Best friends really do everything side by side. At least, that’s the case for high school besties Chi Gibbs and Aira Medina. These two fashion girls are the masterminds behind homegrown clothing line Neon Island. Before creating the label, Chi and Aira were originally pursuing professions in teaching. Three years after treading down a different career path, the duo’s brainchild has garnered a loyal clientele and is getting bigger by the minute.
Given the evident success of Neon Island, we’re intrigued to know how Chi and Aira balanced their friendship and their enterprise. Surprisingly, the pair admitted to never butting heads when it comes down to business. “I think our friendship really helped mold the business into what it is now,” Aira shares.
Indeed, the friendship they fostered is proof that it’s only upwards from here on out for Neon Island. Recently, the local clothing line collaborated with high-street makeup brand Sleek Makeup as they each launched a new collection. Below, we got the two to spill more about how they built Neon Island, the hurdles they’ve encountered along the way, and how both their similarities and differences as friends helped shape their growing business.
What’s your dynamic like as business partners and is it any different from your dynamic as best friends?
Aira: As much as we feel like we’re brain twins, we’re different when it comes to work. We feel like we bring different things to the table.
Chi: I think what makes our partnership work is that we balance each other out. Parang yin and yang. I’d say I’m the more idealistic one and she’s the more business-savvy one. I think that’s why it works eh. We accept each other’s roles and respect each other’s opinion. Like, I know she knows what she’s talking about. Siya rin naman.
A: And yeah, I guess the friendship naman talaga also helps. I mean, it’s all about respect even in the business side. We know we’re best friends at the end of the day.
How do you make a business work without it negatively impacting your friendship?
C: It’s hard, but it’s not as hard as people say. Kasi people say, don’t get into business with your friend kasi mag-aaway kayo. Parang so far, it’s actually working to our advantage.
A: We’ve been in business for around three to four years and there wasn’t a time that we actually fought about something because most of the time, talagang our style and ideas jive so I think our friendship really helped mold the business into what it is now.
What are the hurdles you’ve experienced so far in running the business?
A: A lot. (Laughs) Because when we started Neon Island, we were just two, literally. And even up to now, our business is still considered a small business. So hurdles include finding the right suppliers here in the Philippines and the budget. When we started Neon Island, we really just used our savings. We used to work as a teacher—both of us—before we started Neon Island. So when we started, we had really limited savings. So ‘yon, those are just some of the hurdles we faced in our business even up to now.
What should people consider first before deciding on starting a business with a friend?
C: I think evaluate first what you can bring to the table. Kasi ‘pag pareho kayo ng strength nung friend mo, parang may kulang di ‘ba? Each person has to bring something to the table that the other person doesn’t have. So make sure you can complement each other, business-wise.
A: Tsaka if you guys are not passionate about the same things, I don’t think it will work. Style-wise as well. Because like in fashion, kami ni Chi, we like the same things. We’re passionate about the same things.
C: That’s why the aesthetic [of Neon Island] is super consistent. Kasi ‘yun talaga ‘yung style naming dalawa.
A: We both feel like it’s very authentic because that reflects our style.
How do you incorporate both your styles into the branding of Neon Island?
A: Neon Island is so us eh.
C: For us, before we put anything out, we ask ourselves, “Will you wear this? Will you spend money on this?”. Unless we’re in love with it, ‘di namin siya ilalabas.
A: When we were thinking about the brand, we were thinking, what did we want ba talaga? And initially, we wanted a reflection of ourselves, something we would really wear and something we were looking for in the market at that time. Parang feeling namin, “Wala pa ‘to dito sa Philippines, we have to do this!”, pero using locally-sourced materials because that’s our advocacy talaga—to make our clothing here in the Philippines.
You have a new collection called ‘Fizzle Pop’. What’s your favorite piece from there?
C: Everything. (Laughs)
A: That’s what we say, everything! (Laughs) Well it’s the first time we’re launching shoes and accessories. For me, I guess it’s the shoes ‘cause it’s really very special for us.
C: Ako rin. It’s special for us ‘cause it’s our first time. It’s like our new baby. Kasi with our swimwear and clothes, we know we have a loyal fanbase. Pero for our shoes, it’s really a new endeavor. And I guess that’s why we like it the most. We’re excited about it.
Featured image via @chiiloyzagagibbs