Celebrities wear his shirts

Spike Lee wears Darwin's limited edition Michael Jackson shirt.

By Cristina DC Pastor

The way Darwin Dion Ignacio told the story, it sounded so simple.

“I met him at a NY Knicks game. I knew he was gonna be there so I brought a couple of shirts. I tapped him on the shoulder and said, ‘Hey Spike, I know you’re a big fan of Michael Jackson.’ He checked out the shirt and said, ‘Wow, I really like that.’ I asked for his size. He didn’t agree to wear it, but he liked it so much he wore it to an NBC interview,” Darwin, 31, recalled how he got Oscar-nominated director Spike Lee to wear his tee.

Weeks later, he wore it again in New Orleans.

But it wasn’t as simple as it seemed. Darwin said he had to shell out $3,000 for the tickets to be able to sit right behind Lee.

That’s vintage Darwin, the go-getting, risk-taking T-shirt entrepreneur and CEO-founder of Busogmeansfull, creator of Panda Sal tees. He’d do anything for a marketing smackdown, such as the Spike Lee episode; “Glee” is another delicious story.

“Glee” was an outright promo. Panda Sal shirts were being worn by various dance crews out of the West Coast who did ensemble work for the show. When the cast saw the shirts, they asked for the maker.

“They didn’t order much,” he said. “They just paid me to make cuts and designs for the show.”

Darwin Dion Ignacio

So off to the drawing board Darwin went and created Panda Sal with a boom box, Panda Sal with a headphone, and a spray can with Panda Sal’s head sticking out. The last was customized for actress Amber Riley, who played the hefty diva Mercedes. His shirts aired on “Glee” — how cool is that?

Just who is Panda Sal and why does Darwin draw so much inspiration from this character? The panda with a big, fat belly appears to represent the Filipino and his affinity with food. The name also rings similar to ‘pan de sal,’ the Filipino rounded bread.

“Panda Sal is more like a feeling you get when you are full with food,” Darwin began to explain. “In Filipino culture you go to any house and when they feed you and you accept that food, they get a feeling of satisfaction. You provided something to that person that makes him happy. I feel the same way for Busog. It makes me happy to see my designs being enjoyed by many.”

With a degree in digital graphics from Penn State, Darwin began to design shirts in 2008. His crew necks have been attracting a steady following among young FilAms.

“Promo-wise I’m doing well,” he said. “It’s still not at profit, but it takes time.”

The New York-born Darwin is the classic American entrepreneur: If he were a girl, he would be selling lemonade. At 13, he began to develop a consciousness for making money. He worked as a bookkeeper at an aunt’s office, even tried retail and telemarketing. No job is too small or too embarrassing for him.

Today, on top of his promising T-shirt business, Darwin also works as an Expert at the Apple store on Fifth Avenue. Although he is unmarried and more than capable of supporting himself financially, he recently moved back to live with his parents “to save up on money.”

“I was living in a 300-sq ft apartment with 25 boxes of shirts. There’s basically no room to live,” he said rationalizing his return.

Did the marketing investment on Spike Lee generate the expected dividends? Darwin thought so.

“Getting the critical mass to know your product. And getting the name out there, you still need a following to know what your product is. That’s the difference between having celebrities wear your stuff,” he said. “That’s where the whole brand marketing and building comes in.”

Cristina DC Pastor is the founding editor of The FilAm.

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