THE PHILIPPINES: FASHION FORWARD FILIPINO BRANDS
If we had to name a Filipino winner among most-improved brands in this year's survey, it would be Penshoppe. The local clothing retailer surged nearly 400 spots in our Asia-Pacific ranking (up to 413th). It was also the most improved brand in the Philippines top 100 which it barely made last year, surging 71 spots this year from 98th to 27th. Among the strongest local brand survey, it gained 19 spots this year finishing 17th overall.
Pauline Fermin, managing director of brand strategists Acumen Strategic Consulting, says Penshoppe is really winning among upper middle class youth who see it as a 'value for money' brand. Critical to this though, is that the brand is able to keep itself current by bringing in the right local and international influencers at the right time. "They have a winning formula that they just keep on executing, but really contemporise it," Fermin says.
Part of that is tapping into brand purpose in the right way, which Fermin adds is critical for Filipino fashion retailers to competing with international players. Recently, Penshoppe has found resonance with its #IAmDifferent campaign that has enlisted its top notch roster of global and local celebrity influencers to the cause, including names like Bella Hadid, Btran, Sofia Andres, Mario Maurer, Lucky Blue Smith and many others.
Penshoppe's rapid rise in our 2019 survey helps bring it in line with the other Filipino fashion retail heavyweight, Bench, which also had a very good year, gaining 24 spots in the Philippines' top 100 from 68th up to 44th overall. When it comes to strong local affinity, Bench is the hands down winner, ranked as the Philippines' 4th strongest local brand for the second year running.
This should come as little surprise. Bench was most directly affected by the entry of foreign competitors and has pushed its #LoveLocal campaign strongly with much success. “There’s an emerging appreciation for going local with Filipino brands like Bench and Penshoppe," notes VMLY&R Philippines general manager Ags Almasan-Chuapoco.
In fact, in her agency's recent culture shift study, they saw evidence among youth of "Pinoy pride on steroids," with any small Filipino bloodline relation to international recognition being feted, including Filipino models and fashion desingers who are making a name abroad. Case in point would be the Philippines' fourth and most recent Miss Universe winner, Catriona Gray, whose every local fashion choice is celebrated.
What's fuelling this movement has been a shift in nationalistic sentiment under the current (Duterte) administration, notes Rey Tiempo, chief creative officer at VMLY&R, without wanting to make political judgments about it himself. "The sentiment of the people have started shifting more towards fighting for the local brands and local culture with a local mindset."
Global challengers in a tough fight
Such feelings, coupled their stronger appreciation of local tastes, has kept the local retailers a step ahead of big foreign fast fashion. Tiempo, who previously worked on campaigns for an international fashion brand, found that a lot of their main challenges at the time revolved around connecting to the Filipino consciousness. The overall art file and presentations that came in from overseas, for instance, were perceived as feeling "too antiseptic" or part of "art style culture" around themes that didn't resonate with Filipino mindsets, making the market much harder to penetrate.
Similarly, Fermin says the local brands have done a better job of appealing to younger GenZ shoppers who often want edgier, more colourful streetwear, while brands like Uniqlo really focus appeal to simpler, basic, more classic tastes of a slightly older market. But while 'staid' and 'basic' tastes may have more appeal in North Asia, they're not innately Filipino preferences.
Uniqlo's brand ranking actually dropped 25 place this year in the Philippines' survey falling out of the top 100 to land at 104th. H&M, meanwhile, did not gain as strongly as Bench or Penshoppe, but did rise 9 spots to 69th.
Fermin argues that between local and global fashion brands, so much will ultimately come down to a brand's ability to keep up with what is cool. So while Bench may have used #LoveLocal as a way to successfully fend off foreign competition, both Bench and Penshoppe rely just as strongly on their pipelines of celebrity endorsers.
As Korean tele-novellas become popular in the Philippines, both have tapped Korean stars recently to sell their wares. This is hardly new for them.
Simple searches on Bench and Penshoppe endorsers will find photo galleries of local and global celebrities alike, dating back to the early 1990s, from Zac Efron to Kendall Jenner. "The formula in fashion retail really works out with whoever is popular among the target market," Fermin says.
Filipiniana fever: Kultura scores for SM
In a world where bricks-and-mortar retailers continue to be challenged by ecommerce, the Philippines' largest home-grown department store and shopping mall chain SM not surprisingly finds itself under pressure.
But while SM slipped nine spots to 76th in our Philippines' top 100 survey, the brand ranks highly in the strongest local brand category, rising from 7th to 5th this year. Complimenting this, have been the gains of SM-owned Filipiniana speciality store Kultura, which sells fashion, accessories and crafts made from all over the Philippines.
The store may not be the biggest retailer, but by promoting "uniquely Filipino" chic artistry and craftmanship, Kultura is all about supporting local artisans and as such, rose 11 places to land as the Philippines 11th strongest local brand. And as Fermin notes, it's appeal lies not just in brand nationalism, but in the younger generations' embrace of social enterprise and a wider back to local movement that's prevalent in the local food industry as well.