Arts & Culture
February 13, 2024
4 minute read time

Beachin Style: TOQA Discusses Filipino Tropical Fashion

Andrea Cristobal and Pamella Diegor
Photos by
Illustrations by

What is your brand? How would you describe it?

With Toqa, we seek to expand the visual vocabulary of the island identity through sustainable high fashion. We care so much for nature, and feel a responsibility to take care of the land we live on. Sport Resort is formed through a deep appreciation for community and collaboration as a source of genuine tropical production. At heart, we’re 50% sport, 30% resort, & 20% coconut oil.

“We communicate most articulately through clothing, imagery, experience, and fun.”

The basic ethos of Toqa’s output is grounded in conversation. It’s a response to the restrictive notion of tropicality: we want to be in conversation with the places we experience, the people we interact with, and to share this vision — to the best of our abilities, we aim to be inclusive, minimize environmental impact, and promote alternative methods of production.

What type of fabric do you use?

We only buy bolts of deadstock, fabrics no longer in production. These are often throwaway textiles from garment production houses that have been dyed the wrong color, or unsold surplus fabrics which have been left in storage and discarded without any potential future use. When we rescue deadstock, we take these dead fabric bolts and reinvigorate them with our own textile manipulation processes, making use of and highlighting their production flaws in a way that celebrates their uniqueness and the beauty that can be found in a mistake. We maintain a circular economy of fabric scraps, having never thrown away our fabric scraps, electing, instead, to patchwork them into entirely new textiles (what we call basahan tela).

Is sustainability important to you? What are you doing to create sustainability in your industry?

Sustainability is not a desire for us, but a necessity. The simple equatorial proximity of our tropical homelands means that we feel the effects of global warming much more immediately than people from other nations. Because you can see change happening so violently, it’s difficult to ignore it. To us, sustainability means that our practice actively resists any contribution to the apparel industry’s environmental degradation. By virtue of our production methods, we guard against the common contradictions of the fashion industry, and are unrelenting in our pursuit of a long term discourse with the island identity.

At this point it should be a given that sustainability is integral to any company’s production methodology:

To define sustainability as a ‘political stance’ is almost to dilute its value. It is very much a reflection of our own principles, a byproduct of who we are and how we exist in the world. So, of course: we aim to be aware, minimize environmental impact, and promote an alternative method of production to the best of our abilities. By actively speaking about our values, what we do, and why we do it, we hope that others will follow suit.

How do you incorporate it in a unique way?

When we met, we bonded over our island identities: Isabel grew up in Manila, and Aiala, also Filipina, grew up in Hawaii. The similarities and parallels we found in each other resonated far more strongly than the differences of our lived experiences. We found that there was a lack of diversity in the way people viewed the tropics. To combat this, we moved back to Manila and started Toqa, whose mission is to constantly engage others in a visual dialogue about the island identity. In every project we undertake, we reinterpret the stereotype of the island girl into something more nuanced.

The whole point is to show that there is not one correct definition of the Filipino or island identity: each experience is valid, unique, and something worth exploring. It is our life’s work, and we find ways to incorporate it — be it through a new concept of a fashion editorial (on an active volcano, or in a local auto-body shop!), in the way we design functional service uniforms, or how we make clothing that must withstand the day to day heat, perspiration, and air-con of a contemporary tropical lifestyle. From the way we maintain a circular economy of fabric scraps to the values behind each sustainable collaboration, we find that markers of place and its impact on us underwrite each of our actions. There is an element of necessity, of place, which takes precedence in our design thinking. In this way, the question of identity is deeply rooted within Toqa: everything we do is an expansion on the concept of tropicality, and because we exist and operate out of Manila, the Filipino identity, currently, takes precedence.