Breaking into the fashion industry and why K-style is cool

Words by Sonia Sly

In the first of our New Kid profile series, we head to Manila to meet 31-year-old model Ribhi M. Saleh who tells us about his dream of producing his own podcast, trends making it big in the Philippines and tips for breaking into the fashion industry.


“You can find Filipino mixed with almost any nationality in the world!” - Ribhi Saleh

Ribhi Saleh has been modelling since he finished college and was scouted while working for the Philippine Embassy in Jordan.

“Two huge Filipino stars came and I got to meet their managers,” he says.

“One of them was the manager for Filipino boxer, Manny Pacquiao, and also Miss Universe - Pia Wurtzbach ( Filipino/German model and actress and the first Filipino to be immortalised in wax at Madame Tussards),” says the 31-year-old who was picked up by agency, Pep Artists.

Ribhi is half Filipino and half Jordanian/Palestinian, which has given him an edge in the industry. But he says today, the Philippines is incredibly international.

“You won’t believe the variety of mixed Filipino here now, and you can find Filipino’s mixed with almost any nationality in the world!” he says.

Ribhi has done both editorial and runway modelling: “One of my favourite shoots was for a wine brand! I loved it because I had so much free wine,” he chuckles.

So, what are his favourite labels?

“Honestly I don’t have a favourite. I just wear what feels good and fits me,” he says.

While he’s not one to get hung up on the latest trends, he has noticed a trend emerge - South Korean fashion in the Philippines is increasing in popularity.

The rise of K-pop feeds a frenzy for all things Korean including fashion and beauty.

Ever since the catchy ‘Gangnam Style’ tune found its way across international airwaves, K-Pop has gone gang busters and an interest in South Korean fashion, culture, and food has followed suit.

“Korean food is becoming a favourite, especially Korean BBQ and Soju drinks and a buffet style called Samgyupsai (a popular grilled pork belly dish) ,” says Ribhi.

Korean beauty products are also a hit there too, with brands like Banila Co. 3CE, The Face Shop, Etude House, Laneige,and Holika Holika finding their way to beauty counters in Manila.

Korean makeup trends have also hit the West and you will find some brands like 3CE on sites like Sephora and in mainstream stores such as Farmers or Mecca Cosmetica in New Zealand. The Korean love of a fresh dewy face, big fluttery lashes and glossy cheeks have taken off as a global trend.

But Ribhi says an interest in South Korean style in the Philippines is also because of the large Korean community there - Manila is reported to have around 100 thousand permanent Korean residents.

“There are a lot of Koreans here, and of course, lots of Korean tele-series that the Filipinos love like Goblin, Descendants of the Sun, and While You Were Sleeping,” he says.

On the fashion front, the Philippines has its own Fashion Week event, and Ribhi participated in the event last year and says it’s huge.

“It’s mostly local designers from Cebu - a province in the Philippines located in the Central Visayas region; Davao City, and of course, Manila, the Capital of Philippines,” he says.

Ribhi Saleh. Image supplied.

Ribhi Saleh. Image supplied.

The event launched just over two decades ago by brothers Audie and Joey Espino who dipped their feet in events management, before forming their production company, Runaway Productions, as well as a modeling agency, CalCarries, Philippines.

From its inception, Philippine Fashion Week focused on mentoring brands, designers and models entering the industry, as well as being a launchpad for international brands new to the Philippine market.

So what opportunities can designers or fashion industry professionals outside of the Philippines tap into?

Ribhi says locals love different styles, especially anything from outside of the Philippines which is now booming with a mix of creative talent, including foreign designers.

“Beauty pageants here are also big and not showing any sign of stopping,” he says.

For those interested in pursuing modelling, Ribhi suggests exploring the beauty pageant niche which is popular for men and women. He says designers keen to get into the Philippine market should contact beauty pageants and talent/ modeling agencies to offer garments for shoots and events.

Ribhi on set while filming an episode of a local Vampire TV series in Philippines.

Ribhi on set while filming an episode of a local Vampire TV series in Philippines.

While Ribhi enjoys being part of the fashion industry his dream job is to start his own podcast.

His favourites are The Tim Ferriss Show, The James Altucher Show, and Side Hustle School, among others.

His area of interest is self improvement, mental models, startups and speaking to mentors who can share their values.

“I want to talk with interesting people and share their knowledge and value for a living,” he says.

And the benefit of making a podcast in the Philippines is the long commutes.

Ribhi wants to create an alternative to the constant stream of adverts that are blasted through the speakers on trains and buses.

“People here commute for hours and sometimes a total of 8 hours a day,” he says.

“I would like to share valuable talks that will help make anyone a better person, even if it was only a 1% improvement per episode.”

Ribhi Saleh: The Lowdown

Fave music/ song right now: Mostly Rn’B and Hiphop music, Rock 90s and 2000s bands as well as country music.

Name the best thing about the city you live in: Access to variety of food, sports stadium, and 4 really huge malls and bars :)

What’s the worst thing about the city you’re in?: Traffic!

Where are the cool places to hang out in your city? Cool places would be in some clubs and bars. In Makati area: Pura Vida Bar, The apartment, Z hostel, Alamat, Agimat, Black Market Club and in BGC area: Versus Barcade, Revel, The Island, Xylo, Bad, Yes Please.

What’s the one place that any visitor to the Philippines should see: I would say Intramuros! The Philippines was occupied by Spaniards for hundred of years, and Intramuros area is so awesome and nostalgic and rich with historical events and beautiful designs!