Fit to a T

- Paula C. Nocon () - December 17, 2003 - 12:00am
The odd affair between a lady and her accessories is a love story as recognizable and symbolic to us as Cinderella’s glass slipper. Many a tres chic French woman stamps her made-to-last-forever Hermes bag with her initials and passes it on to her daughter, who in turn stamps her own monogram below that of her mother’s. Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher tearfully parted with her favorite crocodile leather handbag to raise thousands of pounds at a charity auction. Carrie Bradshaw realized that Mr. Big loved her when he gifted her with a funny-looking but extravagant Judith Lieber evening purse in the shape of a swan. And Imelda Marcos – well, we all know she would’ve taken all her accessories with her to Hawaii if only there was a plane big enough for them.

Women’s obsession with shoes and bags is something that is all too familiar to sisters Tisha Garcia and Michelline Suarez (nee Espiritu), owners and operators of T store. Since its inception in a small nook at Power Plant Rockwell, to its later branches at Greenbelt and now Robinsons Galleria, T has successfully played on the female’s subconscious psyche by selling whimsical shoes and bags with a unique Manila flavor, at very reasonable prices.

After all, T started when Tisha found herself with "absolutely nothing to wear" during her bedridden months of pregnancy. It was during this time that Tisha concluded that a woman’s accessories matter the most in expressing her individuality.

"Since I could only wear a frumpy maternity dress when I was pregnant I felt the need to use more interesting shoes and bags," confesses Tisha. "I’ve always been into the arts and design, so during those convalescent months I spent my time conceptualizing bags in quirky fabrics and bright colors. It all grew from there."

Seeing the potential in her sister’s hobby, Michelline suggested that they open a store together, with Michelline taking care of operations. They took a chance and approached Rockwell management with their designs, and were among the very first to launch in the then-newly-opened mall in November 2000. In fact, Tisha was laboring in the delivery room just when T was being born.

Since then, T has faithfully delivered fresh but limited merchandise week after week to an-ever expanding loyal following, with fans from as far as Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia and Dubai. T began offering shoes as well, which, Tisha explains, is but "a natural progression" in the accessories business.

But with bags of all shapes, sizes and colors flooding the Christmas bazaars nowadays, is T facing some tough competition?

Michelline disagrees. "The reason we opened a store in the first place was because we wanted to be really committed to what we were doing. We wanted something lasting. When you sell something at a bazaar that’s a short-term thing. So with T there was a lot more at stake, and so we work harder and put more into it. Now, we’ve expanded and opened this branch at Galleria to reach a different market."

Tisha adds: "Bazaars keep us on our toes. We love going to bazaars ourselves and we always try to see what’s new, to keep our minds open. But the bazaar shopping experience is totally different from the mall experience. It’s a different adventure, with different expectations. The advantage we have is stricter quality control, and very limited stocks. Our suppliers are under exclusive contract, so our stuff isn’t available anywhere else."

One look around the store and one would notice T’s wide array of designs for a woman’s every need – from totes to shoulder bags to evening purses rendered in materials from leather to straw to satin – all below P2,500. Feminine and flirty, all T’s shoes and bags have one thing in common: A final detail like a bow or a stitch and even a butterfly stamp that appeals to the "playful but practical fashionista" Tisha has in mind when she designs.

"The T woman enjoys dressing up, but won’t spend an arm and a leg for her stuff," Tisha says. "She’s trendy, but within a budget. She appreciates high fashion brands, but won’t be willing to spend too much on logos and brand names, and would rather acquire several pieces of her liking at our store, to go with her every mood."

Michelline stresses that though they watch out for trends in the international fashion scene, T remains sensitive to the needs of the local market. "We’re very nationalistic! We use imported materials, but all our products are locally made. We make stuff that is appropriate to our climate, matches the size and proportions of the Asian woman, and within very reasonable prices. When we make something, we put all these things into consideration."

"What does a woman want in a bag anyway?" adds Tisha. "She wants it to be noticed. She doesn’t want to have something that everybody else does. Yet, she wants it to be functional. And affordable!"

French women, Baroness Thatcher, Carrie and Meldy would all surely agree.
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