The Toqa girls on the pol­i­tics of fash­ion

At the heart of the in­ex­haustible and ex­hil­a­rat­ing en­ergy of Toqa, de­sign­ers Is­abel Si­cat and Aiala Val­dovino are chal­leng­ing norms one is­land at a time


Is­abel Si­cat and Aiala Val­dovino, founders and de­sign­ers of the ris­ing sport re­sort brand Toqa, have just emerged from the lake. Un­der the shade of tal­isay trees, they scour through bags of clothes, look­ing for their next out­fits. They’ve been try­ing dif­fer­ent looks on top of their sil­ver swim­suits. Si­cat puts on a pair of black trousers with a some­what rep­til­ian shine, while Val­dovino takes a blue ensem­ble. Val­dovino is not sat­is­fied with her look. She looks around un­til she sees the Toqa jump­suit they asked me to wear be­fore the boat ride to Taal Vol­cano.

She wants to wear it for the next lay­out. I give Val­dovino a quizzi­cal look. I am con­fused. Do they ex­pect me to strip to my un­der­wear right here, right now? At least, I have to get on the boat. Val­dovino gives me a pair of trousers and points to the nearby

sari-sari store, where cu­ri­ous on­look­ers have flocked watch­ing our team as if we are some crew from a lo­cal TV sta­tion. I ner­vously ap­proach the small crowd. When I hear an af­fir­ma­tive an­swer in a dis­tinct Batangueño ac­cent, I get in, take off the jump­suit, and put on the trousers with haste.

So, this is Toqa? The ques­tion is, at first, di­rected to the pants. They’re plain and not as gar­ish as the ones I’ve seen on their web­site. A quick ad­just­ment of the garter and buckle on the waist­band trans­forms the loose-fit­ting to waist-hug­ging. Then, it has evolved into a med­i­ta­tion on the Toqa girls’ cre­ative process.

When mak­ing clothes, Val­dovino likes to work as she thinks. Si­cat, on the other

hand, likes to think about an idea be­fore put­ting her hands to work. The same goes for mov­ing to a new place. “I’m the type of per­son who moves to a place I’ve never been to be­fore,” Val­dovino says. “I do re­search,” Si­cat quips. But at the shoot to­day, both girls ex­hibit a flair for cre­ative spon­tane­ity. At one mo­ment, we’re just hik­ing. Then the next, Si­cat is al­ready climb­ing a rock for­ma­tion to join some black goats. Or maybe Val­dovino is crouch­ing down to get her face closer to the nat­u­ral steam of the vol­cano that hasn’t been ac­tive since 1977.

This is the te­na­cious, bold, and youth­ful spirit of Toqa.

It was in Fe­bru­ary of this year when Si­cat and Val­dovino, both Rhode Is­land School of De­sign alum­nae, pre­sented their first col­lec­tion at the in­au­gu­ral Manila Bi­en­nale in In­tra­muros, but the brand’s idio­syn­cratic propo­si­tion of is­land wear has cap­tured the at­ten­tion of both lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional me­dia. “In the young fash­ion scene of Manila, Philip­pines, emerg­ing brand Toqa very much holds the ba­ton, fol­low­ing the foot­steps of peers like Carl Jan Cruz,” reads an on­line ar­ti­cle from fash­ion mag­a­zine Dansk.

Toqa is un­apolo­getic in its sex­i­ness. Its ten­dency to re­veal skin springs from the in­de­fati­ga­ble con­fi­dence of both the clothes and the wearer. The in­trin­sic al­lure of a Toqa gar­ment, whether the slinky Tang-dyed (yes, the pow­dered juice drink!) swim­suit or the loose-fit­ting Hades mesh top, is founded in the sul­try cli­mate of its nat­u­ral habi­tats: the Philip­pines and Hawaii.

“Hawaii is very re­sort and Manila is more sporty,” Val­dovino says. Be­fore their first pre­sen­ta­tion, Toqa posted a re­taso out­fit on a cy­clist—their first model. The swim­suit for this sea­son also bor­rows the form of a body­suit be­cause there’s no beach in Manila.

“The first col­lec­tion was…” Si­cat be­gins. “Sprawl­ing,” Val­dovino fin­ishes the sen­tence. With 35 looks pre­sented for the first col­lec­tion, Si­cat says, “[It] was re­ally an ex­u­ber­ant dis­cov­ery of the sport re­sort aes­thetic. It was sort of loud—not that [the new cap­sule col­lec­tion] isn’t, but this is more fo­cused.”

Shortly after the first show, they took re­treat in Ta­gay­tay. “I think there’s some­thing like a mag­i­cal en­ergy here that re­minds me of Hawaii,” Val­dovino says. Since then, they’ve been vis­it­ing the nearby prov­ince when they need respite from the city, es­pe­cially dur­ing the pro­duc­tion of their cap­sule col­lec­tion. Hence, “it’s only fit­ting, I think, to do a shoot at the very be­gin­ning of that phys­i­cal ex­plo­ration,” Si­cat says.

Cover photo by Borgy An­ge­les

Sil­ver Shark Swim, Toqa.

On Aiala: Big Vi­sor, Basa­han Top, On Is­abel: Dri­fit Knit Top, all Toqa

On Is­abel: Silk Slip Dress, Toqa

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