Underground fashion thrives in Philippines

In a dark and hot pedestrian tunnel underneath Manila's university district, shoemaker Julius Wilfredo Gregorio sweats as he sews rubber soles to a pair of hand-crafted leather boots.

The 37-year-old is aiming to make five pairs for the day and avoid getting buried under a pile of orders from his ever-growing list of cash-strapped fans of fashion.

Since taking over his father's "Freddie's Leather Haus" shop in 1991, Gregorio has gained a steady stream of both foreign and local clients who buy his designs that aim to rival those sold in trendy boutiques.

"You don't have to be a rich action movie star to own top-quality boots and be fashionable," Gregorio said, his sweat dripping as the battered electric fan in the corner struggled to provide ventilation.

"I can make you shoes that will make you feel like one, all you have to add is a little attitude," he said, pointing to a picture strategically tacked on his display wall of a local action movie star wearing one of his designs.

Gregorio is one of the movers of the Philippine capital's underground fashion haven that operates semi-legally in two pedestrian tunnels on Recto boulevard, where you can find many of the city's universities.

Over the decades, their tiny stalls and cubicles have come to symbolise defiance of an industry obsessed with ultra-expensive signature labels favoured by Manila's social elite.

The tunnels' strategic location has helped clothiers and expert craftsmen gain a cult following among mostly college students short on cash but high on fashion sense.

Shops here sell anything from jeans, boots and leather garments, accessories such as beads and bracelets, to school and office uniforms and athletic gear at friendly prices.

Designs patterned after popular American brands are perennial top sellers, although those seeking a personal touch can bring their own designs while most retailers offer their own cutting-edge concepts.

Price tags range from 300 to 400 pesos (six to nine dollars) for a pair of denim jeans, while cowhide boots can cost up to 4,000 pesos (93 dollars).

This season's hot tickets are colourful basketball jerseys to be worn in summer leagues organised by various athletic organisations in a country addicted to the sport.

"I often go here to get my clothes done," said Pauline Banigued, a 23-year-old communications major at one of the nearby universities, as she had her measurements taken from a tailor for a blouse.

"They are not exactly fashion runway material, but they suit my taste just the same."

The shops began operating illegally in the 1970s but city hall long ago gave up the fight to evict them, instead allowing them to thrive informally in exchange for token electricity and rent payments.

The subterranean industry has survived globalisation and the influx of foreign brands sold in air-conditioned department stores and malls that are ubiquitous across the megalopolis of 12 million people.

A powerful storm in 2009 that triggered Manila's worst flooding in 40 years threatened to shut them down for good with the tunnels completely submerged, but demand for their services remained high and they soon returned.

Veteran tailor Ruben Rosal, 59, began in the tunnels making just denim jeans, but diversified over the years to meet customer demand.

"People go to us and ask us to make them blouses, skirts, even school and office uniforms," said Rosal, 59, amid the distant rumble of automobile engines overhead and as flourescent lights flickered in his shop.

Rosal learned his craft from his older brother, Danny, who channelled his creative juices from photography to clothing design in the late 1970s.

They named their shop Crazy Horse Jeans to capitalise on spaghetti westerns that were the rage in Hollywood then, and the catchy label stuck.

Rosal's family now owns four shops, and the earnings from the business have paid for the education of his five children, all of whom now have university degrees.

But just as importantly, Rosal said he believed his retail career had offered something important back to the community.

"I've been a farmer and a fisherman in the province, but this is what I do best. I have made clothes for all sorts of people, and I feel happy when they come back because they are satisfied," he said.

"I always say that good, quality clothes are for everyone. Not just those who have the money to buy them."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
News
people
Sport
Diego Costa, Ross Barkley, Arsene Wenger, Brendan Rodgers, Alan Pardew and Christian Eriksen
footballRodgers is right to be looking over his shoulder, while something must be done about diving
Life and Style
gaming
Arts and Entertainment
Carl Barat and Pete Dohrety in an image from the forthcoming Libertines short film
filmsPete Doherty and Carl Barat are busy working on songs for a third album
Arts and Entertainment
films
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Austen Lloyd: Commercial Solicitor - Leicester

    Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: LEICESTER - SENIOR COMMERCIAL SOLICITOR- An o...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer - 1st Line

    £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support organisation focuses on ...

    Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst (Windows, Active Directory) - London £26k

    £26000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Support Analyst / IT Support Analys...

    Ashdown Group: PR, Marketing & Events Executive - Southwark, London - £35,000

    £30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: PR Marketing & Events Exe...

    Day In a Page

    In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

    Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

    Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
    The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

    The young are the new poor

    Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
    Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

    Greens on the march

    ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

    Through the stories of his accusers
    Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

    The Meaning of Mongol

    Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible