10 things I learned from Proudrace, a local streetwear brand

Guests at Ayala Museum’s Design Talk, featuring local streetwear brand Proudrace, on Sept 21 eagerly peeked into a pop-up store that greeted them upon entering the venue. The small booth was filled with the two latest Proudrace collections and past bestsellers. The hieroglyphs, Arabic letters, and logo parodies were eye-catching and instantly recognizable to the fashion fans in attendance.

In contrast, business partners Pat Bondoc and Rik Rasos wore low-key black and bore an unassuming demeanor while mingling with visitors.

This discreet carriage may belie the graphic and irreverent nature of the duo’s aesthetics, but it hints at the essential trait that enabled them to propel their clothing line to global success.

Steady persistence – in honing their style, production capability, and promotional savvy – is a constant theme in the pair’s presentation about collections, inspirations, difficulties, and future explorations.

As both a hopeful apparel entrepreneur and a fashion consumer, here are 10 things I learned from the Proudrace lecture:

1. KNOW THYSELF. Discussing eight seasons’ worth of clothes, Pat and Rik easily identified which vital elements of the label were developed in each collection. From starting with a commercial direction in 2010, to establishing straightforward silhouettes in 2011, adding streetwear classics in 2012, to using exclusive fabrics in 2013, the two evolved their design DNA thoughtfully and deliberately. “Solidifying [their] style” was an overarching goal in the progression of their work.

2. DON’T BE AFRAID TO BE BADUY. Part of self-knowledge is staying true to oneself, so it’s okay to be inspired by tacky obsessions. Pat and Rik admitted that they love camp and kitsch, and that they don’t take themselves too seriously. They are influenced by decidedly unglamorous things like prisoners and souvenir tees. Growing up in the ’90s, they continue to mine the decade for ideas – from Beavis and Butthead to cholos and cholas to Ang TV. Nostalgia can be good; it lends authenticity to homage.

3. STICK TO YOUR GUNS. Having first been noticed for lampooning House of Holland’s slogan T-shirts in 2008, Proudrace received a cease and desist letter from Henry Holland himself. But in the business of logo irony, you have to be courageous! The legal document led them to make a new slogan: “Banned by Henry Holland”. Other cult hits followed, including the No. 1 Crush shirt, which is a take on Chanel No. 5, and the Virgin shirt, where Madonna’s face replaces Medusa’s on the Versace logo.

4. DON’T GO IT ALONE. Many fashion houses may carry the name of only one person, but they likely thrive on a stable partnership (think Prada, Marc Jacobs, YSL). Count Proudrace in that category, with Pat handling business and Rik taking care of creative work. Even without them advocating for such an arrangement for all designers, it’s easy to see how this structure strikes a balance between the commercial and artistic natures of the venture.

5. COLLABORATE WITH CAUTION. The duo recommends delaying joint projects until a label has cemented its identity. Apart from entering alliances late in the game, they rarely collaborate on product, but often do for videos and photos. This path has benefitted Proudrace by strengthening brand recognition.

6. REACH OUT WITH NEW MEDIA. The Internet and social networking have been important tools in growing the business, enabling the clothes to reach countries the two have not even visited. “[Web 2.0 is] the future! Especially for small labels like us who can’t afford expensive PR companies to promote the label,” Pat and Rik enthused in a previous interview with Coconuts Manila. They also keep abreast with the tastes of different markets online in order to respond with unique products.

7. KEEP LEARNING. While listening to the history of the brand, several milestone upgrades caught my attention. In S/S 2012, poised to send their collection to Japan, they started to incorporate more luxurious sheepskin and lambskin to mainstay textiles like French terry. S/S 2013 is the first collection for which they customized fabric with an exclusive pattern – hieroglyphs modernized in the vein of Keith Harring – applied by hand through screen printing. In F/W 2013, Japanese clients wanted some serious winter apparel, and they endeavored to find materials thick enough for the season. It really pays to do something new.

8. INSIST ON WHAT IS RIGHT. At the open forum, Cecile Van Straten shared that some Japanese friends told her they try to conceal the fact that Proudrace is a Philippine brand and asked how Pat and Rik felt about that. They said they are constantly making sure that they are identified as a Manila brand. Items carry a big “Handmade in Philippines” tag. In their first magazine feature, they were cited as a New York label, and they asked the publication for an erratum. This certainly makes it tempting to read into the name as “proud of their race.”

9. BE PERSISTENT. The pair revealed that the conservative Philippine market is a challenge for them, with many customers asking why their products are more expensive than imported garments. But they feel that this attitude is changing and remain committed to selling locally. In fact, more buyers here are interested now that they have been picked up by foreign stockists.

10. EXPANSION IS GOOD. Despite their success abroad, Proudrace is still opening to developing their brand locally. They are creating a capsule collection for Team Manila to help them reach a wider audience, and a children’s wear collaboration with Googoo & Gaga is also in the pipeline.

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