Ten years ago, a group of young architecture

graduates in Cebu drew up a blueprint for a project which their school never taught to build.

a shirt business

If it seemed like a peculiar career shift, well, it was 1986, a year of change for the Philippines. People Power had effected a peaceful revolution--and anything seemed achievable.

What this particular group of friends saw was a chance to create own revolution There was a growing demand for colourful shirts in Cebu and the biggest buyers were people the young graduates felt they knew and understood intimately--young college students like themselves. In fact, they decided to name their shirts after the students ultimate and constant writing implement,

the pen

Hence the name,


The odds weren't good for Penshoppe at that point. First of all, none of its founders had had any professional training on how to design and sell shirts. Second, they were venturing into a market that already had a number of successful brands.

BUT they could count on some pluses. They had ideas, lots of ideas. If some of them didn't work, they'd try others. Full of enthusiasm, they were prepared to innovate. For one thing, they paid attention "They had ideas, lots of ideas. If some of them didn't work, they'd try others."

to the packaging of the individual shirts -- at a time when no other brand bothered to do so. For another, they even designed huge pencil-shaped shelves for their products when all other brands used available run-of-the-mill racks.

Also, they knew a few things about design. Their training as architects had ingrained in them a deep respect for and understanding of proportions, line-drawings, and colour balance. Their teachers probably never imagined that the lessons would be put to use in deciding on how to come up with a catchy graphic to print on a shirt!

Finally, the partners believed in marketing. Penshoppe was committed to the principle of its products being sold on a certain image. That image was youth, fun, hipness. Penshoppe would focus on its market--youths belonging to the 13 to 20 year-old bracket -- and stay focused.

"...armed with the belief in their product concept and a powerful prayer..." Sales took off almost as soon as Penshoppe was launched. Within the year, the brand had captured the Cebu market. Inspired, the partners raised their sights to target Manila.

Again, they were bucking the odds. No Cebu shirt compnay had ever cracked the capital.

    "You'll never make it in Manila," friends told the arhitects.

    "I'll kneel before you if you can do it," said others.

They saw it as a challenge, not as a warning. Manila proved a tough nut, it was not an easy campaign. The friends had to literally walk all over the capital trying to sell their shirts and product concepts...

But propelled by sheer persistence and a dogged refusal to take "no" for an answer, and armed with the belief in their product concept and a powerful prayer, Penshoppe cracked it... and made itself felt.

Penshoppe won by doing what it did best: the unexpected.

    When people expected them to give up, they went on.

    When some dealers asked them to downgrade their product concept, they refused--and improved the product instead.

    When people expected them to retreat, they embraced marketing with a vengeance.

From the very first ad and communication material that it did, Penshoppe made sure it avoided the usual, the ordinary, the expected.

Other companies used well known personalities and models to sell their products. Penshoppe veered off this beaten track and promised its shirts through young, unknown, non-professional models which it chose itself. The models would be picked on the basis of their looking real yet individual, but definitely not looking like models.

With its finger unerringly on the pulse of the market, Penshoppe knew that the youth eschewed fakeness and insincerity. So never mind the glossy, unbelievable perfection of tall and leggy pros. Penshoppe models would be fresh, sincere, real - and very cool. They need not be picture perfect, they could have moles, and wear braces. They would look like the sort of people who'd buy and wear Penshoppe shirts.

In a burst of inspiration, the group called their first batch of models,

Club Pen.

Penshoppe would sell by not selling. The ads would feature tight, close-up photos of the models wearing

Penshoppe shirts. There would be no hard sell, just the word "Penshoppe" discreetly tacked on at the bottom of the ad, almost like an afterthought. "Penshoppe would sell by not selling."

This combination of understatement, scant text, and unknown "drop-dead" real but good looking models was so unusual for its time. It clicked.

Club Pen became such an effective image maker that Penshoppe decided to instituionalize it, making the search a yearly tradition.

And in time, Penshoppe expanded the concept from just a marketing technique to becoming a statement on teen lifestyle and values: that teenagehood could come to mean clean fun; that teenagers could care for others apart from themselves; that young people do matter... and do mean well.

   On these next pages, Penshoppe reminisces... on the

dreams and expressions of a generation that is proud to have been a part of...