(SPOT.ph) With marker in hand, Christian “BigBoy” Cheng signed his newly launched book Hypefather at his Secret Fresh gallery. Instead of the scrawled celebrity signature, he drew big hearts with cartoon eyes, reminiscent of his own electrifying collection of fashion pieces, artwork, and trainers.
To the uninitiated, Cheng is known for his vast collection of expensive and limited sneakers from sporting brands and luxury fashion houses. To those with established sneaker-envy, he’s also known as an art collector, kitschy food vlogger, and the scion of the Uratex empire.
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“Na-delay-delay, umabot kami ng two and a half years, pero masaya and worth talking about the [collection],” he said of Hypefather, which started production in 2020 under Summit Books.
Cheng wears many hats, but in his eyes, running Secret Fresh—a gallery born 15 years ago—is his main hustle. Despite the abundance of his collection, which not everyone understands, Cheng showed no signs of stopping and was certain of the one thing he sees himself doing in the future.
“Collecting still,” he said with a laugh.
Why BigBoy Cheng collects
“When we talk about collecting nowadays, we often have collecting works of art in mind, but the truth is that people will collect almost anything,” said architectural historian Joseph Rykwert.
Although collections constitute the physical acquisition of objects, studies in psychology and market research point to several reasons as to why people maintain their own inventory of beloved wares. Collecting leaves room for other values to take root, such as the pursuit of knowledge, a sense of community, and more complex forms of emotional fulfillment.
Motivations intersect and can develop at any time in a person’s life without ever dropping off, making collecting a lifelong calling.
Some who collect material objects may actually be in pursuit of abstract feelings of nostalgia and camaraderie, while others see it as a form of investment or paid entry into an exclusive club, the same way coffee fiends collect planner stickers for coffee, stationery, or the prestige. For Cheng, collecting really started in his youth, and money made as an adult was a way to keep his childhood dreams and obsessions afloat.
“I never stopped collecting toys. Yung mga nawala kong toys nung bata pa ako nung mga 1980s, binabalik ko lang nung nagka-pera na ako,” he said. He can’t play favorites either: “Lahat gusto ko, lahat may storya.”
“Ang rush talaga niyan, nakikita mo ipon mo, kasi para sa akin, from way back, 'di nila nakikita as investment. Ang shoes, investment. Ngayon, gustong-gusto mo na yung gamit, gustong-gusto mo na nakikita mo sa bahay mo araw-araw. Kagabi nga tumingin ako sa laruan ko, napa-smile nga ako eh, mag-isa lang ako. Forever nandyan. Mamamana ng anak mo, masaya ka pa. Yun yung joy of collection,” he said.
One of his fondest memories is walking down the streets of New York with his son on the hunt for a rare pair of trainers.
“Nag-eenjoy ako, meeting a lot of people, meeting a lot of artists. Sa sapatos, mga tao, mga resellers. Yun yung buhay ko kumbaga and dito na rin ako nabuhay, nagkaroon na rin ako ng art gallery,” he added.
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When collecting doesn’t make sense
Those outside looking in don’t quite understand the logic of spending thousands for toys. It is child’s play, but a part of it was art and it made Cheng’s heart, and credit card balance, soar.
“Onti pa lang nakaka-appreciate sa art toys [noon]. Pero nag-grow naman community natin. Lagi ko kasi iniisip, sana meron sa Pilipinas neto. Pilipinas lagi kong iniisip, eh nalugi ako dati kasi nga advanced for my time,” he said.
Cheng’s mother at one point threatened to cut off his card and finances to curb losses, but he refused to back down. “Tinayo ng nanay ko itong Ronac, tapos binigyan niya ako ng isang maliit na space. Sa awa ng Diyos, di ako nag-surrender, naglaruan pa rin ako, tapos naging gallery na rin tayo. Accidental gallery,” he said.
“So ngayon, dami na naglalaro, marunong na mang-collect yung tao, yung mga bata, sobrang saya ko sa nangyari sa Pilipinas. Umpisa pa lang to, lalaki pa to,” Cheng said.
Collecting is for everyone
Veteran collectors tend to withhold their sources and purchases, especially expensive auction pieces and limited items. Gatekeeping in the collecting community, though controversial, maintains exclusivity—Cheng’s not about that life, though.
“Nasa tao na yon. May mga taong ganoon. Kanya-kanyang ugali ng tao, pero ako, ako yung talagang ituturo ko paano bumili, paano mag-ship. Kailangan mo ituro yon kasi everybody deserves it.”
“Art is for everybody and collecting, shoes, that, dapat maranasan yung naramdaman mo kasi you only live once,” he added.
Cheng said he has met collectors of every kind, including a man who owns a multitude of cigarette brands and types from all over the world. “Jusko, natutuwa ako. Ang galing. Sabi ko ‘T*ngina may kanya-kanyang society to ah!’”
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When asked what he wants to say to dissenters and critics of collecting, Cheng joked; “Nanay ko?” The man’s no stranger to those who don’t understand, but he said he firmly believes everyone’s got something that sparks the desire to collect.
Even his own mother found her Kryptonite: “Hindi, nanay ko nag-cocollect ng bells din,” he added.
“Lahat kayo meron, di niyo palang nahahanap siguro. Ang daming magagandang bagay na lumalabas sa collecting so nagkakaroon ka ng mga kaibigan, friendship, stories, memories. Tapos nakikita mo lahat ng memories na nakasabit sa bahay mo na nakalagay doon, sinusuot mo. Sana maramadaman yung nararamdaman ko,” he said.
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The future of collecting
Collecting is part of Cheng's DNA and always will be, but he'd like his future to hold more care for the things in his possession now.
“[I want to] know more about taking care of things. Damit, sapatos, paano mag-maintain, parang museum nag-mmaaintain ng old paintings, ganoon din yung ginagawa ko ngayon. Hanggang sa may na-iipon ako, kumikita ako, hindi ako titigil na mag-collect. Basta wala akong naapektuhang tao, lalo na sa financial side,” he said.
During trips to Japan, a country known for its deeply committed collecting scene and industry, Cheng would be reminded of how much more he wants to see our own local collecting scene flourish.
“Mahal na mahal ko ang Pilipinas, sobra. Yun yon. Tuwing pupunta akong Japan, sobrang saya ko, pero may inggit ako. P*ta sana sa Pilipinas ganito tayo. Pero we’re there. We’re there,” he said.