D’Torres Building, Suite 101
By Jessica Rohr
Tribe Marianas is a clothing and lifestyle brand based in Saipan. The store sells locally designed everyday clothing including shirts, shorts, jogging pants, board shorts, jerseys, tank tops, hats and accessories.
Robert Travilla, 29, co-founder and creative director, had humble beginnings. Born and raised on Saipan, he was told that his passion for art would never make him any money. Against all odds, Travilla is now seeing his designs shipped across the United States and Guam. He was also nominated for the Marianas Young Professionals’ Young Professional of the Year in 2017.
The Tribe shop had an interesting start. Though Travilla and his friend and co-founder, TJ Manglona, had determination, creativity and drive in their favor, they lacked one very crucial thing. “When we started Tribe, we didn’t have any money. We went to every bank on Saipan and got denied for a business loan,” Travilla said.
A strange twist of fate, however, came in the form of a government micro-loan with convenient requirements. “You needed three bank loan denial letters to get the government loan,” Travilla said. “We had one from every bank.”
The store was scheduled to open in the summer of 2015, but Typhoon Soudelor interrupted their plans. For months, the island was without power and water. The team had already invested in a good amount of merchandise. “I had 300 hats in my living room during the typhoon,” Travilla said.
The 600-square-foot shop finally opened in December 2015 on Middle Road in Garapan. Now, they have seven employees, including the co-founders.
I’ve been in the clothing business for almost a decade. I started another clothing brand in 2006. Tribe came about when TJ was going to school in San Francisco. He asked me to help him with a design for a retail store he was opening. I realized the design could become its own brand. I convinced him to ditch the retail store, come back to Saipan and start Tribe.
How competitive is the market for apparel in Saipan?
Very. It seems like every week there’s a new clothing company popping up. But for us at Tribe, we felt like something was lacking here in our community. Saipan is so small, but there’s so much culture. One thing lacking here was high-quality clothing. I was spending so much money on brands in the states, and I thought it would be cool to see quality goods that represent where we’re from.
How would you describe your customer base?
Our customer base includes all ages. We can reach out to all those demographics — high schoolers, businessmen and doctors. We ship out to every state and Guam. We just recently partnered up with DFS, so that helped us reach out to the tourist market. It’s doing extremely well.
Where do you have your products manufactured?
We try to support local [businesses], but a lot of what we sell can’t be produced in Saipan, so we outsource to Asia.
What is your most popular product?
We just recently re-stocked DFS. It seems like the tourists bought every piece we have there. We created an exclusive collection for DFS. We made it exclusive so that we wouldn’t be competing with our own store. They like our street-inspired designs and island designs — we found a nice balance that appeals to a lot of people. It’s either that or pride in Saipan. Every week we restock our online store.
When I created the logo, I wanted it to be timeless, so that wherever you are in the world, you’ll think of Saipan. Our logo is derived from a tool, the adaze, which the ancient Pacific islanders would use to carve out the proa. We have two, crisscrossing each other on our logo. The meaning behind them is “create and protect.”
What has been your biggest challenge as a small-business owner?
Getting the capital to start the company. We were denied a loan by every bank on Saipan. The banks didn’t see what made us different from other local clothing brands. The obstacle definitely pushed us to where we are now. We knew we couldn’t open the store without having a credit card machine. The banks denied us that, too, but we found a way.
What has been your proudest moment in owning your store?
Seeing people truly be satisfied with our product, seeing the same faces come through every week, seeing them buy everything we have, seeing people tag us on Instagram or when we have long lines wrapped around the building or when we sell out of products.
Collaborating with global brands Budweiser, Toyota, Docomo Pacific and T Galleria by DFS has been a huge honor. We’ve collaborated with Guam entities, too, like Crowns Guam and Opake Guam. Last year we did a pop-up shop in Las Vegas. We are flying out to L.A. this year to do a pop-up shop there, too. This company has allowed me to leave my job and be recognized for my work. I came from nothing, and I know what it feels like. Everyone told me art couldn’t do anything for your life. And now that my life is being sustained through my art and my vision, it’s like a dream come true. I wake up every day feeling satisfied. I love being able to take care of my daughter and send her to school with the company I built.
What new products or changes can your customers look forward to in 2017?
We want our customers to expect bigger, better and more quality. More of that classic Tribe feel that made the people fall in love with us. We have a few collaborations that are in the works. We want to help everyone out there represent the community and the Mariana Islands the best we can. We want to build products that people would cherish and love. We totally understand the islander mentality and spirit. No matter where they are in the world, we represent Håfa Adai. We want to give that “piece of home” concept wherever you are.