How Ryan Sy is Reviving Traditional Southeast Asian Textiles Through His Clothing Brand

How Ryan Sy is Reviving Traditional Southeast Asian Textiles Through His Clothing Brand


DATU Philippines integrates a modern twist to ethnic and woven fabrics. MEGAMan talks to founder Ryan Sy about building the brand from the ground up

Post-COVID, the startup culture in the Philippines has evolved—we’re seeing younger business leaders enter the market and founder Ryan Sy of DATU Philippines is one of them. “It’s refreshing to dial things down, start with the basics, and create something uniquely my own,” he tells MEGA. And as he entered the hub of rising enterprises, he did so with a line of modern ethnic jackets woven from textiles called DATU together with co-founder Lyra Tarectecan.

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Look stylish with these modern jackets made from textiles all over Southeast Asia

Starting From the Bottom

Ryan shares with MEGA Man that he had next to zero experience in logistics, sales, and marketing. Taking initiative, he took to consulting, learning, and immersing himself in observations that can begin the sprouting of a idea. “After coming up with the brand identity and internal deck, and with the help of my partner Lyra Tarectecan, I was able to find creative specialists who were just as enthusiastic about this working project as I was,” he says.

DATU blossomed from a trip to stores in Thailand, Laos, and Malaysia. Coming across fabric pieces in Bangkok that caught his eye and interest, he came home with two fully packed Balikbayan boxes for his family and friends. “After the 50th time hearing, ‘Why don’t we have anything like this here?’ I decided: ‘You know what? We really should’,” he says.

As is with other businesses, starting something is very different from actually executing and maintaining it. However, Ryan shares with MEGA Man that his vision, alongside Lyra’s, would not shape the brand that DATU is today without the lifeline—his team. “They are specialists who know more than I do about certain aspects of my business; people I can depend on and who I often turn to when I need to bounce ideas or when I feel lost,” Ryan says. “Maintaining a brand is also pretty easy when you believe in it—which is pretty much a requirement—because why would you try to start something you don’t believe in anyway?”

DATU Mahasamut is inspired by the cerulean blues of the ocean—just right for a summer ensemble

Taking the leap of faith as a team and having that trust—from leader to member and vice-versa—essentially molded the brand to its entirety. “I was lucky enough to get to know and develop proper bonds of mutual trust with each member of our team. My partner, Lyra, who is much more of a people person than I am, is also the wildcard that keeps us all together on this road,” the founder says. “Without a doubt, I’ve asked my team to make sacrifices for the sake of our brand, but their faith in our products, and in each other is what keeps us moving forward,” he shares further..

But aside from the foundation of the enterprise, the founder reiterates that having fun with it is equal parts essential. “I know very little about fashion trends, but I think our pieces are super cool, and I have so much fun putting into words how and why other folks should think so, too,” Ryan admits. “Every time we launch a new line, build a campaign, or announce a sale, I get to do one of the things I love the most; I get to write about it,” he tells MEGA.

Unwrap ethnic elegance with the DATU Din, the colors and design are a tribute to nature’s origin

DATU is Traditional Filipino Today

“We kicked off by gauging the Philippine market with a line of ethnic jackets that embodied the statement “uniquely primal”. DATU embodies what I believe is the unique aspect of being Filipino. It is an expression of our easily forgotten roots—not only as strong individual leaders, but as harmonious collaborators in the business of life,” Ryan explains. “A Datu not only protects his people; a Datu finds cool stuff, creates cool stuff, and shares cool stuff—so that everyone can have cool stuff, too! And I believe we have some cool stuff on offer here.”

The Datu Lila is a must-have piece that features shades of royal purple, sapphire blue, and ruby red streaks

The ‘cool stuff’ are intricate designs and complementing colors, sublime woven-work and fabrics that scream equal parts ethnic and modern and emphasize Asian excellence. Innovation also grows the business—both in profit and in journey. The value that Ryan, Lyra, and their team add to DATU is necessary for the enterprise to flourish—otherwise, it will come to a plateau. The founder shares with MEGA that constantly upping the game in the business is vital—and a process he enjoys. “Welcome surprises and adjustments apply to our designs, our fabrics, and the thematic elements of our campaigns,” he says. “Essentially, we’re still figuring out and adapting to what works, and this process will continue to evolve as long as DATU exists. Southeast Asia is a treasure trove of ‘ethnic woven jackets’ and I believe that we’ve found a market for this here at home.”

The DATU Maharlika collides the Malay language into the weaves of fabric

“I love the process of taking a concept and turning it into a reality. Regardless of whether a business is large or small, whether it succeeds or fails, the fact that it ever existed means that Mister or Miss Entrepreneur put in that effort and took that risk to make it happen. There’s something very romantic and exciting about it all.”

– Ryan Sy

Modern Entrepreneur

When at the beginning, learning the ropes and pricing the products were the team’s biggest challenges, today, it’s understanding what the market wants, and positioning themselves to deliver. “We’re still a very young company, and the selling power of any individual piece is still a bit varied and unpredictable,” he explains. We want to find the formula that works, and of course we have to take some risks to get there.”

“When I first started DATU, my only priority was to turn my vision into a reality. I was going to take this thing to market, and anything after that would just be a bonus.” – Founder Ryan Sy

The risks don’t include compromising quality and value of uniquely primal designs. These are the guiding principles that allow DATU to continue moving—and Ryan and his team have that desire to continue driving it forward. He says, “The launching of DATU was supposed to be my ‘crash course’ on starting a small business, and my platform for bigger things. I was happy to make mistakes, because the brand was comfortably small. But through the process of selling, interacting with customers, and all the positive feedback we’ve been getting, I quickly fell deeply in love with DATU. Now, I don’t just want DATU to work, I really want to see our brand flourish.”

Ryan and his team are taking all the steps in the rising culture of startups to make that happen. Take vision, trust, innovation, and belief—and you have all the mixings for the enterprise of your dreams. So for everyone who’s in doubt about taking that first step, Ryan has a piece of advice: “Learn as much as you can about every aspect of your business before you start. Set a budget, a timeline, and a set of goals that are specific, measurable, and achievable. If you’ve done this and are confident about moving forward, by all means, don’t ever hesitate to take that first step.”

Photos and Featured Image: DATU PHILIPPINES, MIKE GELLA

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