The Jordan shoe, released in collaboration with Titan, is an ode to the Philippines and Gibbs’ grandfather.
Alyssa “Chi” Gibbs flips through photos on her phone showing me black-and-white photographs of her grandfather, Carlos “Caloy” Loyzaga, from the ’50s. “My grandfather was a basketball player [then],” the multidisciplinary creative tells Vogue Philippines. “They were the only Philippine team that placed in FIBA [World Championship, now called World Cup] in Rio [de Janeiro].” This month, Gibbs, an artist, musician, and half of the design duo behind local label Neon Island, honors her grandfather, her roots, and the country’s collective love for basketball via a global industry paragon: a Jordan shoe. On October 21, Gibbs is releasing her own take on a pair of Air Jordan 2 Lows, as the design partner of Titan, the go-to sneaker retailer in the Philippines.
Loyzaga, fondly known to fans as “King Caloy,” a moniker for his skills on the court, is widely considered the greatest Filipino basketball player. Aside from his 1954 FIBA win as part of the Philippine team, he was also a two-time Olympic champion in 1952 and 1956. Though Gibbs never really witnessed her grandfather play, she listened to his stories growing up. “I was really close to my grandfather. He would tell me about his experiences at the Olympics,” she recalls. “I have a video of him carrying the Philippine flag. I always admired him for it.” Gibbs always wanted his legacy to be remembered, saying, “I feel like when he passed, our generation didn’t really know about his achievements anymore, so to be able to bring that story to this generation is super special.”
The result is a retro-inspired Air Jordan 2 Low. The predominantly white shoe with a speckled midsole has bursts of oranges and greens, inspired by the Philippine team’s jersey colors, and has a play on textures like suede and corduroy.
“Our jumping-off point really was my grandfather and their team,” she says of her design inspiration. She looked through posters and photos they had at home, including one of them landing in Rio, with a group shot beside their plane. It’s the look Gibbs and Titan recreated for their campaign shoot with BJ Pascual. “I took a lot of inspo from old photos from that time. But also that era itself is my favorite era the ’50s.”
Titan, known for their dedication to the “love of the game,” already has a history of collaborating with the Jordan brand, but this year, they decided to take an off-the-cuff path with Gibbs, who clarifies that she does not, in fact, play basketball, but has deep ties to it with her cherished memories and as a self-proclaimed “sneakerhead.” (A quick stroll through her Instagram reveals a bounty of covetable sneakers and boundless inspiration on how to style them.) So when Titan tapped the creative for the project, Gibbs remembers that their very first Zoom meeting already spurred the waterworks on her end. Though Gibbs regularly designs apparel and has experience designing shoes as the former footwear designer of local brands like Folded&Hung, she’s never designed a sneaker before. So it came as a surprise to her that there were minimal changes from her initial design to the finished product.
The Air Jordan 2 was first released in 1986 and the late Virgil Abloh spurred the shoe’s renaissance in 2021. By then, Abloh’s Off-White had been a Jordan collaborator for four years, but it was only in 2021 that he resuscitated the Jordan 2 specifically, historically branded as “the black sheep” of the Jordan family compared to its other, more saleable counterparts. After the Off-White collaboration was released, “Mi Gente” rapper J Balvin also designed Jordan 2s, and this year, there’s a big global push for the shoe to sustain its comeback. On October 21, it’s Gibbs’ turn to push the envelope forward.
“I wanted to make something I would really wanna wear and wanna style,” she says, adding that she designed it with women in mind. “Basketball shoes can be really loud or really bulky. I tried to be as gender neutral as possible but I don’t know if I achieved that, they’re pretty feminine!” she says, laughing. ”At least for a basketball shoe.”
She also peppered the shoe with Easter eggs. Flipping the tongue of the shoe reveals an embroidered palm tree and a basketball. “It’s special because it’s something recurring in my art. There are always palm trees in everything I do. So it’s a symbol of me and also a symbol of the Philippines,” she says while the basketball represents her grandfather, Titan, and the Jordan brand. The palm tree and basketball together also doubles as a representation of the Filipinos’ love for basketball. “It was so special that it actually made it onto the shoe,” she gushes.
Perhaps the most meaningful detail for the designer is the sockliner, which features a collage of basketball action shots. “I did a collage of my grandfather’s action shots and I based the drawing on [those],” she says. She even assigned jersey numbers to some of them. “23” is the classic Jordan number, “22” is for Titan, while “41” and “14” are her grandfather’s jersey numbers. “It’s a special little Hidden Mickey on the shoe. When I wear it I see my grandfather’s number.” Many Instagram accounts, who’ve gotten leaked photos of the design, have started guessing the meaning behind the numbers, hedging their bets that they’re odes to American basketball legends. But those are Gibbs’ own Easter eggs and they’ll be surprised to know that the shoe is all about this little slice of paradise. “It’s such a marriage of all these little details,” she shares. “We didn’t know what was gonna come out in the shoe until we got it.”
The shoe is part of a three-city AJ2 release with what’s dubbed ”the International Flight Club,” including the Philippines, Johannesburg, and Detroit. This collaboration also marks Gibbs’ history-making turn as the first woman based out of Asia to collaborate on a Jordan shoe. She’s also only the second Filipino woman to design Jordans after Filipino-American Aleali May, the US-based creative who released her own Jordan 1s and 6s. More recently, in 2021, May designed Air Jordan 14 Lows inspired by her Filipino and Black heritage. Though the two hadn’t met yet, Gibbs already sent out a pair to Aleali May with a personalized note.
Apart from the retro sneaker, Gibbs also designed a six-piece apparel capsule of sweatshirts, pants, and other basics also in the tropical theme—greens, oranges, and with her signature palm tree. “It touches my heart so much that this group of guys chose a woman to design their Jordan shoe,” she says, speaking about Titan. “Of all the people who would believe in me, it’s this group of basketball guys.”
“In my art, in my own brand, at the heart of it all is being a tropical girl and showing off the Philippines in that way,” she adds. “What I hope for the shoe is if you see it, it will remind you of the Philippines, [and] give you a tropical vibe. I think it’s a representation of the Philippines, our culture, [and] our history.”