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How local businesses stay uniquely Filipino

Freeway, Old Manila Walks show why it remains bankable to be Filipino.
By Elyssa Christine Lopez |
LOCAL TOUCH. In 2009, Freeway started launching the National Artist Collectors’ Series featuring works of distinct artists from Nick Joaquin to Ben Cabrera, with the latter's his work shown in the above photo. Photo from Freeway


Almost every quarter, one or two foreign brands launch in the Philippines, disrupting various local industries—from food to retail—satiating local consumers with wide-array of choices.



For a while, the food industry saw the surge of Japanese brands coming in, while the retail sector remained a likeable market for foreign brands with big names such as H&M and Uniqlo, entering local malls.


So in a selection full of foreign distinctions, how does a local brand stand out?


Related: Know the top foreign franchise brands in the Philippines

In 2009, almost 20-year-old retail brand Freeway took a chance on its new technology and launched a collection of clothes, printed with the works of acclaimed National Artists Nick Joaquin (Literature) and Ang Kiukok (Visual Arts).


“I saw that we already had the technology to create vivid prints on fabric, so I thought about putting paintings of great Filipino artists on our clothing. Why not give it a try? It is a fresh idea when almost all retailers are using actors and actresses as their image models,” Freeway CEO Sheree Gotuaco told via email.




Freeway’s risk

The risk was worth it.


Sales picked up and more customers came in, even when they changed their image model, hit actress Anne Curtis. For the retailer, it was a revelation that consumers still appreciated the Filipino arts and culture and pay tribute to artists whenever they can.


“It definitely has been effective in strengthening brand identity and loyalty because our concept is clearly differentiated in our industry,” Gotuaco said.


Instead of settling only as a local fashion brand for ladies wear, the move gave the brand another distinct market: art collectors and enthusiasts. The retail executive said some that purchased their items give it as gifts to foreigners, diplomats or as part of their collection.




DISTINCT. Freeway has been running the series for the last six years, featuring works of National Artists Ang Kiukok (left) on its first run and F. Sionil Jose's in 2011 (right). Photos from Freeway



Since then, the brand continued to launch the National Artist Collectors’ Series (NACS), tapping other big names in arts, culture, and literature, featuring prints from F. Sionil Jose to BenCab, completely veering away from using celebrities as brand endorsers.


While others may still see such move as “costume-y,” Gotuaco said it all boils down to execution.


“Some merchandise out there may be too ‘costume’ and will only be used by a select market for occasion dressing.  However, in our case, we have updated our silhouettes and design layouts so that we have customers who wear the pieces as fashion—for nights, work or play,” she added.


The success of Filipino patronage in business has not been exclusive to Freeway alone, with the likes of Team Manila, a tee store that has banked in patriotism as their main selling point, and Linya Linya, a T-shirt line which features puns in the Filipino language.




Filipino local tours

Another sector that best display Filipino heritage is the tourism sector which continues to thrive with the rising number of tourists coming in. In fact, for the first four months of 2016, arrivals increased by as much as 14.25% over the same period last year at 2,073,851. 


Aside from the best-kept islands of the country, another factor that must be lauded are the innovative strides of some players in the industry to keep consumers guessing.


Old Manila Walks, a tour agency founded in 2005, focus on, well, the capital, Manila. The city may had been dubbed as the “gates of hell” in Dan Brown’s novel Inferno, but such line turn naught with their curated spots in the city that make local and foreign tourists alike give the 444-year-old city a newer perspective.


“Our tours attract just about any type of tourist from photographers, students, curious tourists, balikbayans (returnees), corporate people, schools—each with their own particular interest. It’s interesting how the corporate people have used our tours/services for out-of-the-box creative corporate events too,” said Old Manila Walks founder Ivan Dy.




There is the “Big Binondo Food Wok,” a 3-hour culinary indulgence of the oldest Chinatown’s best food stalls, while the “Power, Palace and a Shot of Beer,” is a walk back in history right at the seat of power: The Malacañang Palace.


Related: The 5 oldest food establishments in Binondo

Dy said marketing plays a vital role for businesses focusing on the Filipino sights and culture well above the pack. Still, there is a lot that can be done.


“We just need to tap on our own heritage resource and make products out of it,” Dy said.




Elyssa Christine Lopez is's editorial assistant/staff writer. Follow her on Twitter @elyssalopz. 

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