Back in late 2016, (then) writer Miguel Escobar of Summit Publications approached us to ask if we would be interested in having Léon Denim get featured in Esquire Philippines . The story went that he had taken notice of the jeans worn by a photographer-friend (and customer of ours), Rennell Salumbre and became curious him about them. Rennell then went on to talk effusively about us and was more than happy to get us introduced to Miguel.
Rennell was a very good friend, and one of our early supporters with the work we did at Léon Denim. He was very active with his social media accounts on FB and Instagram - witty, irreverent, and brash; always looking out for what was going on around him, and so he was bound to find out about us sooner or later. No mention of him can be without #RedefinePogi ("pogi" is Filipino for handsome), which was his individual and very personal crusade of sorts to drive home the thinking that being "pogi" went well beyond just the external and superficial, but is a lot deeper.
Flashback: In January 2015, after making jeans, we had also just delved into denim jackets: first for our own personal use, but with a view to make them more widely available to customers. Rennell saw our post of the first Type 2 denim jacket we made that month, and got in touch with us to ask if we could make a custom one for him. At that time, we decided to make them only to-measure, and so we were happy to try it out with a very first customer.
I still distinctly remember that day I met him to get measured. He had his cousin Darlene tag along; we met at Family Mart right across Makati Medical Center in February. Rennell graduated with a political science degree, was thinking of getting into law, but his heart was in photography. At the time we became friends, he had just wrapped up an apprenticeship with photographer Raymund Isaac and was doing freelance work for GRID, Esquire, and other publications. 2 of us in the team - Jake and Iver - are avid photography enthusiasts as well; they knew a lot of the same people and had a lot of things to talk about. We quickly hit it off with him - he was always easy and available to join us for drinks, on call. And while we would retire for the night, he would go off to his next "gimmick", usually lasting into the wee hours of the morning. We would then get a glimpse of what transpired after via his social media posts the next day. When the jacket was completed in March, he proudly showed it off to everyone he knew - again via his social media. I had somehow measured his arm dimensions incorrectly and thus the jacket was too long there (new as I was on this then); and so we made a replacement - a new, properly cut and tailored jacket for him.
Fast Forward: Miguel and Rennell went to our workshop for the photoshoot in January 2017, to get firsthand insights and capture how we did things. We had a real fun time doing it - I still remember it was Miguel who drove the distance from the city using his car (it really is a distance, for many). It was Rennell in charge this day - and made us show ourselves in our "natural habitat". February found us going with him to a Bop 'n Roll event in Pampanga. That was the last time we would see him, as a mere 2 weeks later, we received the grim news that one very early morning, he suddenly died of a heart attack. We were very shocked, as so many of his friends and family were. Losing someone at a young age always hits particularly deeply. We learned from his family that he was born with a congenital heart condition, and had been told that the rest of his life was going to be in a delicate, precarious situation. It was a very sad time for many people - losing someone dear to them, to us. Hearing his father's eulogy was heartbreaking.
The article didn't get published for a long time after that. We were curious if it ever would; with Rennell now gone we were also wondering if his work on the feature also got lost. But as how it can happen with publications, they line up articles and it can take months on end before seeing print. But 6 months later Miguel told us that finally the article was coming out, in October. And it did, with Esquire now transitioned into a fully digital platform. You can find the link to the article here, Léon Denim: The First Filipino-Made Raw Selvedge Jeans . At 3.5K Shares, it wasn't what one necessarily would call viral, but yes, it did go around; a lot of people read it and took notice of the work we do, with the feature going beyond our country's shores. It was a very exciting moment for us. Even more amazing was the warm support and interest we got - and that people said finally (and in all humility) the Philippines now had a player in this space.
I remember the thrill we got seeing the article printed. And I recall remembering Rennell that day especially, and thanking him with a prayer. We still got his jacket with the long arms with us as a keepsake, while his mother kept the one he wore a lot. She told us this jacket was his personal favourite. And somehow I feel, and know in my heart, that he is somewhere out there, watching over us, and still rooting for us.
Rennell Salumbre 1991-2017
We express our continued gratitude to Miguel Escobar for penning this feature, and likewise to Esquire Philippines.