A round table discussion with the trailblazing musician, artist and theater actress as they get candid about women’s empowerment
Keds’ long history of uniting ladies (from creating the first sneaker made especially for women in 1916 to championing them through a female-led team and its female collaborators and ambassadors today) has always been about moving the dialogue surrounding women empowerment forward. Its “Ladies Unite” campaign for Women’s Equality Day is no different.
“As a women-run company, Keds is passionate about sharing the stories and journeys of the women it makes sneakers for,” shares the brand at the campaign kickoff, which also brings together singer-songwriter and designer Reese Lansangan, artist Abbey Sy and theatre actress Gabriela Pangilinan. In between chats about Keds’ new Double Decker “EMPOWER” sneaker and the brand’s homage to women who step up and speak out, the three also get real about their personal experiences with women’s empowerment.
Wonder: What is everyone’s take on “Empowered Women Empower Women”?
Abbey Sy: It’s powerful. There’s an African Proverb that goes: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” That’s what “Ladies Unite” is about.
Gab Pangilinan: It touches on something I realized recently: that if you have the privilege to do something––if you have power, in some sense––it’s your responsibility to you use it wisely. And really, the only way to do that is to lift another person up. Because if you don’t, who will?
I was telling the Keds team earlier that I never felt that I was an eloquent person; I never thought that I could express myself well enough. But because of theater, I found that it’s through the stories I tell on stage that I am able to share what I know. It’s just a matter of finding the right avenue to be able to express yourself. And there’s something empowering about finding a medium that clicks. So, for me, it’s about channeling an empowering message I want to share through the female-led, woman-centric stories onstage.
Reese Lansangan: I love the slogan. Medyo patama siya, in a way, and I love how bold that is. It addresses the defense mechanism some people have where they practice crab mentality. The slogan somewhat addresses people who enjoy putting others down because if they can’t have something, it isn’t right that someone else does.
W: Right, and then they feel threatened by the success of another person.
RL: Yes, that happens. And I understand why it happens. We just need to put in the effort to reexamine why it happens at all. Why does it look like it has to happen? If you lift someone else up on your way up, lahat tayo aangat.
W: And who would want that?
RL: Exactly. We’re all in the same boat. For me, the empowerment you pass on creates ripples and can manifest on a larger scale rather than when you think of only yourself and kind of hog the blessings, the positivity, the light.
W: In your respective fields, was there ever a time you were pit against another woman? This being one of the habits Keds’ new campaign is trying to undo, in part.
GP: This happened more in my high school theater. Girls can be vicious talaga––lalo na in this stage in their lives, where everything is sneaky and they won’t outright tell you that they’re better than you. They’ll just make it a point to make you feel it…that you didn’t deserve the role you got, let’s say. These experiences, though, strengthen you. They don’t necessarily harden your heart, but they can make you headstrong.
W: I see that it’s also a matter of tuning out the things that don’t help you.
GP: Yes, and I think getting a hang of tuning out like that comes with maturity also. I’ve learned from people older than me and the people I’ve eventually come to trust that you have to distance yourself from the negative, the toxic, the people who don’t uplift you. Part of getting empowered and staying empowered is learning to protect your energy and your space, continuing to support those who support you and investing in the people who invest in you.
RL: In the music industry, there are fewer visible women succeeding and you can kind of count the artists who are similar to each other with one hand. They also tend to group female singers with the same vocal quality or they compare you to a famous female singer. That was my experience: getting lumped into a group with my friends in the industry, who may not have the same music style, but a vocal quality that I guess is comparable. It’s not a malicious thing––the intention is not malicious––but it takes away from the fact that we are individuals. They don’t pay attention to that individuality. Instead, they find a commonality and pick an adjective that they then use to encompass everybody.
AS: In my case, there was an internal struggle to start with. I couldn’t help but compare myself to others and then ask myself things like: “Am I doing enough? Is this inspiring enough?” These are all voices in my head that pointed to a confidence issue. I’d see similar artists thriving and for a time, that caged me in. Then I’d had fellow artists tell me: “Why aren’t you promoting yourself like this artist? Why aren’t you trying out her lettering style?” I had to learn how to shake it off and say instead: “Because I’m not her and I don’t want to be her.”
W: How would the 2019 version of yourself empower your younger self?
GP: I would tell younger Gab to soldier on. What I did back then was just sit down, keep my head down and continue to do what was asked of me and then eventually quit. I would tell her to persevere because in the long run, what matters is how you carry yourself through even the hardest of circumstances. If you’re proud of your process, of what you’ve become, what you believe in and how you stand your ground, as long as it doesn’t step on anyone, soldier on.
RL: Ako kasi, I was very shy. I hated performing. People didn’t know I could sing in high school; I only played guitar then and left the singing at home. I remember the very first time I opened myself up to the idea of performing, I was rejected. I auditioned for the high school glee club––for me that wasn’t just singing in front of people, it was allowing myself to be vulnerable––and I failed. It was so embarrassing and I was afraid to try again after that. But eventually, I petitioned for an Acoustics Club to be created at our school so I could join that instead. I had students sign a petition. [Laughs] But this 2019 version of myself would definitely tell Reese back then that it’s good that you tried…even if you failed. Because rejection is also good. It grounds you. You cannot be excellent all the time and the time really will come that you aren’t doing or feeling your best. That is okay. That is normal.
GP: That happened to me at my school’s dance club. I auditioned every year and never got accepted.
RL: Every year? Damn, ako, I stopped after the first try. [Laughs]
GP: Yeah, and the last year, where I actually passed, the moderator told me: “Diba nag-audition ka rin sa Children’s Theater Club? Doon ka nalang.”
RL: Harsh! Pero tingnan mo naman, providential.
AS: My story is a bit different from the two girls. When I was younger, I was set up to believe that I wasn’t meant to be an artist. I recently found a picture of a five-year-old Abbey taken at the art school I attended. That day was the exhibit for the art class and I remember my classmates being given acrylic to paint with. Ako, hindi. One teacher told me it was because hindi daw ako magaling. We all enrolled at the same time ah.
RL: And hello, you were five! Ang bata mo pa para sabihan na hindi ka magaling.
AS: At that age, I couldn’t comprehend that limitation. So this photo of me right here captured the moment where na-BV talaga ako kasi sinabihan ako na hindi ako magaling na artist. And that carried over ha. In school, later on, I still wasn’t supported when it came to my desire to pursue the arts. But I thought to revive that in college as a version of personal reinvention. I ran a small business on Multiply where I painted tote bags and sold them on the site. Along the way, the business grew, it started becoming popular on the internet and people started to turn their seats to me and I was really shocked by that. Now that I’m in this place where I can say I’m happy making art and making something out of it, I’d say it’s a testament to tell my younger self that you shouldn’t listen to people who tell you that you can’t. Now, I appreciate how disciplined I became coming out of my strict upbringing, but you shouldn’t carry the restrictive parts of something like that with you all your life.
W: Can you name one empowered woman who has empowered you?
GP: For me, it’s Miss Menchu Lauchenco-Yulo, the first lady of Philippine theater. I think she got to where she is not just because of her talent, strength and hard work, but because of how she so easily and so generously shares what she knows about the craft. If you meet her, you would immediately understand why. In Ang Huling El Bimbo, I played the younger version of her character, Joy, and I’ve seen it firsthand. She’s the epitome of strength and class and grace.
W: What would you say is the most valuable lesson Miss Menchu has taught you?
GP: This counts as a lesson, but it’s not one she’s made a point to teach because she just lives by example. What I’ve learned from her, I’ve taken from observing her: how she is, how she treats people and the fact that what she says, she does. That’s why you respect her: she’s not just all talk! There are people who say they’re strong, who say this is what they can do, who say this is their work ethic, but they don’t live it out. She does.
W: What about you, Reese and Abbey?
RL: Taylor Swift.
AS: I agree!
RL: I’m an OG Swiftie (laughs). She’s also a musician and songwriter, so her art is closer to my heart. I admire her for her vulnerability and her ability to turn that into art––and a business. I love how regardless of something being a business move or PR move, she remains connected with her fans and she knows what’s going on with them. She makes us feel like she’s a person that’s accessible because I understand her even if I’m not a pop star like her; I understand her heartbreak, her struggle. She’s always been one of my role models in music and hey, she’s also a Keds girl.
Another one is Emma Watson. I really love strong, opinionated women who stand up for themselves and who have an advocacy they believe in. Emma Watson fights for equal rights and she just carries herself with a lot of grace and integrity and intelligence. I love that about her.
AS: I have three, but it starts with Taylor Swift also. I love her because she knows how to reinvent herself. The idea of moving on to the next chapter or starting over––straight on and fearless––is pretty empowering. Apart from that, ang galing niya mag-market ng art niya. When Lover came out, as a business person myself, I was, like, “Damn! She did that!” And you know that nothing about it is forced. She thought about things, she considered her market. Now, her album is at #1.
W: Damn, I haven’t listened to Lover yet. I’ll check it out.
AS: You should! I listen to it every day now. It’s pretty amazing to think she’s just 29. A worldwide phenomenon that can inspire millions of people under the age of 30. The second one is Frida Kahlo. I’m such a big fan of her work. Usually, when I go to MoMA, nandiyan yung squad: Pablo Picasso, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Piet Mondrian, Andy Warhol…and then there’s Frida Kahlo. She’s one of the few women lined up with these men and I think her story is inspiring. She got into an accident and got fractured, but still pursued her art. And that kind of perseverance really made me reflect on how you can push through because art is a way to heal. Through her self-portraits, also, she got to share herself with the world. You’ll see there’s kind of a vanity aspect to it, which only goes to show she was confident with what she was given. I mean, she wasn’t the quintessential beautiful woman with that unibrow and everything, yet the way she carried herself was what drew people to her. The last would be Anna Bond of RIFLE PAPER Co., who once collaborated with Keds, too, on a line of floral-printed shoes. She’s my ultimate life goal when it comes to running a shop that mixes art with business.
Along with “Ladies Unite,” Keds presents its newest statement sneakers, the Double Decker Empower, which now joins the brand’s modern classics and all-time favorites. For more details, visit keds.com.ph and Keds stores located at Glorietta 3, U.P. Town Center, The Block at SM North Edsa, SM Megamall, Robinsons Magnolia, Robinsons Manila, Festival Alabang, SM City Baguio, Robinsons Ilocos, Ayala Center Cebu, SM City Bacolod, SM City Iloilo, Gaisano Mall Davao, and Centrio Cagayan De Oro.
Featured Image Keds Philippines
Art Alexandra Lara