The Complex Council best represents what Complex Philippines stands for—the culmination of youth culture in the Philippines. Whether in music, fashion, or sports, the Council commands respect, influences many, and lets their work speak for itself.
Claim to fame: The Unbox king of side hustles: toys, tech, gaming, and sneakers
Carlo Ople is the guy every kid wants to be when they grow up.
His professional life includes stints in big-name companies in tech and media. On the side, he turned his hobbies into a massive social media following and the Unbox platform, where even tech illiterates can get updated with the latest industry trends.
With his “7 to 1” principle, where putting in the extra hours is the mindset, Ople is the epitome of how the hardest hustlers reap immense rewards.
What’s been the biggest shock to you in terms of how the sneaker community has grown in the Philippines?
I think it’s the complexity and the breadth of people’s taste. Normally kasi when you think of the Philippines, puro Jordans brand or Nike lang, very monophasic in terms of taste.
But what surprised me was how fast people discovered different brands, looks, and styles, from techware, retro, and vintage, to the upscale designer type of looks. It’s so nice to see people finding their taste.
Are there still trends people follow?
Yeah, a lot! Kasi we are influenced by celebrities and artists, diba? But the good thing kasi about trends is that it awakens people to realizing that there are so many ways you can express yourself. And how you dress, what you wear, how you present yourself, is a big extension of who you are and what you do.
What defines the sneaker culture in the Philippines?
Well, it’s very heavily basketball driven because we’re such a big basketball country. And many of the sneakers that became popular or started it all were the Jordans and the retros.
But what makes it unique is that Filipinos will try to make whatever they can find, work. So there’s that resourcefulness to putting together the entire fit.
For example, we’ll take Jordans and put them together with an outfit galing sa ukay. The pairing would then look so much better because the taste and expression are there. Filipinos look at their wardrobe and [ask], “How many ways can I style this so it works?”
That’s what makes [the Filipino] style unique: We make the most out of everything. Pampulitiko yung sagot na yun, ah. [laughs] Ople for Senator!
So, why do you think Filipinos have such an interest in sneakers?
Filipinos, in general, are very expressive. We’re considered the warmest and most hospitable country on the planet. And part of being friendly is being expressive and emotional. That’s why we gravitate towards not just sneakers but fashion in general. Your style is a natural extension of you.
How do you think sneakers helped define Filipinos outside of the sneaker community?
It influences business. I’m an entrepreneur; I have several investments. Many of those I’ve gone into business with are people I’ve met in the sneakers community. We’ll meet at a store and share a common bond. We’d have coffee or lunch, and then it becomes business.
I dare say it, [sneaker culture] has gone all the way up to the titos and titas of the Philippines. That’s why brands like Louis Vuitton and Gucci, puro sneakers na ngayon. Dati hindi naman eh!
If you ask any sneaker shop now, people buying Yeezys are not the younger generation anymore. Lots of titos and titas like it because it’s comfortable. [laughs]
If you could have known how big the sneaker community would get, how would you have prepared for it differently?
I would’ve been more selective with what I would have bought. My immediate reaction back then was to buy the things I immediately liked. But now, I appreciate more the detail and the story behind everything.
I greatly respect artists like Virgil because of their design philosophy. When he was still alive, he made Louis Vuitton relevant to the younger generation. Back then, people would say “bag ng tita ko” when talking about LV. Who would have thought such a shift would happen?
Fill in the blanks for us: Youth culture in the Philippines is defined by ____ and kept alive by ____.
Youth culture in the Philippines is defined by being in the moment and kept alive by the need to be heard.
Here's another: It’s about time Complex arrived in the Philippines, because ____.
Many artists, streetwear, and hip-hop stars need the spotlight because they’re so good. Filipino creatives are not just at par but greater than those worldwide. We just need exposure.
I’ll give you an example. I was talking with Jed Madela. People know him as a singer, but I know him as a toy artist. He makes his own toys.
He made this toy na baby na sumisigaw na naka-facemask. Sabi ko, “What’s that?” Tas sabi niya, “That’s me.” Sabi ko, “Paano naging ikaw yan?” Sabi niya, “Because I want to say so many things. I’m such a loudmouth, naturally. Pero ‘di ko masabi because I’m a celebrity.”
Kaya sobrang believer ako na art is an extension of expression of oneself. Hopefully, with Complex, Filipinos artists can be elevated beyond our shores if given a global spotlight.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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