Juanito Maiquez was five years old when his father gave him an action figure of Shipwreck, a character from G.I. Joe, the popular line of action figures owned and produced by toy company Hasbro. The toy was a gift for his birthday.
His father’s present immediately spawned a toy collection that ranged from Legos to die-cast Japanese robots to Voltron—he still keeps with him a piece from the Vehicle Team Voltron collection, one of his most prized childhood memorabilia. He developed such great fascination for his toys, that he remembers clearly how the tiny figures affected all his five senses.
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Usually self-possessed and deliberate in his choice of words, Maiquez laughs at this memory: “I remember what the toys tasted like. It was like putting a nine-volt battery on your tongue. Parang may kuryente. I don’t know kung may lead ’yon, or kung poisonous. Very close kami sa toys.”
Decades later, the young toy enthusiast would turn out to be one of the most significant Filipino toy designers in the world. And he would be known by his sobriquet, Quiccs.
“Try to develop a business out of your art”
Born in 1982, Quiccs was heavily exposed to the many Japanese animated shows popular among Filipino kids during the ’80s and the ’90s. He and older brother, Mike, would sit in front of the TV to watch Daimos, Voltes V, and Bioman. They were also fans of the American animated shows, like the Transformers and G.I. Joe. On other days, when they were not in school or in front of the TV, they would spend their time battling it out on the video game console, Family Computer.
On the afternoon I interviewed him, Quiccs, now 38 years old, is dressed in a loose black shirt and pair of jeans, accessorized with a gold, chain necklace, as he welcomes us into one of his offices inside a commercial-residential building along Pearl Drive in Pasig. When we arrived, he was surrounded by friends and loyal-collector-turned-friends (one of them, we find out, has a Quiccs toy collection with a value that runs into millions). The friends moved to another office, the workspace, on the same floor, a few minutes later.
Quiccs’s sister, Luday, who is in charge of marketing, is holding the fort while we have a quick chat with the talk of the street wear town.
“I grew up at a time when the careers of [rappers] Tupac Shakur and The Notroious B.I.G. are at their peak,” Quiccs tells ANCX. Thus, part of his style—both in fashion and design—are still reminiscent of these hip-hop moguls.
His brother sketched a lot, which inspired him to explore the artistic skills further. No one in his family pursued a career in the arts—although his mother used to paint as hobby. However, his father, who worked for the telecommunications company PLDT for 35 years, saw Quiccs’s potential at a young age, and would sign him up for many of PLDT’s visual arts competitions. Quiccs would often win.
“I guess I had a talent for illustration,” he says. “So I naturally gravitated toward graphic design, at the same time, mahilig ako sa computers.”
Although he already found his passion for the design when he was a child, his parents persuaded him to take a business-related course at Ateneo de Manila. “My father told me, ‘Learn how to do business, and try to develop a business out of your art.’” He took his father’s advice.
After getting his college degree, he became a freelance artist, doing illustrations and graphic designs for websites. In 2008, he and five of his partners decided to start their own design company called, Burnwater Design Studios.
While the business was doing well, Quiccs, whose creative mind is always on the lookout for new adventures, started to think about getting into the toy business.
Designing toys would allow him to use the skills he had acquired since he was a kid: “You need to know how to draw to sketch up your idea. You need painting skills because you’d be painting the toys. Graphic design comes in sa mock-up and sa packaging. And then you need marketing skills because you have to market yourself and your toys.”
He’s a self-taught artist, he says. In his past time, he would read blogs and watch videos that are related to toy designing online: “I emulate the best of them,” he says. “I would watch how they presented themselves, how they would design their toys.” He was awestruck by the styles of contemporary artists like KAWS, Huck Gee, and the French graffiti crew 123Klan. But his greatest hero is Hong Kong designer Michael Lau, considered by many to be an instigator of urban vinyl style of designer toys.
“It was in the early 2000s, and I was mind-blown by Lau’s work,” he says, describing how his hero developed his collection way before the term “urban designer toy” was coined. “He was already doing toys na hip-hop ang flavor. I guess he was ahead of his time.” The first toy character Quiccs ever created, called TEQ63, was heavily inspired by Lau’s works. (TEQ is short for technique, and 63 is the country code of the Philippines.)
Although Quiccs didn’t have a mentor, a toy artist collective named Red Mutuca Studios, whose members were mostly from South America, took him in: “I learned a lot about the ins and outs of toy designing from them.”
In 2012, it was clear to the businessman that, for sustainability, he needed to establish a brand that could not only make toys, but could also expand into building its own merchandise, a movie franchise, or even a comic book franchise. “May vision na ako no’n.” he says. “The essence of the brand would be to create a world where I could continually develop characters within the parameters of my influences: Japanese robots, hi-hop, and graffiti.”
In the same year, he got invited, among a pool of toy designers around the world, to join a toy design contest in Thailand. That experience gave him a deeper understanding of the toy design culture.
Unfortunately, during that time, collecting designer toys wasn’t as popular in the Philippines as it is now. “Back then, walang pumapansin sa toys ko,” he says. Eighty percent of his collectors were from the United States because Filipinos were more inclined to collect commercial toys like G.I. Joe, Transformers, and Star Wars. But, while the Quiccs collectors were few, they were extremely loyal to the artist. He is especially grateful to Secret Fresh gallery owner, art patron Bigboy Cheng: “Sila ’yong unang naniwala sa akin.”
Around five years ago, the Funko POP! Vinyl product line—which was first released in 2010 by the American company Funko, Inc.—began to fill the shelves of old and new toy collectors in the Philippines. “They are not designer toys, technically,” Quiccs explains. The POP! Vinyl line is made up of figures of licensed characters from franchises, such as Marvel, DC, Disney, etc. “I would say siya ’yong naging entry level to designer toys. For the past two years, dramatically nag-change ang market.”
The influx of attendees in toy conventions is further proof that more Filipinos appreciate designer toys these days, and are willing to spend for it. Now, around half of Quiccs’s fans are his fellow countrymen. In fact, he even creates toys that only Filipinos can buy through shows, or galleries, or conventions.
“I’m very happy with our toy business,” he tells us. “We’re blessed with very loyal fans and a lot of producers, who trust my vision, and who are willing to invest into the brand that I was able to create. Now I want to explore other avenues.”
adidas x QUICCS
Since the toy design company was born, Quiccs had won several awards, including Artist of the Year for 2018 and 2019, given by Clutter Magazine in New York City. But the biggest accomplishment for him, so far, is his recently announced collaboration with adidas.
Around six months ago, in 2019, one of Quiccs’s collectors, an adidas employee, approached him so they could come up with a proposal for the street wear and sportswear giant. They proposed to create a t-shirt project with other artists.
“We were surprised to know that the Portland headquarters of adidas wanted to develop the project further into a partnership,” Quiccs says. The collaboration is a significant part of his career because according to him, “2012 ko pa sila ninanakawan ng three stripes.” He has always been a fan of adidas, especially their Superstar line, because of its influence on hip-hop culture—even his first TEQ63 was wearing a pair of Superstars.
“Finally, napansin ako ni adidas,” he says, smiling big, as he gives us a two-thumbs up. He will be representing adidas for two years, and will work on designs for the “adidas x QUICCS” line of toys, apparel, and shoes. They will also be collaborating on other projects that he isn’t allowed to mention yet.
Despite a bursting career, the mostly-reserved artist isn’t comfortable with being described as “made.”
“Every time you reach a goal, there’s always a higher goal to reach,” he says, before he walks us through his toy collections for our video content. “So you don’t really feel that you’re already there, or you don’t know if you’ve made it or not—up until siguro I’m dead. I don’t know.”
For more information on his projects, follow the Instagram account, @QUICCS.