Meet Three Filipino Americans Who Are Revolutionizing How You Live Today
America is a community of entrepreneurs—we're all united by our passion for creativity, thirst for knowledge, and need to explore. But for every entrepreneur—whether their dream is to open a restaurant, hone their craft in an artist's studio, or establish a billion-dollar empire of their own—it rings true that there's perhaps no greater influence than that of our heritage. In honor of Filipino American History Month, which is celebrated in the United States during the month of October, we're spotlighting three influential Filipino Americans who are bringing their creativity to the forefront of American design. This select trio is only a small representative of the makers, designers, and culinary artists who are redefining the country's interior spaces, sartorial designs, and food and drink.
Sheldon Simeon, seen above, made his television debut on Bravo TV’s Top Chef, but he's always had his hand in the kitchen. "I was born and raised in Hawaii and to be a local kid on Top Chef was very surreal," he says. "We're very laid back in Hawaii so being on that world stage like that was awesome." After introducing the country to his bold, multicultural cuisine in season 10 (where he finished as a finalist and won the coveted "Fan Favorite" title), Simeon returned to Hawaii and opened two restaurants: the casual lunch spot, Tin Roof, and the upscale modern dining experience, Lineage.
Tin Roof in Kahalui, Maui, had already been 10 years in the making as Simeon had built a relationship with the previous owners. When he gained ownership of the restaurant in 2016, he wanted to continue its cherished mom-and-pop legacy by serving traditional dishes from his childhood like mochiko chicken, poke bowl, and pork belly. He named the eatery after the comforting sound of rain on a tin roof, which coincidentally, is one of his favorite childhood memories. As for his newest venture, Lineage, the restaurant pays homage to longtime traditions with a modern twist. Since it opened in Wailea last fall, its menu of traditional recipes—Kona Kampachi, Caldereta, and Huli Huli chicken—are prepared with modern techniques and served on handmade plates from local artisans.
"My biggest influence is preserving the traditions and the recipes of our family and our community," explains Simeon. "My grandparents came from the Philippines and in Hawaii is this great mix of cultures that call it home. Hawaii has all of the pieces of the puzzle put together in a very seamless way." For example, Japanese soy sauce made from the rich harvest of local cane sugar adds a new spin on traditional Filipino dishes. This is because Simeon has a philosophy to use the resources that are available from local sources like farmers and fishers. "I look to traditional dishes," he says. "But get this creativity from using what's available." Every dish is an experience of the flavors of Hawaii.
Inigo Elizalde, the creative director for Inigo Elizalde Rugs, grew up in a household with lots of color and décor designed by local artists. Born in the town of Manila in the Philippines, his hometown continues to inspire him from New York City, and he makes regular trips back to visit his family and friends. "The house that I grew up in greatly influences my design concept, my design taste," he says. "I go home about three times a year and can't help but take so many photographs, and then I come back to NYC and filter everything and just start designing." His degree in painting is one of the main reasons that he also thinks conceptually. When he started his company, he wanted to find ways to "bring the outside in" and abstracted designs from the world around him.
Elizalde finds inspiration in the details that other designers might miss. When he first began designing rugs, he had been using a photo of peeling paint that he'd found in L.A. because that concept had been on trend at the time., but he realized that he wanted to do something else and find his own inspiration. "I went home to Manila and went to a textile exhibit where I noticed all of these beautiful embroidery patterns," he recalls. "This whole concept of getting these old designs and collaging them, digitizing them, mashing them up and making them contemporary and timeless [fascinated me]." One of his newest collections, Collection III, also has a Filipino focus with patterns that recreate the colorful designs of jeepneys, a popular mode of public transportation in the Philippines.
Each rug is woven or hand-knotted by artists in Nepal, the Philippines, India, and Morocco. The weaving companies that he works with use recycled materials from plastic bottles or from ghost nets that are found in the Philippines, as well as other natural materials like wool, silk, bamboo fibers or upcycled acrylic. "Techniques of production are passed down from generations," he says. "And we like to provide these weavers with cutting-edge designs, send it off, and see what they come up with. The results are always beautiful."
Tina Burgos, the owner and curator of Covet + Lou, is known for championing fresh, innovative, up-and-coming designers in her boutiques. She previously co-owned Stel's, a popular shop in Boston, Massachusetts, that featured high-end independent designers, one of the first fashion spots to do so in the city. When she opened Covet + Lou in 2013, she wanted to continue stocking the storefront in Needham with goods from indie designers. "I focus on independent up-and-coming designers. My process is selective but I want to support the brands which are mostly owned by women as well," Burgos says. Covet + Lou represents 30 to 45 brands at the moment, all handpicked by Burgos. And her boutique also has a personally curated collection of gorgeous vintage pieces, proving that great style is timeless.
The brands she focuses on tend to be sustainable and organic in their processes. "I really want to pay attention to sustainability and have this eco-conscious aspect of the business," Burgos says. Part of this is influenced by her Filipino heritage and the way it has shaped her views of fashion. The culture of the Philippines is very diverse, she says, with mingling influences from Western and Asian cultures. Burgos wants to represent a wide range of brands in her boutique that showcases the "diverse fabric in the community," she explains. Covet + Lou also has a commitment to supporting the Asian design community. "I want to make sure that they have a voice in the fashion industry," Burgos says. Some of the brands that you can find in her boutique include 7115 by Szeki, Black Crane, Hasami Porcelain, and Sandy Liang.
Burgos' goal for Covet + Lou is to continue to broaden the community. "This is a passion project and I love what we're doing," she says. The boutique is available in a brick-and-mortar shop in Needham, Massachusetts, as well as online. But pop-up experiences like Field + Supply Annual Modern Maker's Design Fair allow her to extend to new customers and build new relationships. What sets Covet + Lou apart from other boutiques is Burgos' dedication to personally handpicking the designers that she features in her store from artisanal jewelry and accessories to apothecary goods, and home décor pieces—even something as small as a giftable container of beeswax candles.