On the Radar

Brian Tenorio: From shoes to social development


I first heard of Brian Tenorio, the shoe designer, back in 2004. He had the lofty goal of elevating Marikina-made shoes to an artisanal level and came out with men’s shoes that defied convention. When we met in New York in 2010, he was studying Design Management at Pratt Institute, and designing luxury caskets and urns. Fast forward to 2011, he is back in Manila, consulting for the Asian Development Bank while finding a new sense of purpose in rallying and challenging the Philippine design industry to work together in forging our national identity via a series of mixers, a talk on the state of Philippine design and an exhibition on ambassadors of the Philippine brand, that should get all creative juices flowing.

On The Radar speaks with Brian about his work, his advocacy in getting the Filipino to arrive on time, and the future of Philippine design, as seen in his crystal ball (really, he is psychic, in case you did not know).

ON THE RADAR: Brian, can you explain what you do as a designing and branding consultant?

BRIAN TENORIO: Late last year, the Asian Development Bank took me in as a consultant for branding and design as a US hire. I was fortunate enough that the consulting work allowed me to work on it from anywhere in the world — whether in New York or somewhere else. Since it was almost the holidays then, I decided to stay in Manila. Now that my contract has been extended, I’ve decided to stay in Manila longer and work on the project from here.

Any type of organization, product, or service will benefit from a well-designed and well-determined brand. In the case of international government organizations (like the UN, ADB, World Bank, etc.), good branding would allow better feedback and information dissemination to their stakeholders, member governments, decision makers, and general audiences (countries, governments, etc.). That in turn should make for activated investment and more desirable development.

You’ve always been in the creative side of the industry, now you are on the consulting side. Would you say this is a deliberate career move, or something you’ve always set your sights on as a career progression?

Creative side to consulting side? I think what I did was dive into creative consulting! This is something of a natural progression of sorts, I think, mainly because as you grow into your career, you try to think of ways to affect more people with the same volume of output you have. This you could achieve more effectively through collaboration and organizational work.

Career-wise and visually, I think that what I did was to expand my career coverage horizontally — spreading my influence onto other industries and sectors. In the past, I was expanding vertically — deeper and more and more into what I do.

So from graphic design, I moved to web design, then style via my shoe line, Tenorio Manila, and now I am into design strategy.

What advice would you give to students, and even designers, who want to evolve in their designs and as designers?

This is something that I would recommend to my friends and colleagues in design. Expanding onto other fields and levels will make one a better designer — guaranteed. It is reaching out from your comfort zones that makes your work more appealing, relevant, and beautiful!

You will know when you have gone out of your comfort zones when it starts to hurt, when there is some pain, when you begin to question yourself and your capabilities. Diamonds are created by pressure.

You’ve recently held mixers on design, “The State of Philippine Design” and an exhibition of called “Ambassadors of the Philippine Brand.” What led you to organize these activities? Would you say these are events that the industry needs more of these days?

I think that one of my strengths is bringing people together. I am a connector and I feel that — really — there are overlaps in what we all do and our goals as members of different organizations and industries. To see where we overlap and how we can share resources and objectives is really good design thinking. That is what you call strategy when, by sharing resources and goals, we DO MORE WITH LESS.

In three words, what is the state of Philippine Design?

Brian with Financial Times’ Irwin Cruz and consul general Celia Feria of the Philippine Embassy in Madrid

On its way.

You mentioned in your talk that the Philippines does not have that one singular brand identity the way other countries do. If there is one thing you think we should capitalize on, what should that be? Where do we start?

I think we should capitalize on our diverse cultural influences — Chinese, Spanish, Japanese, American, Muslim, and Asian. No other Asian country will have that mix. The goal is to differentiate. To start things off, we should have a “brand audit” of the Philippine brand — identify where we are vis a vis everyone/everything else. That was one of the main purposes of the State of Philippine Design address: to start the discussion on the “Country brand via design,” and to initialize public engagement.

What do you think is the stumbling block for local designers that prevents them from going global?

Perpective. I have a feeling that how we think of how others think about us is actually very different and may even be far from the truth. You will know what I mean when you come across blog comments from Filipinos whenever something about how we are is under scrutiny or attack by someone else’s online opinions. We might be wrong, we might be right — but the answers from us are from all over the place! Different contexts, different thoughts. Should we say that we are unified in beach resorts, boxing champs, or our thing for shoes? Shouldn’t we be unified and united in saying some other things more relevant? We should know ourselves first — who and how we are — while keeping to a global perspective of things.

You spoke to a full-house crowd! Would you say the turnout in your talk is proof that there really is a desire and demand to elevate the state of Philippine design?

Yes! Even with a full theater, there were 40 people not allowed inside that day because they arrived after 7:15 p.m. when we requested so many times before for people to come in early. Currently, I am so for this method of re-defining Filipino time one event at time. After that talk, people were so much conscious of what time to arrive! I love it.

You studied at Pratt Institute in New York, did your stint there open your mind to the possibilities for Philippine design? Would you encourage other designers to seek knowledge abroad as well?

Easily, you begin to feel more Filipino when you are not in the Philippines. Designers, travel and meet as many people as you can from other cultures!

Where do you see Philippine design 10 years from now?

Hopefully, in 2020, when one looks at a world map, somehow and because of recall or maybe just some imaginative desire for fun and excitement, the pursuit of happiness or for good business, our islands will figure out prominently as a destination for things grand and glorious.

* * *

Brian will be unveiling “Design+Tech,” an exhibition, at TriNoma Exhibition Space on April 13. To cap off these series of events, he will launch his collection of designer Barong Tagalogs and men’s shoes — the “Diplomatiko” collection, and will be embarking on a personal project “Design Para sa Lahat” (Filipino for “Design for All”), where Brian will visit eight provinces in the Philippines to survey their existing crafts industries and to develop region-specific strategies for sustainable advantage through design, also this April.








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