Steven Tan, SM Supermalls SVP for operations, often finds himself traveling, scouting new ideas for the conglomerate. Here, he lists down his fave work labels (there’s Thom Browne) and his off-duty choices (Gucci for color, a little Off-White), and also talks about the changing tastes of the modern consumer.
You travel for work and pleasure. What are your top five shopping destinations?
The fashion capitals of Paris, London and New York understandably have the most concentration of fashion brands, and it is always nice to have a wide variety. Rounding up the list are Tokyo and Hong Kong. Although I do more eating than shopping in Hong Kong!
When you travel for pleasure, do you keep an eye out for work? Do you look at new boutiques and shopping plazas and see how that will work locally?
Probably the reason why I enjoy working in the retail industry is that I am a born shopper. So there is a blurring of lines when I “travel for pleasure.” My work is my pleasure and my pleasure is my work.
It is inevitable that I end up checking the retail scene in the cities I visit. Bangkok’s approach to retail is so creative. The fit outs are literally so fresh, with an infusion of greens and open spaces. We can definitely adopt this in Manila.
Lisbon is another revelation. The Portuguese aesthetic is a curious mix of the traditional and contemporary. I love the fact that they transform abandoned warehouses and factories into creative spaces for retail and dining.
Big brands How would you describe Manila as a shopping destination now? How has it evolved over the past five years?
Manila has welcomed globalization with much enthusiasm. The entry of big brands such as Uniqlo and H&M has made retail exciting and inclusive. Restaurants such as Din Tai Fung and Tim Ho Wan have opened up our palates. And we are seeing more brands entering our shores. Definitely we are now bona fide participants in the bigger world of fashion and food.
But having said that, I also would like point out that local concepts are also embracing the challenge of globalization and giving the foreign brands stiff competition. Overall, it is a very exciting time for Philippine retail, and the shoppers benefit the most.
What do you think Manila’s shopping scene will be like in another five years?
Online shopping will continue to grow, but I believe that online will be complementary to brick and mortar. There will be Click and Collect systems in place. Filipinos in particular are a very tactile people, we like to touch, feel and try merchandise.
We are a sociable people and enjoy the company of family and friends. We are not individualistic and we embrace communities. The malls remain legitimate convergence touch-points.
The notion of shopping for goods will also expand to shopping for experiences. More and more, people are demanding new encounters. It is not enough to buy the items, eventually people would like to buy into the whole branded lifestyle.
In cities like New York, multiuse stores are on the rise where you can shop and have a cup of coffee in the very same place. Fashion brands are also branching into food, for example, Bar Luce by Prada in Milan. Expect fashion brands to do F&B line extensions.
In our SM Supermalls, we have long pioneered leisure and entertainment in the mix. Our experiential offers include IMAX theaters, ice skating rinks, bowling and billiards. We are also infusing new interesting concepts such as archery halls, laser tag gaming and the likes.
The sky park is a new feature we are adding to our malls. Examples include SM Aura Premier and SM Seaside City Cebu. With the completion of the SM Mall of Asia expansion, we will have a FIFA-grade football field and a botanical garden.
When it comes to consumer habits, has there been a dramatic shift in the way the consumer is spending money today?
The median age in the Philippines today is 25 years old. We have a very young population, Internet savvy, open to try new tastes and styles. The business process outsourcing (BPO) industry, for example, is mostly geared toward young people, with higher discretionary income.
Consumer priorities continue to shift and we have more people buying, consuming and basically, participating in the latest and trendiest, be it in fashion or dining.
We have added more F&B in our malls, noticing that people are equally willing to spend on both affordable fast food and higher priced casual dining.
Desserts have become essentials. With the advent of Instagram, food has become trendier. People seek the latest, the quirky, the interesting. Food, in a sense, is the new fashion.
What labels or stores do you think should open in Manila?
My immediate wish list of stores and brands opening in Manila would be Ikea and Sephora. I think these brands will do extremely well in our market. They are relevant and relatable.
Where do you shop for your skincare essentials?
I follow a simple yet effective three-step skincare routine: cleanse, exfoliate, moisturize. My essentials include La Mer concentrate and moisturizing crème, SK II facial treatment essence, Sulwhasoo Men. For daytime, I make it a point to use broad spectrum UV protection from Shiseido.
What are cool new labels you have discovered recently? What made them catch your eye?
Well they are not recent discoveries but I am always attracted to unique labels like Aesop, for its skincare products and the way its stores look (no two are alike). I am fascinated with today’s young designers: Virgil Abloh of Off White, Gosha Rubchinkskiy. I like those industrial belts. Also Demna Gvasalia of Vetements and Balenciaga.
What brands in your wardrobe do you turn to for work?
My designer go-to for work is Thom Browne. I like the structure, the fact that his pieces are classic and uniform but at the same time exciting, never boring.
I have a Thom Browne suit that is extremely well-cut but distressed, with frayed cuffs and hems. It is very tongue-in-cheek. Thom Browne once said that he never liked things to be too perfect, but he likes them perfectly made. That completely resonated with me.
And when you’re heading out for a night out on the town, what does that look involve?
I am an ambivert, equal parts extrovert and introvert. When I go out, often it is for work-related socials, or after-work with a small group of friends. So my work wear needs the flexibility for off-hours relaxation. On week nights, I like to keep it chill: Acne Studio denims, easy shirts from Gucci for a little color.
When you want subtle luxury, what labels do you opt for? And when you want maximalist glam, what does that look like?
I don’t really take fashion seriously because it takes out all the fun. Luxury for me would be well-cut clothing, good fabrics, clothes and accessories that are made the old-fashioned way, by hand. I try not to be too brand-specific.
If you were to choose one brand that you could wear every single day, what would it be?
Life is all about constant change, retail evolves, and so do my brand preferences. What is true today can always change tomorrow. And that’s what makes life exciting.