Toqa’s Moodyisle collection celebrates contemporary island life

Seen on the likes of like Jess Connelly, BJ Pascual, and Anne Curtis, Toqa is the fashion-forward brand to look out for

Photos courtesy of TOQA

Photo by Borgy Angeles, shot while filming Toqa's Moodyisle fashion film.

Earlier in the year, in what may now seem like a lifetime ago, local fashion label Toqa threw a party to launch its latest collection. Foregoing the typical runway show, it screened a beautiful fashion film produced by Tarzeer Pictures and shot on location at El Nido. Nobody knew it then, but it would be one of the last grand parties before the entire world went to, well, we all know the story.

Before the Toqa designs were officially put up for sale, the effects of the Covid-19 health crisis began to be felt. For several months the collection was shelved.

“It felt misplaced to be offering a new collection in the throes of the pandemic,” Toqaco-founders Isabel Sicat and Aiala Rickard share. “And then… it felt like it was time. There was no particular logic governing the route that we chose: our compass was internal, instinctual.”

In the world of fashion, the pandemic has led to the twin problems of supply chain disruption and diminished consumer demand. As the days blend into each other, trends seem to be a thing of a pre-Covid past. The expected “quarantine of consumption,” a phrase coined by trend forecaster Li Edelkoort, will not merely create a shift in consumer spending habits, but also a radical change in consumer mindset.

Due to the logistics constraints and the economic contractions, we are all learning to live on less, but also appreciate better.

As Toqa began to humbly release its designs on social media, after months of waiting in the wings, it became clear that it was not simply a matter of timing it right. At first glance, Toqa’s collection seems nostalgic for the quaint island life. But upon closer inspection, both in its design and the way it has been presented, it is clearly more concerned with the future, optimistic about the possibility of a sustainable, purpose-driven island utopia rooted in a proud cultural identity.

In an interview with Manila Bulletin Lifestyle, we learn how Toqa created Moodyisle, a collection that resonates with what fashion has come to mean today.

Could you give a background on Toqa?

Toqa’s vision is to expand the visual vocabulary of the island identity through sustainable high fashion. We created “sport resort:” a multifunctional aesthetic bridge between active-wear and resort-wear. It is a modern representation of the island identity, a futuristic embodiment of contemporary tropical art in fashion, founded to redefine the singular stereotype of a lei-laden islander.

How did the Moodyisle collection come about?

Underwriting our “sport resort” aesthetic is our deep appreciation of community and collaboration as a source of genuine tropical production. With our boys at Tarzeer Pictures, we spoke to every available employee on every El Nido island. We cast from games and marine sportsmen, housekeepers, environmental officers, bangkeros, butchers, and landscapers.

We quizzed them, asking, “What do you enjoy about El Nido? How do you spend your free time on the island? What are your special talents?” And, from their responses, we crafted a narrative, a set of characters, an entire world. Just as our El Nido collaborators stewarded us through their environment, it was their local knowledge that grounded our aesthetic ideas in the landscape of reality.

Photo by Borgy Angeles

We designed concurrently.

Our process is an immersive one. After seeing coral bleaching during a swim (corals, warmed past the process of a liveable temperature, turn a ghostly white and perish), we found a bleaching motif had seeped into our vocabulary of textile manipulations.

‘We dreamed of a perfect runway, of a front-row seat for anyone who wanted it.’

When trying to name a shirt, we recognized that it had the same sheathing effect as scales on a Palawan Pangolin, hence, the Pangolin tank. Our obsession with rock-climbing led us to the development of the three-piece boulder bag. We made them in colorways of bright orange “lifevest” and fleece-lined, Nat Geo yellow “waterproof.”

How did you settle on creating a fashion film instead of doing a typical runway show?

The medium of a traditional fashion show seemed prohibitive. Moreover, we’re continually frustrated by contemporary high fashion’s superficial mimicry of the tropics.

We thought: Why try and inevitably fail to replicate a place? Why not take our audience to the island itself? And why not do so in a way that centers on sustainable eco-tourism in the process?

Photo by Borgy Angeles

Done live, fashion shows are replete with mistakes, and only accessible to the 300 or so VIP attendees. Shows are telegraphed to the rest of the world through Instagram stories and videos that don’t do the moment justice. As perfectionists in our craft, we find this to be exclusionary and counter to Toqa’s ideals.

We have done music videos before (Jess Connelly’s “On My Way Up”) and we’ve done runway shows before. We thought this was the right moment to put them together.

Inclusivity is one of the pillars of our “sport resort” aesthetic: everything we create is a vehicle for connecting with our community. We dreamed of the perfect runway, of a front-row seat for anyone who wanted it.

Prior to the health crisis, what were your plans with the Moodyisle collection?

Toqa’s interests are vested in an interdisciplinary experience. We sought to combine our love for cinema, music videos, fashion, and sustainability in one fell swoop: a fashion film, the future of runway.

We had plans to do a screening in El Nido on Earth Day, April 22, as a way to celebrate with our Moodyisle family, as well as their extended friends and family. We were in talks to take Moodyisle on the road to New York City and to London as an experiential concept, part art film, part pop-up, part question and answer, and part party, in collaboration with other artists.

How did the health crisis change those plans?

We paused all our production and pivoted to facemasks at the beginning of the pandemic. We wanted to help loosen the supply of limited N95 medical-grade masks to healthcare workers on the front lines. A percentage of the proceeds benefit our Covid-19 disenfranchised partners in El Nido’s sustainable eco-tourism industry, the rest goes to support Toqa atelier staff and their families.

Now that you have released the collection, could you comment on the importance of celebrating local?

We’ve always believed in celebrating local. It aligns with our whole ethos of sustainability: reducing waste, adding value, and celebrating the environment (persons and places) around you. There is beauty all around us.

Check out Toqa's Moodyisle looks below: