Tony Olaes: Discovering the Filipino within
By Leonard Novarro
Tony Olaes, a highly successful clothing designer, who has helped build thousands of homes in impoverished areas of the Philippines, was born in the United States, the son of Filipino immigrants.
But Olaes never thought of himself as Filipino until a turning point in his life several years ago when he visited his parents’ native country.
Olaes could be the poster boy for the American Dream. At 27, he started his own apparel design business out of his garage and grew it to be one of the leading manufacturers of pop culture T-
While his parents urged him to visit the Philippines, except for a few trips as a teenager, he had no desire to do so, and when they decided to build a home in the Philippines several years ago, “I was livid,” he recalled. “The Philippines was a place that was unsafe because of the news reports of kidnappings, poverty and corruption. I felt that I worked so hard to ‘make it,’ and for them to just irresponsibly go into harm’s way, it just didn’t make sense.”
However, all that changed when, upon his wife’s urging, he visited the country one more time – with eyes open. “My uncle took me to a village of poor people who were former squatters,” he said. No longer living in squalid surroundings, they had worked together to build their own homes with the help of corporations, the government and outside donors to become self-
Combining his business acumen with his socio-
Olaes’ talent in graphics and entrepreneurial skills was evident at an early age. He began winning awards for art when he was only 16 years old and was given scholarships to various design schools. At age 24 he started working in the garment industry and three years later had his own business, working out of his garage.
“His mission in business is not only for profit but for humanitarian and charitable work and love for one's own people, culture and heritage. Tony is the epitome of good business and compassionate entrepreneurship,” says his nomination from the San Diego Filipino community.
Gawad Kalinga’s 13-