Everything about Toqa Fashion Studio translates to creativity. Visiting its digital hub already brings readers to a conceptual experience of its online store with a “trip” to Manila, featuring snippets of landmarks that the brand has been to across the metro, and a “souvenir shop” where you can see its bestselling items.
Toqa specializes on crafting sustainable fashion by reusing scraps of old fabrics (or retaso in Filipino) to make irresistible, tropical-themed pieces. The brand is one of the fashion enterprises that will be participating in this year’s Manila FAME happening from April 25 to 27, organized by the Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions (CITEM) of Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).
To better get to know this lovely online store, we chatted with founders Aiala and Isabel Sicat about the great concept behind the brand, its humble beginnings, and everything that makes it brilliant and authentic.
1. What's the story behind Toqa Fashion Studio? Who were the founders and how did you come up with such an inspired idea?
“Toqa's founders Aiala and Isabel Sicat first met while attending undergrad at RISD. Having both moved to the Northeast after growing up on tropical islands—Aiala is from Hawaii and Isabel hails from the Philippines—immediately gave the two something to bond over as they tried to navigate winter dressing. Before long, a shared aesthetic and a value for challenging the fashion establishment's exclusive focus on Western cities like London and Paris gave birth to the idea for their brand. There wasn't any diversity in the critiques that we were getting in the U.S.A. There is so much cultural capital invested in these Western fashion cities, but no one is paying attention to other equally viable, equally inspiring places like the tropics.
"So why not move back to the Philippines together and start a fashion label from here, re-interpreting the stereotype of the ‘island girl’ into something more nuanced, true to their own experiences and appealing to a variety of people on tropical beaches and urban jungles around the world?”
2. It's interesting that Toqa makes use of unique, revived textiles and produce limited runs for new collections. What is the concept behind the brand that resulted in these choices?
“We didn't want to be a part of the excessive waste that is the byproduct of the fashion and textile industry. We came up with an alternative method that would keep us on our toes, always creating and experimenting with new materials, pushing for a circular economy from deadstock fabrics, and never acquiescing to the norm of the fashion industry at large.”
3. Walk us through the process. Who designs your items? Who produces?
“We are two sides of the same coin. We have to work separately before merging into one coherent vision. The strength of our collaboration comes precisely from that: We have entirely different methodologies, but they ultimately complement each other. Imagine two opposite points on a spectrum—we work inward, toward the moment when they meet in the middle. It is only when both of us are ecstatic (literally screaming in excitement) that we know we have arrived.”
4. What specific materials do you use in your products?
“Anything that makes sense—looks good, feels good, found locally—and is ethically sound in its sourcing.”
5. How do you ensure quality amid utilizing unconventional materials?
“We have our own internal QC methods. We don't ever put anything out that we wouldn't ourselves wear or respect.”
6. Why decide to focus on establishing your brand online?
“We don't want to be tied down to a brick and mortar establishment, and think e-commerce is the future: The Internet is a democratic medium that anyone can access, regardless of who you are or where you're from, and web/graphic design is just as fun a venture as creating a new textile.”
7. What are the challenges you’ve encountered when you first started and how did you overcome them?
“We're still encountering challenges every day. The current one is bootstrapping an independent venture—and we're overcoming it slowly but surely, by way of iteration and a tireless spirit.”
8. What do you think are your brand’s strengths? What sets you apart from other brands?
“We're unafraid to take risks, and are the most genuinely ridiculous pair of people I know. The strength to jump into any situation and commit to giving it your all, in any way shape or form, allows us to keep exploring and innovating beyond most other brands' definitions of what fashion is or can be. We're unafraid to laugh—at fashion, at ourselves, at anything at all!”
9. What are some aspects that you think you need to improve on and how do you plan to implement these improvements?
“We'd love someone to help establish a more local/international solid operations and logistics plan while we focus more on the creative side. We plan to poach some brilliant genius and coopt their skills for ourselves. Watch out!”
10. Where do you see your brand in the coming years? What should we expect from Toqa?
“Expect the unexpected!”