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.
Silver Shark Swim, Toqa. www.toqa.tv
On Aiala: Big Visor, Basahan Top, On Isabel: Drifit Knit Top, all Toqa
On Isabel: Silk Slip Dress, Toqa