Swimming well in a shark-eat-shark world
Ralph Espino could not forget one advice he was given starting out: “Do not tell your market it’s a local brand. Only say that when you’re already at the top.”
It was an advice he did not take.
“From the onset, I’ve always said it’s local,” Espino says of Aquamundo, the first and only Filipino scuba brand. And as Aquamundo celebrated its first decade recently with a mini fashion show launching the new line of super-stretch wetsuits, bikinis and accessories, Espino was glad he did.
At 10 years, Aquamundo has seen its share of ascents and descents. While the local scuba community may be a tightly knit group that knows one another by first names, the business side of it is more of a shark-eat-shark world.
“Crab mentality,” Espino states simply. He recalls thinking his compatriots would welcome a Filipino brand with open arms, but that wasn’t always that case.
Now, while he could say that Aquamundo has finally established itself as a trusted and reliable brand in scuba diving—a no easy feat in a discipline that leaves no room for error—Espino faces the future with a mixture of hope and daunting. He wants to go international.
“They say it takes three decades to get to that spot,” Espino says. “We’re already 10 years old, so we’re getting there.”
Aquamundo currently has two shops in Makati City and one in Cebu City, and is being distributed in Australia, Qatar, Brunei and Malaysia, and soon in the UAE and possibly Switzerland.
But the brand is not only expanding geographically. After completing its scuba line with masks, fins, snorkels, BCD jackets, tanks, regulators and “all things neoprene,” Aquamundo has been making its way from the depths to the surface of water sports with its surf, swim and lifestyle lines. The brand also now offers surf boards, board shorts, and training and competition swimwear. The Aquamundo loungewear collection is expected to come out by the middle of this year.
A recent addition to the Aquamundo product line includes new-generation wetsuits and bikinis, pet projects of Espino’s daughter Adelaide, who has built the brand with her father from the very beginning and has recently been taking an even more active role in the company.
The super-stretch wetsuit sports, a design innovation that not only provides improved insulation but also brings relief to the usual struggle of putting on the unforgivingly tight protective gear. And the bikini line answers the dilemma most women encounter when bikini-shopping.
“Not everybody has a perfect body,” explained Adelaide. “You may be well-endowed at the top and have no butt, or have a flat chest and wide hips. And that could be a problem when swimsuit shopping. So we’re allowing mixing and matching of sizes.”
The bikini line also only releases a limited number of stocks per design. This way, Adelaide says, it won’t saturate the market.
Aquamundo is also developing a neoprene swimwear line which the father-and-daughter tandem hopes to launch soon.