Since starting as the second-ever employee of H&M in the country, Gino Cruz has expanded his talents to oversee the brand in Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines.
In the Oscar-nominated film “Triangle of Sadness,” the casting scene of models switching moods from Balenciaga to H&M is pretty much iconic status. This kind of happy expression resonates whenever you enter an H&M store today. The selection of clothes encompasses various styles and trends, while you can mix and match pieces from new collections with your current closet. There is this sense of openness with H&M, a relaxed energy that Gino Cruz, the Media Manager for Southeast Asia emulates as he welcomes the LIFESTYLE.INQ team into his apartment. The space shows a sense of versatility—under the warm lighting is an abstract painting he and his partner collected on a trip to Cuba. In another corner is a Neil Oshima print of piña fabric, while on one wall hangs a homegrown piece from Art in the Park.
Everyone has that one H&M t-shirt that has lasted for years and maintained its go-to wardrobe status. Cruz recognizes this as he says, “I see the need for a global standard. You get to see one look in every store or in every part of the world. I think that is the beauty of it for H&M—of course, it’s seen as affordable fashion, but we also want to drive that elevated fashion look.”
Initial Success in the Local Landscape
Gino Cruz is a pioneer of H&M Philippines. When the clothing brand first came to the Philippines nine years ago, Cruz was employee number two as Marketing Manager for the Philippines.
Before the flagship brand entered the country, there were a few Filipinos who had traveled abroad and seen the label. With an eye for untapped potential, Cruz and his team recognized an opportunity to widen horizons by offering accessible global fashion looks.
In less than a decade, H&M has expanded all over the country with 41 stores nationwide. Cruz was part of nearly all of the openings of the physical stores, jumping from city to city. He recalls the in-depth planning prior to each launch; creating campaigns, deals, and special collaborations within the city vernaculars. The same process extended during the pandemic as well, when local audiences were spurred to shop online. Cruz says, “It’s coming up with campaigns and deals that work for the market. And it’s also watching the market grow both at the store level and also for HM.com. How do we want to push our customers not just to shop in the store but also online? Sometimes, people are prepared and not prepared for these things. And you’re making sure that they’re prepared for these experiences.”
Before Cruz became a marketing executive at the company, he amassed a few impressive career stints under his belt. After finishing Business Management at De La Salle University, he delved into advertising, working at reputable companies such as BBDO Guerrero, J. Walter Thompson, FMCG, Unilever, and L’Oreal. “I started to fall in love with marketing when I had my experience in advertising. It was fascinating for me, to see how communications or TV were done at that time,” He recalls,
“Seeing how the brand managers that I worked with have control of things from end to end—that inspired me to go into marketing.”
This fascination transitioned into a passion for style, as he continues, “My love for fashion, I would say, it’s always been there. I don’t think I let myself be a victim of trends and styles. If I like things, then I buy and choose and pick them.” Cruz’s personal taste is made apparent in a project of H&M, “Don’t Blame the Kids x Garapata x H&M,” an upcoming campaign that sprouted from his exposure to local contemporary arts—letting the heart of local lifestyle merge with the world of fashion.
In 2021, the local team did a tropical essential shoot in La Union with their local ambassador Kim Chiu. The Philippines has one of the highest swimwear sales in the world, in a country where despite rain or shine, Filipinos continue to go to the beach. “It’s all thanks to him!” A colleague of Cruz chirps in.
A Cultural Pulse with Expansion into Southeast Asia
This drive for local campaigns is just what Cruz understands—and perhaps it is this sense of the cultural pulse that led to his promotion at H&M.
Just late last year, after 9 years as Marketing Manager of the Philippines, Gino Cruz was promoted to Media Manager of Southeast Asia, driving media strategy in Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines. He oversees the four countries, studying how best to communicate collections to billboards, radio, TV, as well as digital channels such as Meta or YouTube. It’s a daunting task considering the deep necessity to dive into the different markets.
The cultural parameters vary for each region. For Singapore, Cruz’s main office outside of Manila, the culture of work is well—work. Despite the presence of luxury brands in the small island country, much of the everyday wardrobe of the Singaporeans focuses on basics and office clothes. In Malaysia, the market is harder to penetrate because of the popularity of local brands, mixed in with a diverse population. Vietnam is trickier, he says, a country protective of its identity, while simultaneously open to the world and navigating an affinity for the styles of K-pop idols and other high fashion icons.
The market in his home base in the Philippines is decidedly more adventurous; Westernized, and highly influenced by influencers. If there is one thing in common between all the countries: It’s the hot and humid climate, that crosses across all its borders. Cruz says,
“You have to think creatively. It’s our way of being more customer-centric and finding the right structure in terms of handling different objectives. In marketing, it’s the whole shebang, right? Now, we have to find specialties for each of our roles and identify as a region how we can do it.”
Leadership as a Maximizer
After contributing heavily to H&M’s local and regional success, I asked Cruz what his leadership style is as a boss. He and one of his former employees exchange fond looks and laugh. “He was tough,” the latter says. Cruz tells us about a test called Strengths Finder where one gets to know what your real strength is as a leader, and shares:
“The main strength I have is I’m a maximizer. I maximize the team and I push them to their limits to see how we can go beyond the status quo… Because I see that status quo is a limit that you shouldn’t even be looking at.”
“I think because I have high expectations towards myself, I extend that to the rest of my team.”
While Gino Cruz seems laid-back in the same vibe that H&M exudes as a brand, it seems hard to believe that he drives his team in such a strict way. But you can see that it stems from a place of passion, as the Media Manager expresses,
“There’s always an intention to things… especially in the world of how people sometimes see it to be shallow and to be just clothes. For me, it’s more than that. I try to come up with substance and the reason why we do these things — to add value to people, to make them think that H&M is something that they need, something that would make them more confident, and bring them joy.”