When student designers from the School of Fashion and the Arts (SoFa) presented their latest creations at the hip resto-bar Robot recently, inspiration for the colorful and edgy apparel came from an unusual “muse.”
“The first time I saw Rio Mints in a Hong Kong supermarket, they reminded me of a fashion accessory,” says Joni Ong, business unit manager of the market’s newest mint.
Like an “it” bag or shoe, Rio Mints, a product by Sweet Life Switzerland, stood out of the shelves for a number of reasons. Available in six fruity flavors (Burgundy Grape, Pink Grapefruit, Peach Jasmine, Green Tea and Peppermint, Juicy Lychee, and Ong’s personal favorite, Honey Melon) that burst in the mouth and leave a mild minty after-taste, they’re packed in small and sleek tin containers that slide open like a cell phone.
They’re also healthier than the average mint: Rio Mints are made with Xylitol, a nutritive sweetener that reduces plaque accumulation and thus prevents tooth decay. Ong and her family, who were vacationing in Hong Kong at the time, liked the mints so much, they decided to bring it to the Philippines, and the 24-year-old Ong was put in charge of the product.
It was a dream assignment for the management graduate from the Ateneo. Working for a multinational corporation, she was asked to handle the marketing side of the family’s importation and distribution business. Her products? GE light bulbs and Arix sponges and scrubbing pads.
“I had to talk to mommies and people in hardware stores and supermarkets,” recalls Ong with a laugh. “So when we got Rio Mints, I was really happy because it’s something I could relate to!”
Introduced in supermarkets and convenience stores late last year, the mints sold well even without the usual promotional schemes, a sure sign of what Ong believed about the product from the start. “Most of the mints in the market are just that—they’re all mints. None offer fruit flavors and Pinoys are looking for something different.”
Still, a splashy launch was in order for the product she pegged as “fun mints.” Drawing on her strength in branding, Ong marketed Rio Mints to the fashion and trendy youth, and mounted a lively debut in collaboration with the School for Fashion and the Arts.
Tasked to create outfits that personified the mint’s five flavors, the SoFa students did not disappoint. Honey Melon inspired Nicole Aquino’s beige floor-length dress with sheer midriff and Geoff Zordilla’s lime green chiffon dress with ruched details. Mikka Velasquez’s aquamarine body suit over a maxi suit in honeysuckle pink was a direct influence of Pink Grapefruit, as was a silk chiffon satin cocktail dress by the prolific Tatenda Sipula.
A plum bustier dress and a neon garter bondage dress were Kaye Morales’ and Sipulas’ homage to Burgundy Grape. Green Tea and Peppermint, meanwhile, saw Dan Duran interpret the variant via a long, green, flowing dress and for Sipula, a printed green canvas blazer over a light blue shirt and white pants.
Rio Mints’ Juicy Lychee flavor sparked two quirky creations: Zordilla came up with a red orange cut-out dress over a green metallic chiffon dress, and Duran combined harem pants and a white polo worn without the buttons. Femininity was a common thread in the renditions for Peach Jasmine: Aquino whipped up a floral backless tent dress with an asymmetrical hem, while Sipula designed a purple and orange long gown with a circular skirt.
Cameras flashed as the models marched down Robot’s “runway,” a platform of clear glass. When the show ended, classmates and SoFa founder and director Amina Aranaz Alunan rushed ecstatically to the designers for more photo ops.
Amid the smiles and congratulations, no one was happier than Ong herself, who proved that a simple mint can be much more than a mere breath freshener.
“It’s a lifestyle experience,” she says. “Each individual has a distinct personality and set of interests that shapes the way he lives his life. Rio Mints is there to complement that.”
Rio Mints are available at leading retail outlets nationwide.