There’s often a scary seriousness to clothes. A right way of wearing things, a proper collection of pieces. Must-haves. And a steady assault of new collections, last season sales (checked with hesitation), and new stuff promising the completion of your wardrobe. How much of this do we actually need? More importantly: how much of it do we actually want?
“It’s cute, but do you even like it,” asks Fed Pua. Having danced between the roles of designer and curator, Fed has birthed brands Factory, It’s Vintage, and Atomic each with its own soul but of the same fabric–knitted together by a lightness. Of fun, inclusiveness, and cathartic nostalgia.
Introducing himself, Fed says, “I just say that I sell old clothes.” Perhaps this best describes a core component to the work Fed is currently most occupied with: hand-picking pieces from global traders of vintage clothing.
Founded in late 2017, It’s Vintage began as a series of pop-ups where Fed brought racks of curated previously-worn pieces to market. The brand moved into its current Legaspi Village space in 2022, filling what was a stationery supply store not just with unique articles of clothing, but an entire brand of cinema and anime references, americana, bits and bobs loosely tied to the occult, and a curious arrangement of objects which either charm or tether customers.
The space compresses the energy of memories–even that of Factory, the independent clothing label Fed founded “between cutting classes” as a fine and studio arts management student–into a room and mirrors the dynamism embedded in the clothes he’s selling.
When it comes to creating brands, Fed Pua says that a lot of people have good references. “But not a lot of people can really use those references and make something new,” he says.
Whether this comes to incorporating pieces of his anime schema into the store, nourishing a changing room with the palettes of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s “The Holy Mountain”, or translating distinctive elements of a Manila childhood into motifs adorned on wearable pieces of clothing for Atomic, Fed Pua creates brands with palpable soul. “I think my strength has always been translating [references] well.”
Finding self in clothing
Fed told one writer, “I feel a kind of nostalgia for a time that I never experienced”. He was referring to Andy Warhol’s studio in New York which hosted art, parties, and an incredibly productive, creative energy.
“I want other people to partake in their own nostalgia for It’s Vintage,” says Fed.
“The vintage store is not targeted to one person,” he continues. “What’s nostalgic for me, let’s say anime, is not nostalgic, say, for someone who [loves] preppy style or for someone who [listens] to Nine Inch Nails and Blink 182. That’s why I have to serve the nostalgia for a lot of people.”
Browsing racks at It’s Vintage is a tour through my own preferences. Rather than being sold the fashions of the day, I’m plumbing my own experiences and matching them with pre-loved pieces–finding items expressive of emotions and references within me.
This idea of serving nostalgia finds itself knotted into the Atomic brand too.
Fed says he doesn’t want any of his brands to be exclusive. “You want people to partake,” he says. Atomic’s debut piece from 2022, the Happi Jacket, is hand-embroidered with patches of Jollibee and friends–highlighting imagery from Fed’s childhood.
This is the sort of iconography that Fed shares with the hope of sharing his own nostalgia. “Let’s say you never moved to Manila and you like Atomic,” says Fed, “I wouldn’t be like, ‘oh, you can’t buy this because you don’t eat Jollibee every week.’”
“I feel like [it’s] so great that you get to share in the story that I have.”
The market has shifted in favour of vintage clothing
“The landscape is so different from the first pop-ups,” says Fed Pua.
For one, the project of sourcing clothes has gotten more difficult–prices have gone up and grail pieces have been more difficult to procure. Fed spends time on video-calls with offshore vintage clothing dealers, going item-by-item selecting pieces for which there’s demand, which he likes, and which fit the store.
“I wish I could just [put] out like [a hundred] racing jackets every day,” says Fed, “but I can’t [because they take] like three months to collect.”
It’s not a willy-nilly, throw-a-bunch-of-stuff-in-a-box enterprise. Far from it.
It’s a curation process, and there are specific places to look for specific items. Fed shares, “.. Europe is great for girls, The States is great for tees and menswear, Japan is good for the really rare [items].”
And the market appreciates this. One change in the landscape is the reception to vintage. We’ve seen the market transition from sceptical to downright enthusiastic. “Before, almost every day we [got] questions,” shares Fed. “‘Why is it more expensive?’ ‘Why is it not dirt cheap if it’s secondhand?’ ‘Is it used?’”
But now, there is a steady market for vintage clothing. “[Vintage is] kind of like a trendy thing but also [an] effective, perfect shopping thing. It’s affordable, it’s good quality and [it’s] sustainable.”
But the market may not have sustainability in mind
We all care about the future and the environment–in some shade at least. But, in the world of vintage clothing, we are by no means hoisting up our placards and standing beside Greta Thunberg. It may be more reasonable to think (or admit) that we’re locating elements of ourselves in the clothes we choose to buy.
“People really want to have something that feels special,” says Fed, “because we’ve been so used to getting something that’s been mass produced.”
Fed is the first to admit that fast fashion looks good, but as he shares, “…it’s just [that there’s] no depth in it and I think people are finally catching on to that.”
Per Fed, it’s as though the pieces are not coming from honest places–places perhaps which are truly steeped in the nostalgia and emotions latent within us. It’s as though fast fashion makes an imprint on us while vintage clothing allows us to bloom elements of ourselves through the clothing choices we make.
Many smaller brands are working from a similarly honest place–crafting purpose and function into their products and arriving at the genesis of a soul. Fed shares, “I’ve seen that trend [of] more people going out of their way and buying brands that have something to say, which I really like.”
And this sort of experience is something Fed wants to share with everyone.
“For the longest time It’s Vintage didn’t cater to women’s vintage,” shares Fed. “We always sold big jackets [and] big pants and a lot of women loved the brand [and] they love [the] shop, but [they] admitted they couldn’t wear anything or it wasn’t their style.” And hence, Fed has since oriented the brand to have a strong women’s vintage curation.
Now, in the burgeoning Philippine vintage scene, It’s Vintage hosts a “very strong focus on collecting women’s pieces, or at least pieces that women would like to wear”. All the while, the brand houses its curations in a diplomatic and friendly way.
There’s no vintage shopper archetype
Part of what makes the local vintage scene “burgeoning” is the adoption of the vintage concept. It’s a concept that Fed wanted to share in the least intimidating way possible.
“A lot of people, frankly, wield their understanding of culture very arrogantly,” says Fed Pua. Holding the concept of vintage shopping up as an esoteric, rare-item-seeking, goosechase, ruled by “knowledge” of what is good and what isn’t is not a Fed Pua mandate.
He has no archetype for what a vintage shopper looks like.
“I really want buying vintage [to be] accessible,” he says. “Well it is accessible but a lot of people are intimidated by it, and I think the only way to alleviate that is by popping up in areas that are a bit more accessible for a lot of people.”
While a lot of people are looking for the rarest World War I jackets or “super hard to find Akira shirts or Janet Jackson tour shirts”, plenty of other people simply like what they like. “A shirt that has a funny quote [on it] or a shirt that has a photo of a dog [on it].” They’re references for someone.
From whichever point of contact you have with Fed Pua, be it It’s Vintage of his Atomic brand–which will have a new release this year–you’ll find the same journey away from the frightening seriousness of clothing. And as you peel back layers of what you’ve been marketed, of what you’ve been told is law, you might just find yourself.
Your own nostalgia.