Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Special Edition Asics Shoes Inspired By Kalinga's Culture And Traditional Tattoo Designs

A specialty boutique and a global sportswear company have teamed up to produce and release a batch of sneakers featuring designs inspired by the culture and traditional tattoo practices of the Kalinga tribes in Northern Luzon. According to Commonwealth, a specialty boutique that opened a branch here in the Philippines less than two years ago, they collaborated with sportswear giant Asics Tiger with the intention of paying "homage to one of the country's preserved traditions". Commonwealth pitched the idea to the Asian office of Asics which the latter promptly approved.

Released earlier this week, the pairs can be purchased at the Commonwealth store located in SM Aura in Taguig City. Dubbed the GEL-Lyte V Kultura, the limited edition sneakers come in classic beige colors. Inscribed into the tongue and inner linings of the shoe are tribal designs often used by "mambabatoks" (traditional tattoo artists) in Kalinga. Each pair is currently priced at 7,900 pesos.

In an interview with FHM Philippines, Commonwealth co-founder Omar Quiambao stated that they "wanted to highlight a part of Filipino culture that is indigenous" so they decided to focus on the Igorot tribes of Kalinga. Quiambao added that he spent several days in Buscalan, Kalinga, experiencing first-hand the culture and traditions of the people there. Buscalan is most well-known as the home of Whang-od, the 100-year-old Butbut woman who single-handedly elevated Kalinga traditional tattooing to global consciousness.

To learn more about the sneakers and how it came about, you may get in touch with Commonwealth Philippines through their Facebook page or their official website.
Photo credit: Commonwealth Philippines
I think it's necessary that I include in here my take on the issue of cultural appropriation [or cultural misappropriation]. I've seen a lot of negative feedback about the shoes and most of these argue that the Commonwealth and Asics collaboration is a case of cultural commodification. In the simplest of terms, cultural modification refers to the act of partially or wholly using a particular culture's traditions, symbols, and fashion to create and market a commercial product.

So yes, the Commonwealth/Asics shoe is an instance of cultural commodification. There's no doubt about that especially if you consider the steep price of the sneakers. Only the well-to-do and the most avid sneaker enthusiasts can throw down 7,900 pesos for a pair of shoes. But there's a much bigger question in here that we need to ask: Is cultural commodification wrong?

In all honesty, if you look around you, cultural commodification is everywhere. From the small bululs being sold in souvenir shops to the cultural groups being paid to perform in events: these are all instances of cultural commodification. It's more rampant than you think. I believe that cultural commodification is not inherently wrong. It's good if it's done ethically and with respect to the source culture. If you think that a shoe company using Kalinga designs on their shoes is wrong, then you might as well condemn everyone who practices the same thing. Why cherry-pick on who to criticize?

Is there any reason why it's okay for a business to mass-produce bags bearing cultural designs while it's not okay for another business to use the same designs on their shoes? No, no reason at all. As I said, if it's done with proper ethics and due respect, why not. The commodification of culture has been happening since the dawn of man. It's one of the many ways that culture evolves. Culture is malleable. It changes. It adds. It subtracts. It multiplies. It adapts. And it has always been on sale. Just make sure that when you decide to sell it, you should do it with respect and proper ethics. What constitutes "proper ethics"?  Well, that's a question we'll try to answer in another day.

I don't claim to be completely right here. These are merely my take on the issue. That said, I welcome those with opposing views. Feel free to chime in at the comments section below. Thanks.