One Step Back, Two Steps Forward: Joco Comendador Returns to his Artistic Core with Avant-Garde Footwear


How are footwear designers faring in this time when most Filipinos are indoors and unlikely to look for new outdoor shoes? For this artist-slash-designer, the pandemic rocked him back to his founding days, and inspired him to look at footwear, and himself, through different lenses.

It’s integral for every artist to periodically ask themselves where they’re going. Such self-reflections could open up new possibilities and more inspired directions for their craft, especially many years down the line.

But for someone like Joco Comendador, who built a career out of designing experimental and eccentric footwear, this question was a hard pill to swallow amidst the pandemic-induced changes reshaping not just the market, but the industry, and the very people he had set out to create for.

What happens to footwear designers when their clientele are locked up indoors, without the need for the latest and most arresting shoe designs?

In catching up with the young designer, he opened up to Rank Magazine about the inner crisis brought by the whole world shutting down and the dilemma dealt with by many in his field. He shared, “It changed everything about how I see things. I saw and felt how dispensable I am as a designer, especially as I’m into footwear. It made me question my purpose and my passion, and probably went through that stage where I questioned myself, ‘what now?’

Of course, this is a question plaguing every Filipino at this time, more so in 2020 when things were shockingly pulled out of the norm. But it’s understandably a different level of questioning and doubt when your livelihood hinges on a non-essential good like shoes, specifically ones that are unconventional and dancing around the box of what typical men’s shoes are designed to be.

Images courtesy of Joco Comendador

As an avant-garde designer, Comendador admitted that he felt “lost during the pandemic.” In an effort to continue honing his craft and discover ways to persevere despite these challenges, he began experimenting more. From unorthodox face masks and face shields, to entering the world of clothing and digital embroidery, he was in desperate pursuit of an avenue he can thrive in without sealing away his love for wearable art.

But despite all these new ventures and pit stops, his love for footwear remained, and even intensified. Eventually, he found himself back in that place of questioning his role as a shoe designer. But this time, with more intent to come out with more laser-focused direction on what he truly loves to do. He began pouring his experimental curiosity on footwear once more, which led to a mini sneakers line inspired by his recent love for video games. “I just can’t let go of shoes,” he admitted.

A renewed interest to explore classic to heeled boots boots for men also sparked a new venture, as well as the desire and drive to go back to his roots on making more avant-garde pieces and be more in touch with art as a craftsman. Beneath all the extravagant models and striking adornments in his footwear brand, a passion for art blooms brightly at the core. This passion is also the source of motivation to move forward with his craft and art.

Images courtesy of Joco Comendador

“With all the insights and new perspectives I gained from this pandemic, I am going back to my core — how I started. I wanna get in touch with art more while still pursuing men’s footwear,” Comendador declared.

In fact, he’s already working on his post-pandemic collection, hosting an exhibit with two of his close footwear design colleagues and friends this coming October. The focus of his collection? “Heeled boots for men and sculptural pieces,” he shared. This exhibit will showcase who he is, and who they are, after everything that happened during the pandemic.

But perhaps one of the biggest challenges he and the rest of the footwear fashion community had to face at this time is the limitations of virtual showcases, born out of the inability to host physical events and open houses. But for Comendador, he revealed that he was actually never fond of showcasing his pieces in shows, because of all the operational costs involved. He’s always been comfortable and adept in the digital space, even before the pandemic. So, the abrupt shift to digital wasn’t entirely shocking for him.

The real obstacle he had to learn to overcome was the changing consumer behavior when it comes to shoe shopping, particularly shoe shopping online: “It’s just that people aren’t wearing shoes too much because virtually no one can see what you’re wearing on your feet. Thus, I felt I have to create a ‘sense of need for shoes’ to people online.”

Images courtesy of Joco Comendador

Nevertheless, he’s confident that he and the rest of the industry can carry on despite these momentary setbacks. And while he acknowledges that Philippine fashion is still facing mountains of challenges and problems because they aren’t considered “essential”, especially footwear, he shared how he’s managed to find hope again by connecting more with the community of Filipino designers. He specifically mentioned the founders of artisan contemporary clothing label Ha.Mu, whose vision inspired Comendador to regain his passion for creating and designing. Something that, he admitted, went missing inside of him while running the business.

“The fashion industry needs more inspiring people like him [who inspire] people like me who were lost due to the pandemic,” he stated.

Now, Joco Comendador is more fired up than ever to get back to the swing of things in designing for his footwear brand. With a stronger resolve to create shoe designs where art and footwear collide, it seems that this new chapter in his artistic journey is one that’s going to be a lot more alternative and true to who he is as a designer, artist, and person.

In this slight hiccup along the way, a more charged up Comendador makes a comeback. This time, he’s committed to trudge surer steps towards a more authentic direction.