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Fil-Ams design denim barong and terno for Levi’s Archives museum in San Francisco

By Romina Celina Faylon Published May 28, 2021 7:32 pm

Bold, chic, and powerful. Indeed, fashion is more than an artistic expression. It can also be used to empower people and identity.

Levi’s is known for denim clothing with its unique and flexible designs for any generation. To celebrate the Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) Heritage Month, Levi’s tapped some of their staffers, design team, and friends who belong to the AAPI community to get into their wildest imaginations and customize together Levi’s famous Trucker denim jackets.

Each Trucker jacket represents a country in the Asia Pacific. The brand’s project amplifies the stories of different people from the AAPI community and gives them a chance to share their personal anecdotes.

Of course, Filipinos are present in this meaningful collaboration. Two of the brand’s Filipino-American staffers combined their ideas to create their own wonderful take on the denim piece.

Melissa Ladines, director for US PR and entertainment marketing, celebrates AAPI Month with her Trucker terno jacket.

Gem Mateo, Levi’s senior designer and global brand creative, and Melissa Ladines, director for US PR and entertainment marketing, came up with a baro’t saya terno and barong tagalog-inspired denim jackets.

Ladines was born in the Philippines and migrated to the States for schooling when she was just 7 years old. She said that when she was about to come home to Manila, her parents discovered that her sister was deaf, so they decided to live in the US for good to give them better opportunities in life.

 Ladines’ Filipiniana-inspired sleeves. 

“They gave up everything they worked hard for. My dad, a successful surgeon in Manila, had to restart his requirements here. I remember the challenges we had with immigration and making sure our papers were in order,” Ladines told Levi’s.

Ladines decided to give the Trucker a twist and made its sleeves look like the sleeves of a terno. She wanted to incorporate the Filipiniana sleeves “to achieve the statement and strengthen Filipino pride.”

Gem Mateo, Levi’s senior designer and global brand creative

On the other hand, Mateo is a grandson of a Filipino scout who served for the US military during WWII and son of Filipino parents. Though born and raised in the US, he never forgets the story of how his family was able to get to live in Daly City, California.

“Our community in Daly City was largely made up of Asians—it was a big cultural melting pot,” he told Levi’s.

 Mateo’s barng Trucker jacket.
Detail of the barong embroidery.

He said that he is immensely grateful to be exposed to so many cultures and thankful to his parents for choosing to live in a city that gave him a chance to get to know himself more and as it influenced his character.

Mateo created a barong tagalog-inspired denim jacket. With the barong’s sophisticated details and embroideries, it’s something every Filipino could proudly wear anywhere. For him, the brand is one of the most famous symbols of the US, so he combined both the barong and the jeans together to end up with a mash of two different cultures to represent himself and his two cultural backgrounds.

Paul Ocampo, director of development at Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus.

Another Filipino present in this project is Paul Ocampo. He is the director of development at Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus.

Ocampo was born in Cavite and went to the US at the age of 11. His family migrated during the Marcos dictatorship to seek a better life.

Ocampo}s jacket has “Noli Me Tangere” embroidered on one sleeve. 

“Growing up in America, I struggled to fit in. Manila, with its constant bustle and noisy streets, had been the only home I ever knew, and I yearned for the warmth and laughter of my grandparents and the friends I left behind. I inhabited this quiet space, constrained by my limited grasp of English. People made fun of my accent, so I worked hard to fix it to be accepted and close the distance of my proximity to whiteness through language,” Ocampo told Levi’s.

Ocampo’s Trucker jacket inspiration is the vibrant colors of the Philippines. He integrated designs from jeepneys, Philippine churches, and the Philippine flag into his custom denim jacket.

The sun in the Philippine flag embroidered on the back. 

He also added some Jose Rizal references to give respect to the country’s national hero and emphasized what Ocampo stated as “the power of story, of kwento, to effect social change.”

The custom made denim jackets will be at Levi’s Archives. In addition to this moving project, the Levi Strauss & Co. and the Levi Strauss Foundation decided to donate $500,000 to organizations advocating for the AAPI community.

The “power of kwento.”

You can visit and find out more about other custom designs made by  members of the AAPI community on Levi’s Instagram and Levi’s  website.

Photos from Levi’s’ website and Instagram, and Gem Mateo and Paul Ocampo’s Instagram accounts