By Julia Saubier
"Toqa is a project that locates high sustainable fashion in the tropics" and "A Rose in Tokyo" are an interview and editorial which originally appeared in GAD Magazine Issue 02, All Girls Are Spicy, Fall 2018.
Julia Saubier: You are a fantastic example of a global brand ran by two global girls. Isabel, you're from the Philippines and Aiala, you're from Hawaii. You met at RISD and after graduating, you moved to the Philippines and just debuted your collection at the Manila Biennale this February 2018. We applaud this decision to start fresh away from the US or Europe, and inject some spicy own-it attitude in the tropics. First things first, where does the name Toqa come from?
TOQA: Toqa is a word we chose because we liked the way it looked, the way it sounded, and the way it had no prior meaning attached to it. We wanted something for which we could build our own definition. @toqa.tv for our internet presence because, as it turns out, people like to watch us do our thing.
J.S.: Who are Toqa’s women/men? Who do you create for?
TQ: The Toqa Girl is of a youthful spirit: she enjoys sports, believes in an ethical consumption of art, and is always the life of the party. She is not necessarily a “girl”: she can be a man, a tita, anything. But she does respect diversity and brings with her an energy that infuses into and changes her surroundings for the better.
J.S.: How has your work been influenced by the visual imagery and Island girl culture of the Philippines/Hawaii?
TQ: We take our own personal island girl experiences — dancing in the club or swimming in a tide pool — and translate them, through our aesthetic lens, into our clothes. We hunger for new experiences every day, and all of it feeds into our work. Our work does not subscribe to the reductive imagery currently associated with resort wear. We seek to expand this visual definition by rendering the island girl in all her different forms and situating our clothing in an experience of place.
J.S.: What are some of your reference materials, in terms of cuts, materials, colors, silhouettes?
TQ: We reference the places around us and the things we interact with on a daily basis. We find all the inspiration we need from the spaces we occupy and the individuals who populate it, and that can be anything from a dried squid snack wrapper to a roadside worker’s "towel-hat".
J.S.: What is the local industry in the Philippines like and how does its title as the social media capital of the world affect Toqa’s production/distribution?
TQ: The local fashion industry is still in its youth: it is small but growing, and that allows us to have a much more substantial connection with the artists and designers here. We are so lucky to be grounded and surrounded by talent and inspiration.
J.S.: How is the tropical fashion aesthetic compatible with urban metropolises like Manila and Tokyo? I feel like it goes directly against a world of salarymen, bleak professional drab, and corporate aestheticism.
TQ: Sport Resort isn’t meant to fit in and conform. It is meant to highlight the parts of a culture that are unique and beautiful, which can be present even in monotony. Toqa is compatible with any place because it induces a conversation about difference, diversity, and beauty in anywhere from an urban metropolis to beach campsite.
J.S.: Do you see a good future for your brand staying in Asia?
TQ: A robust future! We are very interested in shifting a focus from the traditional Western fashion capitals to other equally important places on this side of the world.
J.S.: As a young brand, what is your relationship with Instagram? Rolling out content is kind of a ‘must’ but there are so many ways to do it. What strategy have you found most successful?
TQ: We enjoy Instagram as a medium for communication. Our official company strategy is: whatever we feel like. If Toqa is a combination of Isabel and Aiala then it should also house the different ways we use Instagram; the way we interact with people via DM, stories, captions, and visuals is a mix of how we’d do it individually. We love Instagram for when it makes us laugh and for when it makes us think. A good meme is essential.
J.S.: Your brand is a female-helmed project and partnership. What has been the development of this joint-venture?
TQ: We were always informally collaborating in college, and things just formed organically afterward. In any situation, we are better together. So, why pursue anything else?
J.S.: What’s your workflow like?
TQ: We do everything at once, at the highest intensity — that’s just who we are. Our personalities and abilities complement each other, so while one may be able to handle the work by herself, it is between the two of us that our real strength emerges.
Editorial: A Rose in Tokyo, for GAD Issue 02, Fall 2018
Photography, including polaroids: Ali Al Shehabi
Models: Karen Karuna Shibuya, Efini Kan
Stylist and producer: Julia Saubier and Sophie Arni
Fashion: Toqa, 2018 debut collection
Location: Hamamatsucho, Tokyo, Japan