Navigating the tropical aesthetic of craft studio Jos Mundo

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Jos Mundo
The shoe designs of local, women-owned brand Jos Mundo. 

From its footwear foundation, women-owned studio Jos Mundo is expanding its sartorial selection, all while crafting a distinct tropical Filipino aesthetic


There are stereotypes about how people dress in certain parts of the world. French fashion is tailored, classic, and effortlessly stylish. Berlin, known for its counterculture music and art, is associated with alternative and edgy looks. Cities like New York are a hodgepodge of just about everything. But what about the Philippines? 

While Filipino fashion design continues to develop and flourish, Jos Mundo is building a sartorial world with an aesthetic that exemplifies the tropical climate of the Philippines. 


The JOS apartment

I remember visiting the brand launch and first pop-up of Jos Mundo, then Studio Josanna, about five years ago. It was in an old brutalist building in Makati, and I had slipped out during my lunch break. 

The brand was launching its first shoe: early iterations of the famed Fettuccine Platforms. Maneuvering through the showroom in the mid-century space, Binni Monfort, then an intern, recommended I wear the sandals with my socks. One of the founders noticed and expressed her admiration for the style choice. This was just an early example of how early on, the store has been encouraging the unconventional.

READ MORE: Boys explore the wonderful heels of Studio Josanna

Fast forward to today, the store is graced with both a local kind of distinction and allusions to a concept in Berlin from a brand called BLESS.

Circular capiz shells drape from the ceiling in translucent waves, which in turn reflect the vintage tiles of the apartment. Natural light filters through the large windows overlooking Makati to give the place some semblance of familiarity “where visitors encounter products with the feeling of visiting a friend’s home,” the team says.

Jos Mundo
The JOS apartment decorated with an orchid and anthurium bouquet, complemented by a range of ornaments


The women running Jos Mundo

Jos Mundo was founded by Karen Bolilia and Anna Canlas in 2018—first as a revival of an ’80s and ’90s archival women’s footwear brand called Josanna, reimagined in partnership with Rico Sta. Ana’s Josanna and Zapateria.

After its Studio Josanna beginnings, the team found Jos to be a more fitting name, as it was always their internal nickname for the brand. Meanwhile “Mundo” came about from the brand’s method of world-building they aim for.

Steadily, they began to evolve their product line beyond footwear, segueing into clothing and accessories. Growing organically, the brand continues its efforts to showcase local craft and labor while making room for concepts that both suit and connect with life in the tropics.

Jos Mundo team
Throughout its run, Jos Mundo has expanded into a small, women-run collective

Throughout its run, Jos Mundo has expanded into a small, women-run collective. At present, the team consists of Bolilia as creative director., sales and marketing lead Monfort , sales and marketing associate Chesca Flores, design assistant Juliana Velazquez, graphic design lead Jana Codera, and research and development lead Trinity Yeung, who is on hiatus to pursue further studies and who I had the pleasure to work with at our Nicole Coson shoot in New York. 

READ MORE: ‘The personal is global,’ says Nicole Coson in latest New York exhibit

Though the roles are defined, the tasks are mostly collaborative and each individual wears many hats. Monfort leads the sales and marketing team to present the brand to customers online and in-showroom, creating content to communicate offerings, pitching initiatives and activations, and liaising with collaborators.


The Marikina link

Canlas, who previously served as managing director, helped to establish the Jos voice and internal structure. As creative director and co-founder, Bolilia shapes the visual world and offering of Jos, creating and sampling designs with the brand’s factory partner and chief operations manager Rene Santos for footwear, and design assistants like Velazquez who help render ideas and manage production. 

Jos Mundo
The brand’s factory partner and chief operations manager Rene Santos

While the brand first partnered with a different workshop, they have now started their own small footwear factory in Marikina with Santos, which they describe as their “soul and psychic home.”  It’s also here where other important members of the team sustain Jos’ operations, including Nitz, one of the leather suppliers, Marissa, the uppermaker, Allan, the laster, and Sir Jun, the manager of the heel and insole factory. 

Bolilia says of their connection to the shoemakers in Marikina: “Sir Rene and I have been working alongside each other since day one, so we’ve known each other for a while… Shoemaking, in the way that they still do it in Marikina, is such a community effort—impossible without the city’s built-in network—and it’s an honor to have contributed at all to its heritage, and hopefully enduring future.”

Jos Mundo
Scenes inside the factory

Each of the heels is carved from older wood, usually sourced from Indigenous trees such as mango, palochina, or santol wood, which gives the shoes a distinct marbling texture.

Both the wood of the heels and the rubber platforms are crafted according to the custom traditions of the family business, while some shoes incorporate fish skin from off-cuts in the market (mainly Bitilla). Meanwhile, the distinct shells are locally sourced from regions across the country and then produced in Cebu. 


Jos Mundo and mindful tropical femininity

One of the unmistakable features of Jos Mundo is its uniquely Filipino aesthetic, which is impossible to mistake for anything else. Just a glance at their Instagram account shows models in unmanicured nature—crouching over bangkas, standing amid wild weeds, or leaning against raw boulders in the province.

The muses wear their hair long and unkempt, almost feral, yet in meditative stances. They seem to say, “Fashion is power,” and send a statement through the Jos Mundo clothing they wear. 


These models don rashguard tanks and cheeky miniskirts, linked together by their crazy horse leather orchid belts. Some wear the pretty Pod choker, a mix of nautilus shells and mother-of-pearl beads. Others don the Pulo from which hangs a yema-colored pendant made from recycled glass. 

This breaking from tradition naturally filters into the Jos Mundo designs, especially the shoes. Beyond the classic Marikina mule and Fettuccine sandals, more unconventional designs include the high-sloping shape of the Parang Bakya shoe and the soft lambskin of the Hiwa Boot

“We love to explore what’s already around and readily available to us, and use it to enhance or embellish our styles,” says Bolilia about their design experimentations. “Fish skin is such a special material because you don’t encounter that very often, but it makes sense for us here in the Philippines. As for shells and other materials, it’s something that we’ve interacted with and have been exposed to from when we were young, and I wanted to see how we could incorporate it in a way that feels natural and very Jos.”

“I don’t think we’ve redefined the concept of heels, but we have kept mindful of how we and other women wear things here [in the Philippines], and keep that in mind in the design stages,” she adds.


Jos Mundo

In a world where commercial shoe production is the norm, Jos Mundo is breaking the standard by creating unconventional designs albeit in traditional ways and steeped in the local environment. 

“Vernacular” is an architectural term that refers to how local buildings are adapted to fit the environment using nearby resources and age-old materials. Think of the bahay kubo or the Ifugao houses on stilts.

Jos Mundo seems to reflect this practice, as they are always looking for locally-made or locally-sourced materials. And as their work draws from Philippine culture, it manifests in the materiality, design, and stylistic essence, coming up with a selection that complements life in the tropics from day to night, from the city to the islands. 

Photos courtesy of Jos Mundo. Special thanks to Binni Monfort.

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.