Filipino designer Xylk Lorena is making the Birkin bag a whole lot more accessible than you think.
Growing up in the Philippines, it’s oddly normal to see tote bags, tees, and even sneakers stamped with a politician’s name and face on it. Remember when the internet had a lot to say about the infamous “Air Binays” from years ago? Call it consumerism-obsessed, tacky merch, or even “camp” as you wish, but for rising Filipino designer Xylk Lorena, there’s the untapped potential in this design formula that strangely works wonders when done tastefully. Satire may just be the best word to describe his language as a designer.
Cue in his latest project, “expensive grocery bags,” where you can now own a Birkin except Xylk decided to print them on sako bags. This bizarre idea slowly became viral on Instagram and fashion Twitter, with fashion geeks applauding its socio-economic implications disguised as cheeky design. “Do you know who I am?” and “Can I talk to your manager?” are just some of the bag’s hilarious names in this collection, obviously referencing the viral, unhinged videos of Karens all over the world.
Below, we had a little catch up with the Toronto-based designer on how his streetwear brand came to be thanks to his obsession with Dexter’s Laboratory and having a thick Filipino accent in a foreign land.
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Tell us about yourself. How does it feel like growing up outside of the Philippines? How were you able to foster that connection with your aesthetic as a fashion designer?
When I was 10, my family and I moved to St. Jamestown, Bleecker in downtown Toronto. I’d say 70% of the kids in my school were Filipinos. There was a big Filipino community present, but I came from Manila, so I know what taho is supposed to taste like you know? But to be completely honest, as soon as I got here, I kind of forgot about being Filipino. Everything is kind of designed to make you feel like you should hide that stuff, especially back in those days, I think. Instead of bringing longganisa and pancit canton that’s all mushed up into a gigantic blob by lunch time into class, you’d rather have a sandwich of course, maybe some chicken nuggets. I didn’t even know I had a thick-ass accent until Filipino kids started mocking me and calling me “fob.” I thought I spoke English perfectly to be honest.
Now, everything they used to make me feel ashamed of, I’m putting at the forefront and into anything that I make. That Filipino humor and ingenuity, that thick Pinoy accent are part of my design language.
What was your earliest memory as a creative? At what age did you start exploring design?
We didn’t have cable growing up, so the only time I ever watched cartoons was when I went over to my best friend’s house who lived in a gated subdivision just one street over. We’d watch Cartoon Network all the time and I’d tune into Dexter’s Laboratory religiously. I used to pretend and imagine I had a secret lab built in the room that I shared with my sisters. I’m not sure when exactly I started exploring design, but I have a feeling that whenever I used my imagination, those were my first steps.
How was it like establishing your identity as a Filipino designer compared to streetwear brands who more often than not, ride the hype? Were there any unfortunate encounters when you started?
I’m pretty confident that we’re still in the early stages of this, but here’s what I got so far. I believe that I have a unique perspective and outlook on design because of the simple fact that I got to live in Manila long enough that I observed what people do there and moved to North America and saw what people do here. All I do as a designer is be a bridge between the two. I think brands often reflect the personalities of their designers and I think most designers draw from the need to express themselves creatively, which is great, but I draw from the need to solve a problem.
Aside from your cheeky Birkin grocery bags that are now slowly gaining cult status in the fashion world, what else are you planning to release in the near future?
What are some of the milestones in your career so far?
Getting our office space. Shout out to Hullmark, the best in the world. The fact that I haven’t turned down any requests to hang out/family party because “I have work” is something that I’m proud of. I’m trying to practice good time management. Bringing my best friends LiFE DESiGNER #2 Feef & LiFE DESiGNER #13 Coolin to the Philippines for three months doing what we love and meeting my family meant a lot to me and is something I wanna do annually. Showing our lookbook in Paris during fashion week was life changing. Getting invited to the Nike World Headquarters and walking around campus was a dream come true. Doing Complex Con again for the second time is pretty cool, too. Man, we did a lot this year.
What is your advice to young Filipino creatives, mostly those who don’t have the tools, connections and resources?
In Manila, me and my cousin parked his motorcycle in this outdoor parking lot during a sunny day. We left after about two hours and came back to his bike with a flattened cardboard box and a rock on top of it. A man comes and take sit off and my cousin gives him whatever change he had in his pocket. That’s LiFE DESiGN. Solve a problem, the rest will follow.
Photos from Xylk.co on Instagram
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