A few weeks ago just as the Chinese New Year festivities were winding down in Binondo, in the sub-district of San Nicolas a different kind of action was picking up at the covered courts of Marcela Agoncillo Elementray School. Mic Cypher provided live music as guests — made up of skaters, hip-hop enthusiasts, college and street kids — took photos of a graffiti wall while keeping an eye on a skating competition. Old Manila Walk's Ivan Man Dy shared a story about Manila's Chinatown.
What brought this unusual mix of characters together at 6:30pm? The launch of the Binondo ball cap by hip indie fashion brand WIPcap.
Formed in 2008 by International School Manila buddies Ian Sermonia, Mike Nakayama, Albert Gaw, Mark Victor and Kevin Goco, WIP orginally stood for "work in progress" but as they started developing more products inspired by Filipino culture, it became "world class, incredible and proud of their Pinoy heritage."
According to Sermonia, the group felt something was amiss with today’s Filipino youth. Growing in a youth counterculture dominated by American pop culture such as hip hop, Jay Z and basketball, they felt there was a need to promote Filipino culture but in a way that is understandable to their generation.
In 2009, WIPcaps released baseball caps inspired by the City of Manila: images of Manila's landmark were silkscreened on the crown, a decal inspired by the Philippine flag on the back, and lines from the Hotdog song "Manila" stitched underneath the bill.
When a rap crew from Tondo told the group that each district of Manila has its own sub culture, they explored the possibility of designing a limited-edition six-district series and, in 2013, launched the MNL collection.
The first to come out was Tondo, "because everyone thinks of Tondo as a rough and rugged place. So we did it in dark or monotone colors. On the back we put the flag of General Llanares to represent the founding of the Katipunan (the armed anti Spanish Colonial force) in Tondo. The rap crew that helped us designed the cap then came up with a stylized sling shop or tirador that they used as a weapon there. That we put on one side of the cap. Underneath the lid of the cap we put the inscription of a copper plate that was found in Tondo. Since it was written in Alibata (pre-Hispanic writing script) no one is sure what is etched on the plate. But it offers hints that Tondo had a civilization of its own before the arrival of the Spaniards.”
Since then the group has come out with four more caps representing the districts of Sta. Cruz, Malate/Ermita, Binondo and Quiapo.
Soon to follow is the district of Sta. Ana/Paco. Some of the designs like Binondo and Quiapo were done in-house, others like Malate / Ermita are done with students living or working in the area.
"The idea behind the district series was to have something that the people from each neighborhood to say, ‘Hey this says something about me or about my district and I love it!’ At the same time outsiders and people not from that neighborhood to be pick up the cap and says ‘I want to wear it’ and after that find out the story behind the design of the hat. The cap then becomes a tool to help outsiders from each districts to learn more about their city,” says Sermania.
WIPcaps are sold at specialty and lifestyle stores such as Urban Athletic in Greenbelt, Aloha Boardsports in Rockwell, Titan Barbershop in Bonifacio Global City, Soul Academy in Alabang and Complex Lifestyle in Eastwood and Glorietta. Even if they are priced at PHP1,450 per cap, some of the caps in the series such as the ‘Tondo’ cap have been sold out. They have become so popular that knockoffs have started to appear. To keep one step ahead of the copycats, their caps now come with a certificate of authenticity.
Aside from caps, WIPcaps’ collection also includes T-shirts. In the future, though, the group is thinking about opening their own store. If that ever happens they will expand the collection to include jackets, pants and button down shirts. Who knows, perhaps even their own line of Filipino-inspired shoes? But as of now, the group is brainstorming for their next limited edition. Ian says they might be inspired next by either Cebu or the concept of Filipino superstition. They might even come out with a new batch of products inspired by Manila.