Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — The Adidas Consortium was a strategic venture for a sport lifestyle brand that has, in the recent years, rebuilt its branding around the thriving fashion sub-genre of streetwear. The idea behind the Consortium is simple: Adidas handpicks a tight list of streetwear and sneaker retailers around the world, releases limited-edition shoe designs in collaboration with a retailer within the group, and have the same collective of stockists retail these pairs in limited quantities. That way, each collaboration is premium, rare and — as sneaker culture dictates — coveted.
Commonwealth — and its founders Omar Quiambao and Mike Concepcion — now finds itself parallel to the likes of renowned sneaker retail stalwarts such as New York’s Union and Japan’s NEIGHBORHOOD, not only as a member of the exclusive Adidas Consortium, but as a project collaborator that allowed them to re-imagine an Adidas Originals silhouette with a design that reflected their store’s unique narrative.
This collaborative edition shoe is a victorious emblem to the successful cross-continental partnership between Quiambao, Commonwealth’s founding partner who launched the store first in Virginia in 2004, then Washington D.C. and Los Angeles; and Concepcion, co-partner and mastermind to Commonwealth’s Philippine expansion, which began in 2015.
In this conversation with CNN Philippines Life, Quiambao and Concepcion discuss the climate of sneaker culture in the Philippines, and Commonwealth’s exciting collaboration with Adidas Consortium. Below are edited excerpts from the interview.
Three years ago, only a small set knew what, say, Yeezy’s were — and you were there when it all blew up. How do you think sneaker culture in the country progressed since you began?
Omar Quiambao: I think with social media, everyone is now somewhat globally informed. We all can follow the same news outlets, whether it’s from Instagram, to, you know, news sites like CNN to Hypebeast that all have access to that information.
Michael Concepcion: It’s almost a very backward way to think with the mindset “How is [the Filipino] market different?” With social media, we’re all global citizens. And I think the Filipino customer is very discerning. They know what they want; they’re definitely well-read.
To our surprise there was very little that we needed to do to inform our customers on the type of products that we were selling — it was almost immediate. And I think more than anything, what we’re trying to do is just be part of the global narrative. If something’s happening in Tokyo, in New York — we want to create a product and a platform that is just at that level, and not be a lesser version of ourselves because maybe [the Philippines] is an underdeveloped market.
I think what had happened was, we had a market that was really ripe for it and the spending power was there, and we simply offered it in this city.
Is it true that Commonwealth pioneered public sneaker raffles in the country, as opposed to raffles limited to just the store’s VIP list?
Concepcion: We weren’t the first. But we came into the market with an understanding of what could be done better. We pioneered a lot of systems that made [raffles] more inclusive, accessible and ultimately, customer-first. A lot of [local] stores have a bad reputation of what we call “back-dooring,” or prioritizing celebrities. We came into the market with an understanding that we will never do that.
That kind of thinking directed our initiatives thereon, like the introduction of this app called Copdate, which we’re the exclusive partner of in the Philippines. With the app, customers are now able to join our raffles in the comforts of their own home with just one click. If they win, they’ll know immediately and just pick it up with no problems whatsoever … I think [efforts like that have] forced a lot of other people to elevate the game because we’ve conditioned the market to see that this is what needs to be done, and nothing less.
Gone are the days of having to ask people to waste an entire Friday lining up [for sneakers] overnight — I mean, it’s just really horrible. More than anything, what sets us apart is that we’re consumers ourselves. We live the lifestyle that we speak of.
As a member of the Consortium, how did this particular collaboration start?
Quiambao: We’re in Paris for market week twice a year — that’s when all Consortium accounts get together with Adidas. We look at product offerings, our marketplace, the growth in each market and its possibilities. Organically, just through those conversations, I think the interest in doing a project became pretty apparent on both sides.
Even within the Consortium, not every retailer [is awarded] a project. So we feel extremely honored within a high tier of retailers to even be selected among them.
Omar, would you say that your background in collaborating with other sneaker brands in the past contributed to you being awarded the project?
Quiambao: I think it’s just our discerning eye, how we do our buy and even within our group of retailers, everybody does certain things well. With us, maybe there is a big difference with me on board because my background beyond being a retailer is being a designer, while most retailers are just retailers.
So when [other retailers] go and work on a project, the brand really leads the design and the narrative, and it’s probably a little bit more informed than the retailer. But with Commonwealth, and with my background, I would like to say I am as equally informed about materials, processes and techniques for design and product. And that made a very unique situation where we’re able to really elevate the product for collaboration.
You previously did a sneaker collaboration with Asics entitled Kultura.
Concepcion: Well, Omar and Commonwealth [U.S.] have done collaborations throughout the years. But the Asics one was especially important because it was rooted out of the Filipino store. I think it was a testament to what we were doing and it was like Chapter 1 of what we would lead to, eventually.
Quiambao: I mean, anyone can wear shoes, right? We tried to design it in a way that was wearable for anyone, but the narrative was specifically Filipino. This Consortium collab is more of a global narrative — it’s collectively about our stores overseas, and our stores here.
Concepcion: Being a Consortium collab also means every other Consortium account will be selling this pair. That means it will be sold in Paris, Tokyo … And apart from the story, I think the primary factor is the design — it’s more wearable and widely accepted.
Articles about the Consortium say that in choosing a retailer, they look at important factors such as the store’s market relevance. What do you think attracted Adidas to award the collaboration to Commonwealth?
Concepcion: Geographically, we’re interesting because a lot of people have their eyes on Southeast Asia. I think for so long a lot of brands have wanted to invest or use a local platform that didn’t really exist yet. Commonwealth, having been around for 15 years but now holding a very important hub in the Philippines, the store has now become a very interesting brand. The sneaker market here [in the Philippines], it’s incredible. If you look at our basketball culture, there’s a reason all these NBA stars come here twice or thrice a year. That’s really where the beginnings of this whole culture starts … the roots of it is rooted from sports. So it’s very obvious why this industry is as popular as it is.
Quiambao: And I think from Adidas’ point of view, they partnered with us for the Consortium because we’re authentic to the culture itself. We are participants and creators of the culture. We’re not just selling products. The things and events we do and create, and the experiences that we share with our consumers are authentic. We’ve been here for about 15 years, so what we do is not a trend. It’s very much a lifestyle.
We’ve carried brands like CDG Play from 2005 and it’s not like we say, “Oh, that brand is hot this year so let’s carry it now.” We’ve seen cycles of trends, sure. But it never stops at that. I think that the authenticity coming from us is definitely different. Other retailers that are within their servicing markets may have narratives that aren’t as authentic, as strong or as original. For us it’s definitely a culture and a lifestyle.
For this collab, you’re doing the ZX 500 RM. Did you get to choose which model to recreate?
Quiambao: At first, we went in thinking we were gonna work on a different model, but eventually found what model Adidas wanted to push, and what their focus was gonna be for the year.
So the choice of model comes from a sales perspective?
Concepcion: The ZX is a big franchise.
Quiambao: And it’s probably one of adidas’ more successful and popular running segments and categories. They have a big launch for ZX in 2019, so with the relaunch they’re looking for the right partners to tell unique stories and reintroduce it to the market.
Can you describe the theme behind the shoe?
Quiambao: We found a narrative where we can include all the [Commonwealth] locations together. There was a commonality that we saw among our stores — being in Virginia Beach, being in Los Angeles, and being in the Philippines. All three locations are very familiar to the coastal lifestyle, and so with the shoe we tried to translate the ideas of translucency, water and fluidity, as well as highlight colors that are inspired by [the] coral reef[s] here in the Philippines. There’s orange, there’s blue, and the mesh is transparent like water. They’re loose inspirations and interpretations of the narrative.
Concepcion: Another challenge for us is to rework an already great silhouette. The inline version is such a popular shoe at the shop, but for other collaborations, a lot of it begins and ends with the selection of colors.
We wanted to dig a little deeper and really understand materiality, function and an unorthodox use of materials and things we think are interesting. For example, this sonic welding — this is not seen in the inline version. This detail is something that Omar had said “Hey, I think this might look well with the microsuede against the mesh over here.” Even the choice of lace — this see-through, translucent lace. We’re really happy with what we did with [the shoe] and I think it’s a testament of where we are as a brand today. It’s come full circle from all locations; the shoe represents that. It’s a testament to what you can expect from us moving forward.