We ready ourselves for a supply run with a drilled preparedness and singleness of purpose. We are off in search of trims (buckles, adjusters) and swim fabric (four way stretch spandex). Slather 100 SPF sunblock on your face and shoulders at least 20 minutes before you exit the car. Bring: cash, notebook, swatches. Strap these items to your body. A fanny pack on your chest makes it harder for pickpockets to best you. No superfluous accessorising: we will need to move quickly through the teeming masses of people in order to cover all this ground and make it back to the studio in time. Wear closed-toed shoes to guard against the wet market’s dubious slime. Consume the last rations of coconut water before exiting the vehicle, and take a deep breath. Destination? Divisoria: Michelle’s in Tutuban, two unmarked stalls in the depths of Azcarraga Textile Market, and, should we emerge victorious, that one tea egg kiosk in Binondo, Chinatown, to celebrate.
Divisoria is a sprawling market area in Tondo, Manila. It has no defined borders, a bustling labyrinth whose streets, sidewalks, and alleys are crammed with vendors hawking their goods. This mess of markets is punctuated by seven “malls” — which just means more vendors, but this time, stacked vertically, in dusty air conditioned buildings. Thousands of people pass through Divisoria on a daily basis. It smells like what you’d imagine a wet fish market in the heat of Philippine summer would smell like: overwhelming. An excess of sweat, tears, and disorientation are common side effects of a sourcing trip. If you need something, anything (literally, anything — hyperbole has no place here) you can find it in Divi for cheap. So long as you know where to look.
This is a place we have learned to navigate by sheer force of will.
In a commitment to situating this collection in the Philippines, each aspect of our process had to be grounded in a truth of place. The process of sourcing the fabric feeds just as much into the conceptualisation of the garments as the fitting of the first toile. It is an active exercise in understanding the chaotic needs of a tropics in the city. How do we translate the practical application of survival? If we are designing for the Toqa girl, who is on the go, fighting her way through all manner of obstacles, how can her clothing reflect the strength necessary for enduring? She must be able to move through a place and alter it, energise it, infuse her own vitality in a way that feeds back into the space with that particular Toqa dynamism.
We work on the basis of interaction and community, and it is only through a constant dialogue with the places a Toqa girl experiences (and, in turn, that experience her) that the clothing lives to its fullest potential.