Being at the right place at the right time is just as important as having the right business concept and well-curated products. It’s something young business entrepreneur Mike Concepcion has learned observing the market’s enthusiastic response to Commonwealth, which recently launched its third location at the Powerplant Mall. The specialty boutique, which Mike brought to the Philippines with friend and business partner Omar Quiambao, offers a select line of street and sportswear brands. The label was established in the United States back in 2004 by Quiambao and Larry Incognito, two Filipino-Americans.
“The Filipino market is incredibly discerning,” Concepcion says. “We know what we want. Because of social media, we're all sort of connected to this global narrative, with street wear and sneakers reaching major popularity across the world. I think we’ve arrived in the market at a fitting time when people were looking for the products and we just happened to be a platform that had offered them at the exact same time as anyone else in the world, at the exact same prices, so immediately we did it really well.”
Mike, at age 27, has clearly developed a keen business sense, which is not surprising since he started his career in retail pretty early—he opened his own clothing line at age 16 back in high school; apprenticed under his father, John Concepcion, and opened up a restaurant business together; built his own eyewear store, Ronnie & Joe; and now opened Commonwealth’s third and biggest branch in Manila—the first one at SM Aura and the second in Greenbelt 5. “The market has received our concept so well, it has really motivated us and encouraged us to take things to next level,” he says.
He has his father to thank for, being his foremost mentor. “I consider my father one of the most inspirational business leaders of this country. If you look back at his story, when he started the ice cream business—he took it from two percent market share to what is now 80 percent market share. [Unilever RFM Ice Cream, Inc.] is one of the fastest growing ice cream companies in all of Asia. And he did that with a very strong set of core principles. He’s disciplined about many things. He tells me to be passionate in what I do and to put my all into it. I am very fortunate to have him as a mentor. He really encouraged me to take certain risks. Luckily, it worked out,” he says.
Mike’s good looks, eye for style, and business savvy, can surely take him places. But what’s even admirable about him is he doesn’t have the sense of entitlement of the stereotypical millennial. He has the passion and the drive to raise the bar high for himself and his brand. “I feel like it’s part of my generation’s responsibility to kind of raise the level of what's expected of us—and that generally drives me. Whatever we do, I want to be at a global level. What we're trying to do is to produce something really good, that could generally be appreciated anywhere in the world, but we choose to do it here. That’s what excites me. I want to be sort of disruptive in that sense—to push boundaries, to do things that have not been done before, to introduce new concepts and new ideas,” he says.
One of their biggest projects next year, and which Commonwealth Manila has been actively working on for the past six months, is to work on their e-commerce business. He’s also hoping to open one or two more Commonwealth stores in the near future.
Mike Concepcion sure gets the kick out of getting first dibs on the hottest sneakers (he didn’t reveal how many he personally owns!). We caught up with Mike at the launch of ZX 500 RM, a collaboration of Adidas Originals and Commonwealth. In this Q&A, he tells us about his other passions…
HAS IT ALWAYS BEEN YOUR DREAM TO BUILD A FASHION EMPIRE?
A lot of my interests start with things that I’m just passionate about. But ultimately, I like to find concepts that can become a worthwhile business to invest my time and efforts in. [Commonwealth] is a concept that I really believe in, it’s just an added bonus that I also enjoy the products. [The success of Commonwealth] definitely wasn't planned. I think it was a series of fortunate things that happened one after the other.
WHAT ARE YOUR FASHION MUST-HAVES?
I wear sunglasses a lot, so definitely eyewear. A good pair of Vans—if you check my closet, you’ll most likely see a pair of SK8-Hi. A denim jacket, I can’t go wrong with that.
Shameless plugging—our shoe right now, the ZX 500 RM silhouette. I’ve been wearing it every day for the past week. No bias, it’s the most comfortable shoe in my closet.
The Apple watch. It can do million things that a normal watch can’t.
HOW MANY SNEAKERS DO YOU OWN?
WHAT DO YOU DO DURING YOUR DOWNTIME?
To be perfectly honest, there’s not a lot of downtime these days. The past three years have been a bit of blur, just kind of chasing our goal and trying to get our business to where we need it. But I do enjoy going to the beach, zoning out. I go to Batangas. I have been wanting to go to Siargao, but haven’t been able to do so. My morning ritual is watching NBA games, so usually I’m up by 7 in the morning, so I can catch it before going to work.
ARE YOU A FOODIE?
Absolutely. Being a restaurateur, I do try to be in the know as to what’s out there. I think it's such a fortunate time to be in Manila right now because there’s such a wide array of great Philippine restaurants and concepts. I really enjoy the La Chinesca at The Grid—it’s great spot. As for our company, we have Ippudo, Yabu, and Mighty Quinn’s. We'll be opening a coffee spot next year called Elephant Grounds, HongKong. We’re really excited about that; we will probably launch that in February.