said, explaining how things pass muster.

Each style that Idée pops out will only have about three items in stock, made in three different sizes: small, medium, and large; and after they’ve been snapped up, you’ll be the only one wearing it.

With just three of anything around the whole world (and sometimes as in the case of Misses Cojuangco and Valdes, only one of each item), you’ll be sure never to be caught wearing the same thing as anyone else. And because the store is still relatively a secret, shopping becomes an individual activity. “This is precisely why people would go to my store: because no one knows about it,” she said. “The experience of shopping becomes a private pleasure.”

When asked what sort of person shops at Idée, she answered: “Somebody who knows what she wants. That’s why she goes out of her way to go to the store. You don’t just chance upon Idée. You go there on purpose.”

CHAMPION OF THE INDIGENOUS
While it shares a name with a Spanish fast-fashion brand, Zarah Juan is a Filipino brand whose products are handmade; not hurried. It also champions local fabrics like T’nalak, Binakul, Inabel, and Pinilian in its shoes and bags.

In 2017, Zarah Juan, the woman behind the eponymous brand, participated in the first-ever ArteFino Fair, an artisanal market for Filipino artist-entrepreneurs, and sold every pair of her Bagobo-Tagabawa-made beaded mules.

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Zarah Juan makes shoes and bags from local fabrics such as T’nalak, Binakul, Inabel, and Pinilian. Shown here: a Burdaderas Market Tote by the burdaderas of Bulacan. Photo courtesy of Zarah Juan.

Zarah Juan’s brand is exclusive and her business philosophy, inclusive. She works with indigenous artists like the Bagobo-Tagabawa in Davao. A survey of her Instagram page (@zarahjuan) also shows handcrafted products by the T’boli community, the burdaderas of Bulacan, and the sapateros of Marikina, among others.

Before finding retail success, Ms. Juan was a flight attendant whose travels in Japan piqued her interest in making and designing eco tote bags. In 2006, after securing a business partnership with a retail giant, she left her job and started a manufacturing company called GreenLeaf Eco Bags, which creates recyclable bags. Her eco bag designing and making required her to visit Marikina. There, she met the shoemakers who sparked her interest in shoes, prompting her to create her own designer label.

Zarah Juan has since then become synonymous with colorful and catchy designs. It has a small showroom at Champaca Building Columns, Legaspi Village in Makati. The brand, which regularly participates in fashion fairs, also has an online presence via Zalora, where one can find select mules, flats, and espadrilles.

UNIFORM DRESSING
When repeating clothes is a fashion no-no, Harlan + Holden, on the other hand, says yes to being brave enough to wear the same pants and tops again and again. Harlan + Holden’s slogan is “uniform dressing”: repeated use of items while allowing mixing and matching with what’s already in your wardrobe.

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Harlan + Holden is an advocate for “uniform dressing”: repeated use of classic items that can be dressed up or down depending on the occasion. Photo courtesy of Harlan + Holden.

The brand’s style philosophy is classic and wearable. This outlook isn’t simply a style of dressing, but rather, an approach to the way we dress.

Deceptively simple, the garments—mostly structured pants, relaxed dresses, and loose tops—are designed and constructed to be a blank canvas: you can wear them as they are, or dress them up or down and accessorize.

The brand caters to men and women who are well-traveled and perpetually on-the-go. The fabrics are thoughtfully selected: there are no special laundry instructions (toss them in the washing machine and voila, you’re done, minimal ironing required). The clothes are foldable, durable, and easily packed.

Harlan + Holden has branches in Shangri-La Plaza, Greenbelt 5, Ayala Malls The 30th, and Power Plant Mall. — with Nickky Faustine P. de Guzman