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The Meaning Behind The Kalinga Tattoos On The 'Kultura' Gel Lyte Vs

Commonwealth really came through for us with this Asics collaboration
by Miguel Escobar | Apr 7, 2017
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Last week, the local arm of award-winning streetwear boutique Commonwealth announced that they would be releasing a special collaboration with Japanese sneaker label Asics: the “Kultura” Gel Lyte Vs. It’s a colorway of the Vs that references Kalinga tattoo art, so you can imagine the swell of nationalism that they inspired among Filipino sneaker enthusiasts.

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While it certainly isn’t the first time that we’ve seen a Filipino-themed colorway of great sneakers, the “Kultura” Gel Lyte Vs are, in many ways, exceptional. The upper is made of velvet-touch nubuck and premium suede panels, with round rope laces and a breathable mesh toe box, all in beige, save for a midnight blue accent in the flip-side stripes.

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The clincher, of course, is in its one-piece sockliner-and-tongue, which bears artwork inspired by Kalinga tattoos. It’s a subtle, but significant nod to Filipino culture—not the kind that screams out at you—and it makes for a damn fine pair of sneakers.

The “Kultura” Gel Lyte Vs are easily the best and most significant Filipino-themed sneaker colorway since the Nike Kobe 9 EM “Philippines,” if not the best Filipino-themed sneaker ever, so we’d be remiss if we didn’t learn more about it.

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We spoke to Omar Quiambao and Michael Concepcion, proprietors of Commonwealth, about the process that went into designing these gorgeous sneakers, and to discuss their significance to Filipino sneakerheads and sneaker culture at large.

How did the idea for a Filipino theme colorway come about?

Omar: With there being thousands of islands and well over a hundred dialects in the Philippines, our vision was to go beyond the cliche of the national flag colors, and to avoid what people usually envision. Our goal was to focus on “Kultura,” or culture.

Why Asics, and why the Gel Lyte V?

Omar: In the past, we’ve had the opportunity to work with ASICS Tiger in the US. Our expansion in the Philippines created an opportunity to work with the regional offices.


Can you talk about the process of developing the colorway?

Omar: We wanted to highlight a part of Filipino culture that is indigenous, so we focused on the Kalinga, an ethnic group in the Philippines that inhabit the mountains of Luzon. Due to the mountainous terrain and warrior-like culture of the people, the Kalinga were able to preserve their culture despite centuries of occupation in the lowlands by the Spaniards, Americans, and Japanese. This includes batok, their custom of intricate art of body adornment, that dates back a thousand years, drawing on the basic geometric shapes and nature-inspired designs.

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Kalinga tattoos are known to carry meaning. Can you talk about the specific tattoo pattern on the tongue and sockliner? Do they bear any specific meaning?

Omar: There’s a variety of symbols within the pattern used on the shoe. Symbols include scorpions (warrior), centipedes (generations of ancestors), filig (mountain designs) and hexagonal designs (many eyes).

Did you guys reach out to any of the Kalinga tribes people while developing this colorway?

Omar: Although the product was designed before our trip to Buscalan, the storytelling and presentation of the project is told from an authentic experience, versus it just being a source of inspiration. I travelled from L.A. with close friend, photographer Steve Tirona. We spent four days and four nights in the village documenting our trip as well as the practiced art of the Philippines’ oldest mambabatok, Whang-Od, and her apprentice and great-grandniece, Grace Palicas. Our time with them and the people of the village was enlightening as well as humbling.

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Are there other elements of the shoe, apart from the tongue and sockliner print, that reference Filipino culture?

Omar: We looked to simplicity to help us communicate the inspiration of the shoe and used the sock liner as the vehicle to highlight our story.

Can we expect more store-exclusive collaborations in the future?

Omar: Yes. Sooner than you think.

The Commonwealth x Asics Gel Lyte V “Kultura” is releasing exclusively in Commonwealth locations in the US and Metro Manila on April 7. The local release on the seventh will be a private event, followed by a general release in their SM Aura boutique on April 8.

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