We Are Gen.T
April 20, 2018 | BY MJ Jose
Making it into any of the Asia Tatler’s annual Generation T lists is no small feat. Over the past three years, a judging panel composed of Tatler editors, Generation T alumni, and members of high society have worked hand-in-hand to put together this carefully curated list of 50 outstanding individuals between the ages of 25 and 40, who are the present-day driving forces behind their respective industries. From intrepid entrepreneurs to passionate creatives, from benevolent philanthropists to number-crunching finance tech wizards, Philippine Tatler’s third batch of Generation T listers are bright talents and big thinkers with a shared vision that is set to transform the Philippine landscape, one enterprise at a time.
Retailer Mike Concepcion, social enterprise founder Reese Fernandez-Ruiz, filmmaker Paul Soriano, photographer Jay Yao, musician Jess Connelly, and fashion designers Mark Bumgarner and Rosenthal Tee are seven of this year’s 50, a mix of both returnees and newcomers. Representative of varying industries, each of these Generation T listers bring something new to the table, ready not just to make waves on the global stage, but also intent on improving the quality of livelihood and artistry in their home country. Young as they are, their contributions to Philippine society are already helping shape the future, opening doors to new opportunities and empowering generations to come.
This intrepid young man keeps a finger on the pulse of the retail world, always keen on finding spaces where he can cultivate original concepts stemming from his interests. Mike Concepcion established his holding company Worldwide Welcome in 2014, and it has grown by leaps and bounds ever since. Sneakerheads and streetwear enthusiasts find a nirvana in lifestyle boutique Commonwealth; purveyors of heritage and independent eyewear brands flock to premium optical salon Ronnie & Joe. All this is just the tip of the iceberg for Concepcion, a go-getter by nature, who is only getting started.
When he weighs his options, Concepcion first takes into consideration if the idea melds well with his overall vision and if it is applicable to the Philippine market. “My business ventures are responses to things I feel are not yet present in the country,” he says. “Ronnie & Joe, which is an homage to my grandfathers, checked all the marks because there were heritage eyewear brands I was interested in that had not been brought here yet. I felt that our market was too clinical—like you must pay a visit to your doctor for a pair of specs. But eyewear is a statement accessory that makes or breaks your outfit. Itshouldn’t be sold on the underground level of a mall, but in a pleasant space the way things like shoes or clothes are.”
Because the Philippine market is one of those to watch in Southeast Asia, Concepcion believes that the world at large can no longer afford to ignore the developing industries in the country. “At this stage, the fully-developed markets can be highly saturated,” he explains. “Here, things are just bubbling, so brands are excited at the prospect of introducing themselves to a ripe and eager buying public. There are few places left in the world that have such qualities, so it’s a tempting lure for international retailers.”
Having spent her childhood years in the company of her missionary mum and playmates along the streets of Quiapo, Reese Fernandez-Ruiz did not find her upbringing starkly different from that of most children. “That was the life I knew,” she recalls. “It was only when I entered the Ateneo de Manila University on a scholarship grant that the disparity between my schoolmates’ and the street kids’ lifestyles became crystal clear. I had access to many privileges—not because I was better than them but I was simply lucky—my old friends were still where they were.”
Determined to invest her time and resources into a worthwhile cause that would open doors for others, Fernandez-Ruiz started Rags2Riches, a social enterprise that supports local artisans, with a group of like-minded co-founders. “The concept resonated well with me because it is an actionable project that yields tangible results,” she says. “I knew it would be a lifelong vocation because livelihood is long-term.” The initiative has since expanded; Fernandez-Ruiz launched Things That Matter, an online store where social enterprises that share similar values with Rags2Riches can showcase their wares. They also accord those interested a chance to weave with the artisans through a workshop. Aside from being a community building enterprise, Rags2Riches is a supporter of sustainable products. Overstock fabrics from factories and warehouses are converted into high-value goods, which have been well-received by fashion enthusiasts in large part to input from well-known designers.
A long-time advocate against the tides of injustice, Fernandez-Ruiz believes that there is no singular solution to poverty. “It [poverty] is a complex, multi-dimensional, and multi-faceted problem that requires a multitude of equally complex solutions,” she explains. “We cannot be overly simplistic about it. What we need are more heads that are dedicated to developing solutions—the more brainpower we have, the more chances of winning.”
This photographer’s futuristic, non-traditional worldview finds its roots in New York, where he began developing his craft. To date, Jay Yao has mounted exhibitions in many locations across the globe, including Hong Kong, Sydney, Venice, and Manila, a city which he is now content to call home. His themes are varied, running the gamut from fashion to technology, his subject of choice at the moment. From February to March this year, he staged a tech-related exhibition at Galleria Duemila. Titled The Low Hum of a Drone, the exhibition comprised a collection of scenic geographical images shot using different devices.
“The photography and art scene here in the Philippines has already grown to be more sophisticated as well as more inclusive,” Yao says. “There are more non-profit organisations dedicated to setting up events and art spaces for people to enjoy, which helps in developing an audience and encouraging appreciation.” Spaces are of utmost importance to him, as he designs his work to fit the site. But his biggest challenge remains conveying the message to the viewers, because in the art world, one size does not necessarily fit all. “We tend to wonder if people are ever interested in what we are trying to put up,” he adds. “To me, for example, topics such as artificial intelligence are incredibly relevant because there is so much material on it circulating the web now, and the world is positioned to head towards that route. Of course, not everyone in the audience will see it that way.”
For Yao, a person does not necessarily have to see the world in a certain way to become an artist. He believes we all bring our own thoughts and ideas to the table, and that sharing information and knowledge allows others to learn from what we have to offer. “But it is important that we do our research before attempting to put any sort of work out there,” he advises. “Finding the right mentor really helps as well.”
“Some people see the fashion industry as a frivolous one, but to me, the business goes beyond surface-level: it reflects the art, culture, and ideas of a certain period,” says this designer, who enjoys being in an industry that is in a constant state of flux. Mark Bumgarner has taken his thrill-seeking spirit from the tracks (he is a former racecar driver) to the runways, where his feminine, structured creations now take centre stage. Proud of his roots, his operations are Philippine-based, with all garments bearing a ‘Made in the Philippines’ label.
For Bumgarner, our growing economy and buying power has attracted the attention of international retailers, enabling them to test out our market and address the increasing demand. “We are not simply a nation of consumers; rather, we are also innovators that have much to offer the world,” he adds. “But to become a major fashion capital, we still have a long way to go. If we look at places like Hong Kong and Japan, they have strong and authentic local brands that are appreciated on a global level. I think that if the government can team up with us to help come up with a comprehensive plan of support, it can help bridge the gap. We shouldn’t just be consumers of foreign brands that allow our local talents to stagnate.”
The fashion realm is keen on collaborations. Bumgarner himself is no stranger, having done shows with close friend, the actress-artist Heart Evangelista-Escudero. He finds the concept of collaboration a neccessity, especially if two parties are intent on bringing something new to the table. “Creativity should not always be a monopoly,” he elaborates. “In some cases, there must be an amalgamation of two institutions. But creatives must have a strong sense of identity and authenticity first before joining their visions with others. That way, we do not lose the essence of the partnership.”
“I think that the Filipino consumer has become more experimental in the last few years,” Rosenthal Tee enthuses. “We are a vibrant and youthful nation, and our access to social media helps us understand that the different types of styles out there can empower us. There is so much variety now in the country, which enables us to be receptive to more fashion-forward ideas.” Though an education abroad has accorded her a global perspective, Tee is a firm believer in the talent of the Filipino. For her, we have always been good with our hands, and the techniques and skills her artisans have acquired over the years help give her designs an inspired feel.
“Despite this experimental phase we are currently in, I would say that it is going to take some time for us to evolve into a fully-fledged fashion capital at par with other global markets,” Tee adds. “I am, however, optimistic about our growth; I like to think that my generation has rejuvenated the spirit of Philippine fashion. As long as we continue to produce and gain support from buyers, we will definitely come out with a stronger identity that resonates with the rest of the world.”
Like many of her contemporaries, Tee finds herself facing an uphill battle with sustainable fashion. She believes it is possible for Filipinos to embrace the concept, but fully integrating it into the market will not happen overnight. “Sustainability is not just about producing upcycled goods, but also building a design empire that will outlive me,” she says. “In order for this to work, it is imperative that I take great care in developing the skillsets of the pattern cutters, seamstresses, and beaders who are part of my label, and make sure these get passed down the line.”
Last year, his romance film Siargao was met with local critical acclaim, garnering awards in several categories. Paul Soriano is more than grateful for the warm reception, but 2018 is shaping up to be a busy year, with several projects already in the pipeline. “Work must always be worthwhile,” he says. “Film is a long-term project, easily taking a year or two of people’s time. If I cannot get an idea or story out of my mind and end up losing sleep over it, then it deserves to be translated into film and shared with an audience.”
Soriano is proud to be part of the Philippine indie cinema scene, which has been thriving over the past few years. Films that, once upon a time, might not have seen the light of day now have a growing captive audience, who come in droves to venues such as Cinema ’76, Cinema Centenario, and Black Maria Cinema to catch the latest indie great. “We have become a bolder breed,” he says. “Filmmakers are more confident in their storytelling abilities. Actors are willing to depart from their mainstream repertoire to take on more exacting roles. We are all geared towards the objective of making sure a story is told, and is told right.” But challenges remain, especially on the marketing side. For Soriano, acquiring support from larger cinemas is difficult. Indie filmmakers still fight tooth and nail for the slightest bit of screen time, which is sometimes only granted when a film does well abroad.
“Our brand of independent cinema is quick to be appreciated in other parts of the world because our stories are a breath of fresh air for them,” Soriano says. “Indie filmmakers often build their work around heavy, thought-provoking issues, which some audiences still tend to shy away from because they prefer easy-to-digest stories that make them laugh, cry, and fall in love. But there will always be room to improve and educate, and I would very much like to be a part of that.”
Her unapologetic, no-holds-barred edginess blends well with her frequent haunts in Manila’s underground scene. Jess Connelly is in no great hurry to leave this cradle that supported her from the beginning; not many were willing to give her the time of day when she was starting out, and what is home to her listeners is home to her as well. “I had no illusions about my music not being a perfect fit for the local mainstream culture,” the R&B singer-songwriter says. “I tried to be part of the television industry when I joined Pinoy Big Brother, but I wasn’t really happy because people were telling me that I had to look, dress, and act a certain way to adhere to a formula that ‘works.’ And that wasn’t me at all, because I felt stifled by all these rules. I left television to pursue my real passion: music.”
To get one foot in the door of the music business, she joined the band Sinyma as its lead singer. Connelly later went solo, hoping to find a lane in the industry that wasn’t being filled. The Black Market group was one of the first to give her a timeslot, and her fondness for the underground scene only grew from there. “The independent music is highly representative of the artistry that not everyone knows exists here in the Philippines,” she says. “The mainstream equivalent might always be more successful and easy to market, but it may not be representative of what everyone is looking for in an artist. The artists I look up to are the ones that do everything on their own and make a big effort to put themselves out there. It can be frustrating as we don’t get as much support and recognition; I’m not trying to create an ‘us versus them’ scenario, but we are hustling for reasons outside of fame.”
She is content to stick to her roots; Connelly is happy where she is at the moment, and contracts (and the pressures that come with getting signed) are far from her preoccupations for now. “I’m just enjoying being me,” she says.
Photography: MJ Suayan | Art Direction: Anton San Diego | Styling: Monique Madsen
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