Toqa is about sexy-as-hell bodysuits and sustainable fashion made from retasos
“Toqa's imperatives lean more toward an artistic commentary: We don’t want to have a largely commercial venture, but a finite number of pieces which speak to a particular place, and a particular moment in time,” says Toqa co-designer Isabel Sicat.
It was almost sunset and everybody at Puerta Real Gardens glowed in that orange that was kind to every skin tone; honey-hued, with a sheen you can only get from sweat. One can even say we were golden — it could be the fresh air, or the booze, or the fact that it felt like all balmy Saturday afternoons should be spent like this. And as we made our way up the ramp towards the runway, handheld fans in tow, Toqa’s ultra-egalitarian spirit shone. My best friend and I asked a bunch of people (including Isabel’s mom) where to sit for the best POV; and they all told us the same thing: anywhere you want to.
One of two fashion events in the Manila Biennale, Isabel Sicat and Aiala Rickard’s Toqa presented itself as a fashion show, yes — but it felt much more comprehensive than that. “[Toqa’s] imperatives lean more toward an artistic commentary: we don’t want to have a largely commercial venture, but a finite number of pieces that speak to a particular place, and a particular moment in time,” says Sicat. The girls would often note that this was also their wedding. And if so, we are excited about this marriage. The Melvin Mojica-directed show had a boldness and lightness that almost seems out of place in Manila, a city that tends to err on the side of be-alls and end-alls — where fashion shows are serious with a capital S — often to contrived results. This was joyful and fluorescent, a candid take on sport-resort wear. Peppered with desirable activewear like sexy-as-hell bodysuits, the range went from a sculpture-like one-shouldered top to a dress made out of retaso (leftover fabric) patched together. Technique-wise, the rigorous stitching over many of the fabrics to produce a quilted texture, was most notable. But above all, its obvious strength is at its successful portrayal of the Island Girl trope — toeing that fine line between flowers clipped over your ears and bringing to life neo-tropical interpretations of what we wear on this side of the world. Together with fellow RISD alum Carlos Celdran, the vision for both the Biennale and Toqa was to express something rooted firmly in Manila, and also gesture towards an international audience.
Toqa TV: Design duo Isabel Sicat and Aiala Rickard walk post-show at the Puerta Real Gardens.
That contemporary representation is something that is central to their work. “The idea is to bring light (in the form of discourse, attention, compelling visual clothing compositions) to tropical places which are otherwise overlooked,” adds Sicat. While their choice to mount their first show in Manila grounded itself on its economic feasibility, it was a shared value system, social ethics and interest that made it even more pertinent to have it here. “If starting Toqa in Manila was a logical move, then the show itself was the same — it reflected the community and the Manila that we’ve come to know in the ways we’ve moved through it,” she quips.
According to the girls, their basic driving force is to show that sustainable high fashion is possible in a tropical locale. “Sustainability is not a desire for us, but a necessity,” she says.“The simple equatorial proximity of our tropical homelands [Philippines and Hawaii] 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.” They find that only buying deadstock fabric allows for more compelling results.
Tropic thunder: “While the Toqa girl isn’t a specific age or person,” Sicat adds, “or even gender—she is always the life of the party. She’s on the go, she’s confident, she’s someone who knows what she wants, and is unapologetically herself about it.”
Still, the intensity of all these efforts couldn’t have been easy in a city like ours. But their high-frequency, positively disruptive personalities can handle it. Together, their sincere knack for coordination and on-the-nose sense of humor thrive in any party and peak on their own: with saba chandeliers, capiz disco balls, and inflatable pools filled with ice — all to the tune of an eclectic range of dance music. You might even end up barefoot, as one did at the end of the night.??I first met Isabel and Aiala properly on the dance floor. For anyone who has seen them out, this is not surprising at all. They are Toqa. “While the Toqa girl isn’t a specific age or person,” Sicat adds, “or even gender — she is always the life of the party. She’s on the go, she’s confident, she’s someone who knows what she wants, and is unapologetically herself about it.” I find that there’s a kindness and generosity to women that lies at the core of their work. Local mainstream culture continues to preach about modesty in the name of foamed bras and pinned-up necklines; but will take no time at all objectifying women with cutting specificity in the headlines. They help challenge that just by virtue of slicing fabric a little higher here, a little lower there. They want you to be sexy. They want you to be hot. They want you to be practical (because this heat can get nuts). They might even make you think about your carbon footprint. And they want you to have fun. Discourse—as they’ve said themselves. I only dream that this is a conversation we keep having.
“We want to be outside of the current infrastructure, which we find to be problematic — and help to create a new one.”