Mention Filipino sneaker culture; the first thoughts are Jordans, Air Forces, and Yeezys, models carried by big names such as Nike and adidas. The Philippines is a basketball country, so it makes sense that the most popular pairs are from brands that rep the love for the game.
Like the rest of the world, international sneaker companies dominate malls, online shops, resellers, and conversations on social media. The same names are the most counterfeited in Facebook groups and notorious markets like Greenhills and Cartimar. Filipino sneakerheads greatly mirror their Western counterparts, from the lingo to the adoration of hip-hop culture.
But recent years have also shown a growing love and hype for locally produced options, such as the DBTK sneakers called “Spark.”
Introduced in December 2021, the reveal notched 16,000 likes and over 6,000 shares. Carlo Ople wanted one. DBTK had to hold a raffle to determine who could purchase to control the demand. 18,000 people joined for a chance to cop what were only 100 pairs.
Within minutes, the brand website read “Sold Out,” a feat that would repeat for the second release in 2023.
In the physical store, the DBTK Spark saw long lines, 1-of-1 purchasing rules, overseas inquiries, and patrons from collegiate basketball players to PBA pros like Maverick Ahanmisi and Jared Dillinger. It’s the hype previously reserved for the Kobes and the Lebrons, much less for a local brand that didn’t initially start selling sneakers.
Now, DBTK or Don’t Blame the Kids aren’t strangers to high-profile releases, having partnered with the likes of H&M, Pokemon, and Sanrio since their debut in 2012. But DBTK were already the kings of Filipino streetwear. The sneaker world is new territory; its residents are eagle-eyed and often critical.
In a convo with Complex PH, DBTK co-founder Vince Javier talks about the ballsy move to shift gears, the hype surrounding the Spark’s debut, and what the massive fervor means for the future of local makers.
What convinced you guys to create DBTK Sneakers?
Lumalabas lang kami doon sa comfort zone rin namin in terms of creating merchandise. Sa sneakers kasi, isa yan sa pinakaintricate. Hindi yan madaling gawin lalo na at independent brand kami.
Kami ni Kuya [Emil], parang nainspire din kami sa ibang brands, like yung The Hundreds, BAPE, Vandy the Pink, lahat nung mga gumagawa ng sneakers. Nine years narin yung DBTK at that time, so sabi ko gawa tayo ng something na ikakagulat ng marami. Nagulat nga sila.
Two-part question: What were your biggest worry and the most fun part of taking the leap?
Kapag magpapakilala ka ng sneakers while you’re in the streetwear scene, maganda na meron kang inspiration. Hindi naman kami sneaker brand eh. The DBTK Spark is inspired sa Western movement kung saan marami yung nagfi-flip ngayon ng Nike SB, AF1, with the inspirations of BAPE and all.
Alam na namin na pag-uusapan siya, both good and bad comments, kasi siyempre may inspiration. Sinasadya din namin na mapag-usapan. Gusto lang namin marinig sa tao “Oh shit, nakakagawa na ng sneakers ang DBTK.”
The fun part is having our own sneaker line. Dream yan ng isang streetwear brand. The closest we had was the collab with PONY in 2017. Kami daw yung first local brand na nakipag-collab sa international sneaker line.
And also the process of creating our own silhouette na gusto naming colorway. It took six months to release in 2021, from the concept and sampling to the packaging. Kinuha namin yung mga comments nung initial drop and inimprove for the 2023 release.
What were such comments?
Nagandahan yung mga tao sa three colorways: Black, Cream, and Green. Sa sneaker world, sila yung madaling ternohan and in trend, kaya yun mga una naming ginawa.
Hindi namin masyado tinignan yung comfort sa first release. Basta makagawa lang kami. Pero nakita din ng tao na comfy yung insole. Latex ginamit namin. Doon kami sobrang natuwa sa mga sneakerheads kasi na mindfuck sila na “whole day ko to sinuot.”
Sinabi pa nung isang friend namin, kapag gumagamit siya ng ibang sneakers, pinapalitan niya ng DBTK insole. Doon kami nagbigay ng attention [sa version two], to create a pair comfy enough for everyday wear.
Sobrang ganda din nung box namin. Yung feeling na bumili ng LV (Louis Vitton). Makikita niyo sa review din ng iba, sila Carlo Ople, Mervin Kei ng adidas Talk PH, na parang pucha, box pa lang hindi na tinipid.
Siyempre meron yung “Ginaya yung [Nike] SB.” Maraming comments na ganyan dito sa Philippines. Pero sa totoo lang, huling-huli na tayo sa paggawa ng flip designs or parody sneakers. There’s a specific market for it and even collectors. Matagal na ginagawa yan.
Doon parin kami sa Nike SB silhoutte kumukuha ng inspiration, although marami na kaming chinange sa Spark Version Two. If i-jjudge siya, maganda i-check pair-to-pair para malaman nila kung paano binago yung panels, yung placements, and more.
Meron concern na gumawa kami ng sariling silhouttte para mas safe sa brand, which is what we’re working on.
Why the name “Spark”?
Bumabalik kami sa quote namin na “Dream Big, Start Small.” Great ideas come from the most humble beginnings. That’s why the logo features a smaller spark following a bigger one.
How did you create a passionate fanbase that sells out the Spark in minutes?
Back in 2012, napansin namin ni kuya, nauubos yung DBTK merch, pero it happens in two months, three months, and we only produce in quantities of 50, 100, 150. Hindi pa siya masyadong na-eembrace ng local market; nakatingin pa sila sa Stüssyand Supreme
Ngayon, na-appreciate nila na “Oy, yung quality gumaganda.” “Yung designs kahit papaano nagiging totoo doon sa branding and all.”
The brand is not intimidating either. We reach out and we come off as approachable in terms of the community. Karamihan kami ang first realm when it comes to streetwear, then malalaman nila na may mga ibang local brands pa na pwedeng suportahan.
As for the overall hype, ang customers na bahala doon.
Ang pinaka-ginawa namin is the exclusivity through limited quantities. 100, 50 pieces, that’s it, move on na tayo sa bago. So siguro doon sila parang “Shit, kailangan ko bumili nito kundi mauubusan at asa na sa reseller na mas mataas ang presyo.”
Would you say the “Spark” is the most hyped local footwear right now?
Meron din yung The Hundred Percent. Nike SB inspired rin siya. Hindi ko sinasabi na parang competitor sila ng DBTK, pero local brand din sila.
In terms of pricing, times two kami compared sa kanila. Mataas din talaga kung tutuusin. I’m not going to pretend na “Oy, masyadong mura ‘to.” So marami din nagsasabi sa [The Hundred Percent] na lang kayo. Nasa kanila na yun. Kung na-try niyo, then yun na yon.
Meron kaming sariling market that is sold out, and they have a market for them, and I respect that. Goods din yun kasi kahit papaano nakakabuo na [ng local sneakers]. Feeling ko in the next months and years, dadami pa ang makakagawa.
What’s the future of the “Spark?”
Di ko masabi. Siya yung one and only silhouette namin sa ngayon, so kailangan namin matest pa siguro kung ano yung potential namin in terms of creating sneakers.
Siguro gagawa kami ng isa pang version to see. Ang aim ko is babaan pa yung price. Medyo mahirap kasi maglalaban dito yung quantity. Iki-keep ba namin na limited or dadamihan?
Kung dadamihan namin, ma-rreach yung [target sales] kahit babaan pa yung price ng 500 pesos, from PHP 5,495 to PHP 4,995. Mas may makakabili.
Hopefully magawa namin,hindi ko pa masasabi. If we can, we would, pero talagang no choice kami at this early stage. For example, the sole is fully customized, it has its own mold na medyo mahal magpagawa. Habang inaaral namin yung pag-create ng sneakers, doon namin na-realize na may cost lahat ng move na gagawin mo.
Masaya na kami if we can do 2-3 drops per year. May mga in-talks kami about possible collabs, other colorways, and campaigns.. Ang daming pwedeng gawin, kaya gusto may makatrabaho outside of the usual to maximize yung potential ng sneakers.