Almost every day, a new streetwear brand runs the streets of Metro Manila, but only a few have stood the test of time, taking tenure in its prime. For a decade now, THE Clothing has fully made its mark as a cultural of local street style.
Has it really been a decade since the inception of THE, the brand often referred to as T-H-E? Just like the brand’s past releases, people are already lined up outside their store and just waiting for them to open their door for business on its anniversary celebration on October 19.
At exactly 4:27 PM, THE opened its doors for their patrons, with people who lining up to take their turns to get inside the store where Jerick Robleza, one of the founders of THE, was inviting them for a drink.
THE kept it low-key, something unusual for a brand that’s celebrating a decade in the business. But this ideology also separates them from other brands, simply staying true to their roots. This way, they were more than happy to share what THE has become over the years while sharing a drink with their loyal patrons, friends, and family, as well as a capsule collection to commemorate day.
I was fortunate enough to sit down, share a drink, meet the crew behind THE, and talk to one of its founders, Jerick Robleza about the brand.
If New York has Supreme, Metro Manila has THE. Their impact really helped paved the way for the streetwear culture in the Metro to flourish. Yes, there are other brands that was born before THE, but it is their footnotes that make up the blueprint for others to follow in creating their own clothing line.
“We thought that kids don’t know us anymore. Honestly, for the past [few] years, hindi ko inisip na relevant pa rin kami. It’s been two or three years na we’ve been quiet, pero ‘yung last release namin, nagulat pa rin kami sa reception. It’s been 10 years, but then I guess those who are following us since day one, nandyan pa rin hanggang ngayon, and then [THE] became something like a must-have if you’re really into street culture and the subculture. Not to brag pero [people] line up hanggang ngayon. I can’t explain it. Naawa ako sa kanila [and] at the same time natutuwa ako na we have that support until now.” Robleza says.
Unknown to many that before THE’s inception in 2009, its founders, Jerik Robleza and Dino Sarmiento were running a different brand, the now-defunct brand Fourth Door, which laid the foundation for THE. It was a mutual decision for Robleza and Sarmiento to create a new brand due to the building urge that Fourth Door was turning into something else and was going to a different direction.
“Siguro, you can say that THE is our breakaway brand. Yeah, parang inisip namin na mas gusto pa rin namin gawin ‘yung style namin and support the subculture, which is we have lots of friends na nag pa-paint, grafitti, photography, music, skateboarders, wake boarders, [and] surfers. So, parang those are people na hindi masyado na hi-highlight. And we feel like dito sa Pilipinas is more on basketball, volleyball, [and] the physical education subject, ‘yung sports na tinuturo doon pero not much about the subculture. So, since nandoon kami, we wanted to support those people, initially ‘yung friends namin, and then it grew into a community na kami ‘yung sumusuporta sa kanila. ‘Yun ‘yung idea namin, to support the subculture regardless.” Robleza explained.
Formerly knowns as Marikina Shoe Expo, the place turned into something that cultivates culture since it reopened sporting a new vibe and a new name. Cubao Expo–also referred to as Cubao X, quickly turned into a haven for the eclectics. It also became the home for the flagship store of THE, which back then was selling their stuff at parking lots, gigs, and out-of-their-car trunks. When asked about the story of how did they ended up in Cubao Expo, Robleza has this to say,
“We just love Cubao Expo so much na dito kami tumatambay; we kind of grew here and we like how this is a melting pot of everyone in terms of creatives. It just so happened na somebody left a space, naging bakante, tried our luck and in-award sa amin ‘yung space. At that time, 10 years ago, it was new. At that time, you have Sputnik [Comics], you have Mogwai [Cinematheque]. Walang clothing brand.”
T-H-E’s logo design has transcended into an iconic and integral part of the streetwear scene in the Philippines, which also became the counterpart of the coveted box-logo design of Supreme. THE is really of one the brands, if not the one, that has one of the most dedicated followers, who are willing to line up for hours just to get their hands on their items. One thing is for sure, THE has truly achieved such an unprecedented level of hype.
“Honestly, hindi ko alam. ‘Yun ‘yung pinag kuwentuhan namin kanina. Hindi ko talaga alam what drives them to line up, and I don’t know if it’s the hype or something. Pero a friend of ours was telling us na parang, you don’t know how it feels to wear T-H-E, and I don’t. It still blows my mind how all of these people line up, and at the same time I couldn’t fathom like, pipila ka diyan, minsan aabot ng Ragatori ‘yung pila, and they’re gonna be standing there for like four hours [to] six hours, parang naawa naman ako sa mga ‘to. Nakakaawa sila, but then I am very, very grateful [and] thankful for the support that people has shown us,” Robleza explains.
Robleza also shares that THE had four core members at one point with the addition of Auggie Fontanilla and Mara Reyes to the group. He cited that he and Sarmiento are still very good friends with Fontanilla and Reyes despite them parting ways with the brand to pursue their personal careers. “Mas importante sa amin ‘yung it works out for them and we’re all friends than to have [a] bloodbath with each other. Mas importante sa amin ‘yung to be friends, to be [a] family with each other,” he adds.
It’s hard not to mention THE when you’re talking about the OGs of the streetwear scene in the Philippines. Despite being labelled as one of the OGs in the game, Robleza thinks the opposite.
“Hindi ko talaga alam, kasi there’s a lot more na nauna sa amin, and to be honest I don’t know anything about streetwear. Wala, when we started, we had no idea na meron term na streetwear. Hindi ‘yan uso nung panahon namin and [ang] mabansagan na OG ng streetwear, I guess that’s a good thing. I don’t know [how] it grew into this na kids right now look up to us na we kind the paved the way for streetwear. We are just the same as everyone who is starting now na we still don’t know what to do. I guess that’s what I mean from saying na I couldn’t really understand kung paano kami na take as the OG, because until now, hindi naman namin alam yung gagawin namin. We just know how to enjoy this moment and to pave the way for quote-end-quote streetwear brands, hindi ko alam ‘yun. I’m glad na na-inspire namin sila in so many ways. Thankful lang ako na at the same time hindi ko pa rin ma-gets.” he explains.
Everyone in THE is still having fun while continuing with their own personal lives. Robleza moved to La Union and just occasionally visits the Metro while Sarmiento also continue his career as a pilot. Robleza feels really proud in what THE has accomplished, that the brand not just became the brand it is today, but it also became a platform for them to express themselves and also for their friends.
“Parang one key siguro is just being real. Just being true kung ano ‘yung gusto mo. We didn’t fake anything and this is what we wanted. Believe it or not, hindi kami kumikita dito. It was never about [the] money. Gusto lang namin gawin kung ano yung ine-enjoy namin. We enjoy designing, printing, and sharing our craft. That’s it. Kung hindi susuportahan, okay lang.”
High-profile collaborations with basketball specialty concept store Titan and skateboarding brand Vans are among the accolades on the ongoing legacy of the brand. It’s really been one hell of a ride for the boys of THE but the journey is far from over.
“Brands are gonna be busy putting up their collection, putting up a shop, and kung ano [pang] gagawin nila. Kami ni Dino, we’re putting up a hostel. That’s been our plan since day one. Before [putting up] the shop, we would talk about having a playground, a beach house that everybody can come and just enjoy the beach. ‘Yun talaga yung gusto namin and this year, awa ng Diyos, somebody knocked on our door and gave us a chance to put up a hostel, and it’s happening. ‘Dun lang ako stoked ngayon. How many brands can come up with something like that? And it’s been our dream before having the shop and now it’s happening after 10 years. We’re excited for that. The hostel is in La Union,” Robleza shares.
Brands do come and go and having to withstand 10 years is not an easy feat. That’s why it is so fascinating that THE is still the brand it is since day one, true to their roots.
“If there’s one lesson na they would take from us. Maging totoo ka lang sa eksena and it’s not gonna fail, and hindi ka masasaktan if it doesn’t work. Just have fun and be real. ‘Wag niyo lokohin ‘yung tao. People are not dumb. I’ve said this before in all of my interviews [and] they will know if your faking it.”