Claim to fame: The imagineer of 1/1 sneaker collection that sneakerheads can’t get enough of.
Paul Tan, the imagineer behind the brand 1985XMNL, has made a name for himself as the local sneaker community’s favorite designer or sneaker customizer. The sold out and replicated handmade custom Converse Chuck low with Nike’s iconic swoosh? Paul Tan did that. The 1985xMNL Just Chuck Low Converse Tripanel Monogram (which we learned was inspired by Air Dior)—he did that, too.
As his 1985 brand name suggests, Tan takes inspiration from the 80s, from the aesthetic to the unforgettable things that made the decade great. The colorways, the characters, the technology, the toys (see Transformers’ Soundblaster, which inspired the colorway for the Nike Air Jordan 4). But the desire to customize was initially personal and intended for his own sneaker collection. Where other sneaker enthusiasts look to collect rare pieces, Paul Tan collects 1/1 or pairs that only he has. Now that we’ve seen his version of rare, we can’t wait for the next customs he’ll drop.
What’s been the biggest shock to you in terms of how the sneaker community has grown?
It would be yung effect ng sneaker culture sa reselling. I never thought na reselling would become so big dito sa Philippines that even commercial areas, malls, they would put up a reselling store and earn. I know some friends na they get to earn bigtime dun sa reselling gig. People right now, they don’t care na kung resell and even if it’s half a million or a million pesos for shoes, someone will buy it. So, I think that’s the biggest shock for me pagdating sa sneaker community here in the Philippines.
Did you really see the community grow since the beginning?
Actually, no. Pero for me it’s a good thing ‘cause some sneakerheads, they think reselling is bad. Pero for me, reselling—I’m not a reseller, I’m bad at reselling—it’s a very good thing kasi during these hard times, pandemic, some people were able to support their families, diba? So, I’m fine with that.
What helps define the sneaker community in the Philippines and differentiates it from other countries?
Growing up na knowing na Filipinos are very hospitable and very friendly, I think yun yung pinaka-standout quality para sakin ng sneakerheads na Pinoy. Because I remember Carlo Ople invited a sneaker blogger here in the Philippines this year. Ang sabi niya, he was surprised how Filipinos are very friendly, they’re very approachable, maybe because in other countries intimidation game ang sneakers eh. Parang we have this saying na, “Shoe contact first before eye contact.” You check the shoes first. More on swag, more on “Don’t look at me,” ganon siguro sa iba. Pero here in the Philippines, very friendly ang mga sneakerheads natin. So, I think that’s the most standout character natin, is the friendliness and hospitable talaga tayo. More like a family.
Why do you think Filipinos are so interested in sneakers?
Our love for basketball. Every corner, every street, every block, may basketball court. Even in our private homes, meron tayong basketball rims. I think it’s because of our love for basketball, we’re inclined to like the sneakers rin. So, I think it plays a big part kung bakit tayo sneakerheads today. Kasi we love basketball.
But can you say that it’s grown even outside of basketball and the athletes?
Yeah! Because before it’s more on performance lang, diba? But now, it’s more on styling and aesthetic. Ako nga eh, I cannot get out of the house without wearing sneakers. So parang part of me na yung sneakers.
What do you think makes your designs distinctly you and distinctly Filipino?
I always believe, for a fact, na lahat tayo ay unique. Even our fingerprints are unique, diba? So, me making a shoe based on my personal experience, based on my childhood memories, kasi when I make my sneakers, I always try to tell a story. It’s always based on my childhood memories and my past, kumbaga. So from that point of view, parang nagiging unique na agad yung shoes for me. Also, siyempre, it’s not naman sobrang unique na others cannot understand it, so I try to make it relatable pa rin, as much as possible. Pero yung distinctively Pinoy naman, I’m not sure if it’s really a Filipino style of sneakers pero as long as people support it sa social media, I’m happy with it na.
What’s the hardest part of customizing?
Hardest part ng customizing sneakers is making it personal. Making it unique. Making it stand out. Kasi most of the sneaker customization here sa Pilipinas, actually in other countries, they have this one theme eh. One style. So, me, I try to make it like a factory– something that Nike would do. I try to make it as much as possible na, if Nike would hire me, what would I do? Ganon yung style ko sa pag-customize ng sneakers and I think nakikita sa result why people would really like yung sneaker designs ko.
If you could’ve known how big the sneaker culture would be ten years ago, would you have done anything differently?
I’m the type of guy na I believe that timing is everything, pero I believe na everything falls into place at the right time. Organically. So, for example, if I would go back 10 years ago and would customize these sneakers and would do this sa mga cinustomize ko 10 years back, people wouldn’t like it so much. Why? ‘Cause parang etong five years ago lang, or actually etong pandemic lang, people weren’t into 80s and 90’s, like, they weren’t born in the 80s. I like the aesthetic ng 80s and 90s, so that influenced me to design shoes. Now that people are liking 80s and 90s, yun yung right timing kung bakit yun yung design ko. But if you go back 10 years ago, walang magkakagusto dun. So, I always believe na it falls at the right time, organically. Pero to answer [the] question, siguro I would cop yung pairs na gustong gusto ko while mura pa. Affordable. Right now, it’s not affordable eh. The Jordan 1s, when they released, laging sold out and if you are able to buy it, three or four times the price. So, yun, I would cop many pairs ng favorite shoes ko.
Fill in the blansk for us: Youth culture in the Philippines is defined by ____ and kept alive by ____.
It’s defined by aesthetic and kept alive by vintage and sneakers.
Another time: It’s about time that Complex arrived in the Philippines because ____.
Because we’ve been patiently waiting [laughs]. Why not, diba? It’s about time.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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