The five-year-old sportswear tailoring business of siblings Jorrel and Joyce Advincula took a nosedive during the pandemic. Since sports activities were prohibited, there was practically zero sales in their basketball uniforms, which was their business’ bread and butter.
This made the duo think of other products they can make so they wouldn’t have to lay off any of their staff—they have a small team of seven employees—during a difficult period. They produced face masks and personal protective equipment (PPE). Then in November of 2020, Jorrel, an AB History graduate at Jose Rizal University, thought of producing shirts depicting the faces of the Philippine revolution. He called the brand Pilibustero.
“Back in the day, if you want a better country, pag nagreklamo ka, you are condemned,” says Jorrel. “During the time of Dr. Jose Rizal, they were called filibusteros.” This is why the term resonates so much with him in this pandemic. “We are greatly affected by the government’s incompetence. Like our national heroes, we also want a better country for every Filipino.”
The siblings admit their expectations from the brand weren’t exactly high when they started. “We literally just want our people to earn since the economy was crashing.” They were targeting academicians and history enthusiasts, so he sent samples to historians—among them Prof. Xiao Chua and Dr. Ambeth Ocampo.
When Chua posted a photo of himself wearing shirts bearing the images of Rizal and Bonifacio on social media, the historian was flooded with inquiries. “Prof. Xiao sent me a message, ‘Simulan mo ng mag-reply, hindi ko na kaya.’ When I checked his posts, ang dami na palang comments asking, ‘Saan mo nabili yan Prof.?’ We love our designs, but we didn’t expect people to give that kind of attention.”
The Advincula siblings suddenly found their inbox filled with inquiries. “We weren’t prepared at first, kasi very limited lang ang ginawa naming shirts. For a time, nagkaroon kami ng delays, kasi di namin agad na-accommodate ang orders.” But they have since happily caught up with the demand.
It has been a year since they started their little project. Aside from Rizal and Bonifacio, they have also featured Gen. Antonio Luna, Apolinario Mabini, Marcelo H. del Pilar, Macario Sakay, Lapu-Lapu, Gabriela Silang, and Gregoria de Jesus. They also have shirts bearing the iconic photo of propagandistas Rizal, Del Pilar, and Mariano Ponce, and Rizal’s famous novels “Noli Me Tangere” and “El Filibusterismo.”
“All designs are moving so far,” says Joyce, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Clothing Technology. “Every design na nilabas namin has been well-received.” Joyce is responsible for the design of their bestselling La Solidaridad shirt, which notable artist BenCab and Dr. Ocampo have been seen wearing.
Jorrel took to Philippine history quite late on life. While he had been interested in history since he was a kid, he didn’t consider taking up the degree in college. He only took it after finishing Business Administration.
“I only realized that we have a very rich history when I took up AB History,” he tells ANCX. He had also started taking up his master’s in History at the University of the Philippines but decided to take a break for the meantime in order to focus on Pilibustero.
“I once saw Prof. Chua wearing a shirt that says, ‘Thank God I’m a Filipino,’” he recalls. “I asked myself then, why is this historian thankful about being a Filipino? Then I realized, when you know the history of your country, you have this natural inclination to love it more.
“Naisip ko, if you can send a clear message thru t-shirts, it’s one way to make Filipinos curious din about their past, and eventually develop love of their country. That has become our personal advocacy.”
Jorrel is a fan of the T-shirt as an accessible medium of expression. “Wearing a t-shirt can send a powerful message. A plain black color can [say so much] about the kind of world we live in,” he says. Which is why Jorrel and Joyce put a lot of thought in conceptualizing their designs. “It’s a team effort. We are each other’s devil’s advocate,” he says about the partnership. Since he and his sister are not graphic artists, they engage their brother and other artists who help bring their creative ideas to life.
As of the moment, the two are happy to be collaborating with respected visual artists Marcel Antonio, DengCoy Miel, and Therese Cruz for a limited-edition holiday collection, reflecting Pilibustero’s year-end theme, Revolution of 1896.
Among the highlights of the collection is the Super Rizal shirt, where Dengcoy reimagines Rizal as a super hero with laser beam coming out of his eyes, ready to defy the tyrants. In Antonio’s artwork, Rizal is shown with a stern look in his face, ever prepared to meet his destiny. Cruz, on the other hand, depicts Rizal as a simple Filipino, with an immense love for cats. The capsule collection consists of t-shirts, pullovers, button-down shirts and satchel bags.
“The theme of Pilibustero, the Philippine Revolution of 1896, reminds us Filipinos what we are truly made of,” says Jorrel. “Yung mga Pilibustero like Del Pilar, Rizal, Bonifacio, they displayed resilience and perseverance. Pilibustero serves as a reminder to every Filipino that the heroes who laid the foundation of this country are these patriotic intellectuals who dreamed and fought for a better Philippines. Feeling ko, yung revolution of 1896, kung nasa puso natin yun, mas malakas ang loob natin to overcome the challenges that we have now.”
For the history grad, part of being knowledgeable of our past is taking a stand on current issues—and by this, Jorell means “drawing the line” and standing up for one’s principles. “I’m reminded of people like Rizal na maganda naman ang katayuan sa buhay yet they opted to speak up, used the technology available to them to make their voices heard,” says Jorrell. “Rizal, back then, used his novels to amplify his voice. This is how we amplify ours.”
Photos courtesy of Jorrel Advincula