th images menu user export search eye clock list list2 arrow-left untitled twitter facebook googleplus instagram cross photos entrep-logo-svg

How One Company Changed the Local Shopping Scene

SSI brought brands like MUJI and Zara to Manila. This year, they're celebrating their 30th anniversary
By Jamie Sanchez for |



Imagine having to fly out of the country just to shop from brands like Zara, Bershka, MUJI, GAP, Old Navy, and MAC Cosmetics. Or having to ask someone whoâs abroad to get you a Lacoste polo shirt or something from Tommy Hilfiger or Ralph Lauren and have the items shipped to your home. Or having to imagine what a Lush product smells like because it's not available locally. Key word: Imagine.


These are things you'll never have to imagine because they're all readily available in Manila's major shopping malls and it all practically started with one company.


Stores Specialists, Inc. (SSI) changed the local shopping scene in 1988, the year it was founded as Rustan's Group of Companies' retail arm. Headed by Anton Huang, President of the SSI Group and grandson of Gliceria Rustia Tantoco (co-founder of Rustan's), they've acquired franchises of over 100 brands since their inception and currently, they have over 630 specialty stores all over the country.


It all started with one brand.




SSI brought Italian fashion brand United Colors of Benetton to the Philippines 30 years ago, making it their first specialty store in the country. The brand was popular for its knitwear and comfy fashion pieces that come in bold and solid colors. It made a splash among many local shoppers in the Metro, who considered it one of their go-to stores whenever they needed staples that were casual but stylish.



Two years later, in 1990, the SSI Group opened the first specialty store for Lacoste (though Rustan's had brought the French brand into the country as far back as the '70s). The brand's classic polo shirts adorned with the iconic croc logo is still one of the most recognized brands in the country today.




It was also in the early 90s when Marks & Spencer, Salvatore Ferragamo, and Bass stores started setting up shop in the Philippines.




Luxury brands like Anne Klein, Ralph Lauren, Nine West, Charriol, Armani Exchange, DKNY, Calvin Klein, and Kenneth Cole opened their first stores in the mid- to late-90s. It was also around the same time when SSI Group launched their first in-house retail concept brand, Beauty Bar, which carries over 70 local and international beauty brands. Eventually, Beauty Bar also housed the very first Dashing Diva nail salon in 2005, making it a beauty junkie's haven.



In the early 2000s, the SSI Group opened the first stores for Bally, Kate Spade, and Lush. They continued to acquire more luxury brands like Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Prada, Yves Saint Laurent, Burberry, and Todâs, which all opened their respective stores in Greenbelt 4 in 2003.




Fast-forward to 2005, the year when the SSI Group expanded their portfolio to include fast-fashion brands with the introduction of Zara to the local market. The very first Zara store in Manila opened at the Power Plant Mall in Makati City. The Spanish fast-fashion retailer has since been a favorite among shopaholics, so much so that you can find the brand in most major malls around the city.




In 2007, they opened the first GAP, Michael Kors, Marc Jacobs, Cartier, and Dunhill, followed by store openings for Hermés, Jimmy Choo, Banana Republic, Tory Burch, Massimo Dutti, Samsonite, Steve Madden, and Aerosoles in 2008 and 2009.




Itâs also thanks to the SSI Group that MUJI fans no longer had to fly to Hong Kong or Singapore just to be able to shop their functional and minimalist home items. The Japanese store opened the doors to their first store located at High Street, Bonifacio Global City in 2010. In the same year, Payless, one of the largest specialty footwear retailers in the U.S., opened their first store in the country.








In 2013, they added more brands to their fast-fashion category, introducing two more Spanish brands--Bershka and Stradivarius--to the retail scene. It was also in the same year when American brand Aeropostale became locally available, as well as Desigual and Superdry.




The SSI Group cemented their reputation as the leading specialty retailer in the Philippines when they brought in Pottery Barn to the country (the first in Southeast Asia) and Old Navy (the third outside the U.S.) in 2014 getting international recognition for their retail management skills.




Apart from these huge milestones, SSI Group also expanded their lineup to include food and beverage brands like TWG Tea, which they brought to the Philippines inÂ2012, and Salad Stop, which they opened in 2014.





2014 was also the year when they launched their own multi-brand site,, allowing shoppers to browse through their wide selection of fashion, beauty, and home brands, and at the same time see what goes on behind the scenes in fashion shows, or learn how to cop beauty looks. But it seems 2018 is shaping up to be a big year for SSI, too.ÂTheir year-long campaign to commemorate this milestone anniversary, âThe Curated Life,â includes a Big Fashion Sale in August and September, and the launch of a rewards app.


For three whole decades, you could say that the SSI Group has been quietly curating our lives (read: mainly closets) in the background. But more than the outstanding portfolio of brands and impressive number of store openings, they've made a mark on the Filipino lifestyle, inspiring many to define their own style through their roster of brands while providing a shopping experience that puts a premium on customer service. Not a lot of companies can claim to be such a significant part of our daily lives.






This story originally appeared on

* Minor edits have been made by the editors.

Latest Articles

The Secret Weapon 2 Famous Founders Deployed to Build Their Mega-Successful Companies

As Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos found, success comes when you turn your business into a reflection of...

byNatasa Lekic | June 22, 2018 02:00:00

This Pinoy Air Travel Company Just Launched New Flights from Manila to Clark and Puerto Galera

AirTrav is now open for bookings

byKhatrina Bonagua for | June 22, 2018 00:00:00

Crazy Rich Asians of Davao? Ayala’s 70 Luxury Condos Priced Up to Php81-M Sold in Less Than 24 Hours

The president’s hometown is not just the nation’s new political capital but also a hot luxury...

byPauline Macaraeg | June 21, 2018 14:00:00

Unsolicited Proposal to Build 11-Km Makati Subway Acknowledged by City Gov’t

Costing $3.7 billion, the project still has to be negotiated by the LGU and proponent IRC Properties

byElyssa Christine Lopez | June 21, 2018 13:00:00

PH Platform Helps Firms Access Over 2K Online Courses To Upskill Workers

STORM Learning carries courses covering various industries and sourced from around the world

byLorenzo Kyle Subido | June 21, 2018 10:00:00

Apl.De.Ap Supports Scholarship Program to Teach Creative Artists to Become Savvy Entrepreneurs

The deadline for application for the initial batch of 40 scholars is on July 8

byElyssa Christine Lopez | June 21, 2018 09:00:00

6 Scientifically Proven Moves You Can Make to Boost Office Productivity

Who knew plants were anything more than a decorative touch?

byMoe Kittaneh | June 21, 2018 06:00:00

Does Your Team Love Coming to Work? Follow These 7 Strategies to Make Sure

A good product or service is wonderful, but great talent is your life force

byJaleh Bisharat | June 21, 2018 02:00:00

This Former Brand Marketer Now Sells "Demi-Fine" Jewelry in Online Shop

Modern Myth has delicate pieces in gold, sterling silver and semi-precious stones

bySteph Sison for | June 21, 2018 00:00:00

DOTr On Track to Start Building PH’s First Subway by Dec 2018, Eyes Partial Operations in Q1 of 2022

Secretary Tugade said the target for partial completion was advanced by at least six months

byElyssa Christine Lopez | June 20, 2018 12:00:00

PH Taxi-Hailing Startup Helps China’s Huawei Tap New Markets for Tablet PCs

The Chinese giant will develop similar products based on experience customizing the device for Micab

byRoel Landingin | June 20, 2018 09:00:00

Boost Your Productivity 1,000 Percent By Practicing This One Habit Daily for One Year

Getting up an hour earlier and making good use of the time is the surest way to make every day far...

byJohn Rampton | June 20, 2018 06:00:00