The Female Factor: A New Brand of Feminism

When my sister Rone and I were little, Mama would play Helen Reddy’s ‘I Am Woman’ for us over and over again, and we would have a seventies version of a karaoke party minus the screen. I still remember the words, ‘I am woman, hear me roar. The number is too big to ignore…you can bend but never break me, for it only serves to make me more determined to achieve my final goal.’ It was a fun song, and I do strongly advocate what it espouses. However, in my culture I don’t think women ever felt the need to roar.

I come from a line of women who never felt that femininity and strength were at odds with one another. This perhaps is one of my life’s greatest gifts, that from the very beginning I understood completely the texture and chemistry of a woman’s strength. To better understand this, let me tell you about my paternal grandmother whom we called Nana, Mercedes Cacho Valles. I have many wonderful memories of Nana. They involve amazing parties she would throw for the family and Abuelo’s colleagues in the oil and energy industry, and she is always a shining light in these pictures in my mind. They involve Spanish lessons on Saturdays, with her determined that her grandchildren would not lose their Spanish tongue. They involve golf lessons and lunches at the golf club. In all these memories Nana is a vision of grace, strength and joie de vivre.

My beautiful Nana with Papa (walking), my aunt Tita Adele (carried) and my godfather Tito Mari

Nana proudly leading the Philippine golf team of which she was captain

Nana's golf swing

It is difficult to pinpoint what it was in Nana’s life that gave her such a strong sense of her own authority. Born into privilege, she went to finishing school in Switzerland and spoke the four romance languages. She studied nursing, and never wanted for anything in life. If she did want anything, she most likely got it. The biggest evidence to this is her love story. She had may suitors whose family backgrounds were similar to hers and yet the man she chose to love, my Abuelo Tots (Totit was Enrique Viaplana Valles’ nickname), was a simple man with big dreams. His parents were separated early when his father was exiled to Shanghai by the Philippine government. His mother, Monsterrat Viaplana made the brave choice for a pre-war era woman not to follow her exiled husband and instead raise their children on her own. This was my great grandmother, a highly skilled seamstress who made fine children’s clothing, a tradition carried on it the family by my very successful aunt. There were many things about my Abuelo that were impressive, not only was he gorgeous and a star athlete – 1939 basketball team captain at his University- he was a self made man.

But this is about Nana. Her romantic choice to love Abuelo was also a decision to take a different path. One that leads with the heart. They had a family together, she was a full time mother whose passions included her husband, family and her sport. Of all the sports, she loved golf the most. To this day golf remains a predominantly male sport, so consider how progressive it was for a woman in the 50’s and 60’s, but Nana was undeterred. A pioneer of ladies golf in the Philippines and perhaps Southeast Asia, Nana’s golf career which took her all over the world included being president of the Women’s Golf Association of the Philippines. Testament to all her efforts are the annual Ditas Valles Invitational ladies’ golf tournament held at Baguio Golf and Country Club, where she also served as a board member for a period.

Nana being recognized at the Queen Sirikit golf tournament in Korea

Nana as team captain at a tournament in France the first time the Philippines participated

There are many lessons my sister and I learned from Nana, too many to detail. What is most magical to me is that these lessons, taught primarily by example, are what I sense encompasses a new brand of feminism. One deeply rooted in embracing being female, pro-woman and not anti-man. One that finds strength and power in the feminine, embracing the Yin usually characterized as slow, soft, tranquil feminine energy. The energy of the night, when regeneration and the birth of a new day happens. Rone and I are lucky enough that this new brand of feminism being a strong woman is in fact the only kind of woman we have ever aspired to be.
Nana with my sister, Rone

The women of the feminist movement fought to bring womens rights at the center of civil rights. Many women of my generation are now benefiting from this work. It is in this spirit that we move forward fully empowered in the female factor and continue to advance the cause of women. Two years ago today my dear friend Lindsey Nefesh-Clarke and I came up with a dream, which we are now turning into a reality.

We asked a simple question: Imagine what would happen if we were to weave the web of women we knew. The question begged another question. Imagine what would happen if our webs began to interweave with the webs of other women throughout the world. That was when we staked our claim to our Female Factor. We have embarked on a journey that envisions a world where women and children are empowered with the much needed skills and support to make the right decisions to transform their lives and the futures of their families. We dream of a world where every woman and child finds the light within them that will propel them towards better tomorrows.

The female factor is our brand of power, what’s yours?

Red Handed, Red Branded

The very first accessories I can remember loving are a pair of red rainboots. I would wear them with my red rain coat. I am distinctly aware that this ensemble featured in my pre-school days, where I was the weather girl responsible for the weather report (five year old style, of course.) I also have a distinct memory of a red poncho I would wear during colder seasons. I recall Mama telling me I looked very ‘Annie Hall’ in that poncho. This flattered me, though I am pretty sure I did not know quite what she meant. These days, I can still be spotted ablaze in Red. My winter coat is red (guess what, so is Mama’s!)

I really like being a spot of brightness in the midst of the black and gray winter fare. One might say that the color red is a big part of my ‘brand’ and visual identity. What is most fascinating to me is that the allure and appeal of the color is something that I have always responded to. It is something inherent and almost raw in me, it isn’t contrived or ‘styled.’ I simply love the color and respond to it very strongly.

Even in the spring time I can be spotted as the one in the red peacoat. The color red has so many layers to it. It is a fiery, passionate color. It is the color of life giving blood. It is the color of revolt, but it is also the color of romance. It is a timeless color, at the same time it is always current and contemporary.

My affinity for the color went to the next level when I first encountered the Red Project. The project is as complex and powerful as the color itself. It is the first encounter I have had with Brand Advocacy of a collaborative kind, one I continue to support and affiliate with.

Ask yourself this, what fires your blood up? What gives you energy and inspires you to do more? These are the fundamentals that push interest towards the direction of advocacy. It’s the stuff that moves mountains and forces the world to listen and do something. It’s the magic of the human condition that gets wheels invented and ends wars. I’m red handed and red branded. What’s your color, what’s your story?

The First Bites Are The Deepest

Admirer that I am of brands and their power, I can recall a few of the first brand bites that have shaped and formed this admiration into the full blown love affair that it is today. This love affair existed on a parallel track to my career in brand strategy and marketing communications. This was a love I have always felt very personally.

Sesame Street in the 70’s. Perhaps my first introduction to progressive thinking and a deep love for learning, my daily after school date with Sesame Street opened up the world to me. Back then I was a little Spanish-Filipino American citizen growing up in Westernized Manila post Martial Law where everything was possible. Of all our Southeast Asian neighbors, we were on fire and on the rise. Most other people who came up in this same time and place know how the Sesame Street brand was so much more than a PBS program. It was a glimpse of a cooler way to live, a hipper frame of mind. Of sunny days sweepin’ the clouds away. When we asked ‘Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street’ we were really asking ‘I may be little now, but one day I will get to every road I set my sights on.’ I know this to be true for my sister, Rone and me.

Esprit de Corps in the early 80’s. Women my age loved the colors, the ballet slippers, the flourescent warmers and tights and those oversized T-shirts that slouched off one shoulder. My transition from tweenhood to the teenage years was largely styled by Esprit. Perhaps this was a uniquely Asian phenomenon. But the Esprit bug bit me hard. It marked a safe space of still being girly while growing out of girlhood. It wasn’t too hard edged or punk, just like me. It wasn’t too sweet either. To this day, just seeing the Esprit logo sends a nostalgic rush through me.

The late 80’s brought a wave of nationalism to the Philppines, where I grew up. The brands that marked those years were local brands I proudly affiliated with. We were the youth who rallied the streets every month in a movement to oust a dictator. We were revolutionaries of the best kind who matched ideals and compassion with hard work and tenacity. A particular brand that I remain in love in its rebirth is Schizo by Rafe Totengco. Rafe grew up in Bacolod, where I spent part of my childhood. Always the artist, the now world renowned global hand bag and leather gear tycoon has always been doodling, designing and envisioning amazing things. Schizo epitomized the edge and style of our youth. Years later still as a tourist in NY I remember the deep sense of pride and affinity I felt as I stood on the corner of Bleecker and Bowery and basked in the glow of Rafe’s shop which proudly bore his self-named line. Rafe remains a brand I am in love with to this day. In the downsize required as I moved to New York three years ago, I sold and gave away all my hand bags EXCEPT for the Rafe ones. To this day, 99% of the bags I own are by Rafe, and I wear them with pride. Rafe bags speak of a deep sense of pride, of the triumph of a generation raised in Martial Law, of a peer group who dared to turn dreams into genuine successes.

In the late nineties, while on lay over at Singapore’s Changi airport I realized I forgot to pack a pair of sun glasses. When there is glare from sunlight that is too bright, I tend to get migraines so I needed to buy a pair. As I browsed the many options (Changi airport is a shopper’s mecca!) I was struck by an unusual case – it was a pair of Emporio Armani glasses, but the case was colored red and had (Red) on it. I bought the glasses and still have them all these years later.

This particular purchase was a tipping point for me. The flight I was waiting for was headed to the States and while I was there I went to the Gap and saw the (Red) merchandise there, and read about the project. That’s when it all came together for me. At that point, the various pieces in my brand loving revolutionary idealism clicked into form: Brand Advocacy, that’s it.

Brands can harness their power in so many ways. They shape and influence culture, they reflect people’s values and aspirations, they stretch our vision of what is possible. So why not aspire for the moreness of what brands can do? Why not shape and influence culture to move closer towards our ideals? Why not reflect values that move us forward? Let’s fall in love with brands. I mean REALLY fall in love.