By John Legaspi

Images by Cedie Salido

ROLE MODELS Gelai Penales and Angelia Orna, winners of SM Youth Go-See season 4 ‘ and 90S SM Youth ambassador Kaila Estrada and SM Youth Go-See season 4 contestant Valentino Jaafar

From the rise of the miniskirt in France in 1968 as a symbol of female revolution and the political slogan shirts of Katharine Hamnett to young Americans sporting tie-dye during the Vietnam War in the 1960s to proclaim their anti-war sentiments, fashion activism has been a great tool for youth expression.

No truer is this than now as Generation Z gives birth to age of the “woke consumer” when brands and designs come in second only to good causes, good community, and humanity. These kids now opt to wear brands that align with their values and beliefs, which currently revolves around fighting for the planet’s well-being, gender and racial equality, animal welfare, and social diversity.

Among the many local brands celebrating the power of youth today, SM Youth breaks down norms and stereotypes, as expressed in its diverse lines of apparels and its choice of brand ambassadors.

YOUTH PARADE SM Youth Ambassadors Kyle Perry and Tommy Esguerra, and season 4 finalists Necole Almerekhi and Mika Melitante

SM Youth Go-See, the digital reality competition in search of the new face of the brand, is a platform that celebrates the stories, identities, and dreams of the Filipino youth. Breaking the model stereotype, the competition welcomes young Filipinos, in all shades of kayumanggi, to form an amazing bond as they tell their tales, overcome every struggle, and conquer their dreams.

After more than 10 weeks of competition, the 1,800 contestants and 16 finalists, along with their fans and the season 4 contestants of SM Youth GoSee, converged at the SM Megamall Fashion Hall to see who the brand’s newest ambassadors would be from among the remaining finalists—Necole Almerekhi, Gelai Penales, Angelia Orna, and Mika Melitante.

The finale was all about modern youth lifestyle—unapologetically proud and non-conforming. Showcasing the brand’s aesthetic, the runway was dressed in ’90s nirvana with candy-colored denim pieces, psychedelic prints, gender-bending looks, and chunky sneakers stomping to the tune of Lesha, Alwyn Cruz, and Marxx Monterola.

By the end of the show, Gelai and Angelia were named the winners of the competition. As the new brand ambassadors of SM Youth, they will be featured in campaigns and events of the brand. Gelai and Angelia are joining the current league of SM Youth ambassadors Tommy Esguerra, Richard Juan, Kaila Estrada, Kyle Perry, Erika Kristensen, and last year’s SM Youth Go-See winners Julian Rodriguez and Jaime Borromeo.

“I’m so grateful for this whole experience, from the day I first met my fellow contestants, ambassadors, and the amazing production team to being announced as one of the newest ambassadors,” said Gelai Penales, 22-year-old University of the Philippines Diliman film graduate. Growing up as an athlete, she has been in constant battle against her flaws and body issues, some of which she has learned to accept or even turn to her advantage. This buzz cut girl used to be insecure for not being thin enough. “What makes SM Youth different is the people who represent it. They help us become the best versions of ourselves,” she said. Over time she learned to embrace her appearance, which is a message she’d like to send out to many young minds. “When I entered the show, they were telling us, ‘We don’t need models, we need real people who can tell real stories and can inspire other people.”

A recent graduate of the University of Sto. Tomas, the 21-year-old Angelia Orna doesn’t permit her height or lack of it to get in the way of her dreams. Standing only 5’3” tall, she wants to change the mindset of the modeling industry and that it should know no ideal height, form, or size. “The SM Youth is not just a brand but a family,” says Angelia. “It allows you to grow and create stories through fashion and images mirroring the life of modern youth.”

SM Youth has always been on the lookout for fresh faces, talents, and trends. From a fashion brand, it has evolved into a community, a depiction of the trials and triumphs, as well as the vast potential of the modern Filipino youth.

Facebook and Instagram:@SMYouth