“Upholstery Designs of Jaro-bound Jeepneys through the Years”

Written by John Michael Lastimoso, B.S. in Biology IV.

Jeepneys have been a vital part of the Philippine culture they are a symbol of the hardworking drivers, endless traffic, crowded passenger seating, and the artistry of the Filipinos. These vehicles were originally made from the left over US Military Jeeps (Otsuka, Kikuchi, and Hayami, 1986). However through the years the general appearance of the frame or “kaha” of the jeeps gradually changed – metal roofs were added, type of tires were changed, stereo system were installed, additional lighting system were mounted, quality paints were used and intricate interior design of the seats were stitched. The drivers and/or the owners of the jeepneys do not settle for mediocre for designs, typically they would choose designs that have contrasting colors that could attract the attention of the passengers. The drivers would take pride in the modifications on their jeepney, to the point that they would usually acknowledge the exterior and interior design of the jeep first before talking to their fellow driver. According to several drivers, the reasons why they try to improve the appearance of their jeepneys is that to give a welcoming ambiance to the passengers (no matter how crowded it becomes), to flaunt to the other drivers, and to create a sense of being at home because their jeepneys usually become their second home (it is where they sleep during high noon and it is also their source of income).

These vehicles are the main medium of transportation in the busy city of Iloilo. Different jeepneys take different routes and their designs from each other would usually vary also. One jeepney is unique from the other, they would have different body frames – some have longer front frames and some shorter that resembles multicabs. However these body frames sometimes tend to be the same in all jeepneys the defining portions of one jeepney that sets it apart from the rest are its paint job and the design of its seats. Most of the time, the exterior of the jeepney is the first thing the passengers would notice (aside from the route sign) – the vibrant color of the jeep as well as the side paintings. The interior design however is less appreciated; passengers would usually just tend to sit, pay the fare, and then get off the jeepney. In addition, the jeepneys are sometimes crowded therefore it gives a small chance for other passengers to catch a glimpse of the seat design.  Over the years, the design, style, and patterns for the jeepney seats gradually changed also.

The art of placing paddings and leather covers or additional fabrics to furniture seats is called upholstery.  Jeepney drivers and owners would usually bring their vehicles to an upholstery shop to install a new seat cover or to repair their current one. The way it works in Iloilo is that, the upholstery shop along the route of the jeepney will usually be the one that will install a new seat cover, which means in one route only one or two upholstery shop will cater all the jeepneys that have the same route. This is a good way to preserve the designs of the past and compare it to the designs of today. One busy route in Iloilo is the “Jaro-bound route”, almost four kinds of jeepney pass this route, namely: Jaro CPU, Jaro Liko Tagbak, Jaro Liko NFA, and Ungka. Due to the number of jeepneys traversing this route it is to be expected that several upholstery shops cater to installation and repair the jeepney seat covers.

Due to the lack of studies regarding the jeepney upholstery designs in Iloilo and for it being underappreciated, the objective of this study is to create a catalog of upholstery designs of jeepneys travelling the Jaro route and how it changed through the years.

Jaro is relatively large, no wonder a lot of jeepneys of different routes pass this way. In order to find the upholstery shops that cater to almost all the Jaro-bound jeepneys, several jeepney drivers were questioned for the location of the upholstery shops. Surprisingly, there are only three upholstery shops that tailor the seats of the Jaro-bound jeepneys. Two upholstery shops were identified along Lopez Jaena St., Jaro, Iloilo City, and the other one is at Brgy. Sambag, Jaro, Iloilo City.

The methods and materials being used by the upholsterers in the three upholstery shops in Jaro are all the same. The materials would include (1) gun tucker, (2) pliers, (3) hammer, (4) scissors, (5) rivet gun, (6) screwdrivers (flat-tip and Phillips), (7) tape measure, (8) high-speed sewing machine, (9) thread, (10) magic tape and (11) fabric material (e.g. leatherette). The methods of installing the new seat covers for the jeepneys are almost the same in all the upholstery shops, the only thing that sets them apart is their trademark designs. The fabric used in the upholstery shops in lloilo is locally known as “leather”, however it is not real leather made out of the skin of an animal it is synthetic leather called leatherette. This synthetic leather mimics the feel of real leather according to the upholsterers; it has a fabric base and covered on top by a polymer-based material. There are four kinds of synthetic leather available in the surveyed upholstery shops: (1) Class A leather, this one kind of leather is usually used in sofa sets for it is soft and easy to form along with the shape of the furniture; (2) Class B leather, this is the one usually used for the jeepneys and “de-oso” in the early years for it already has a built-in plastic cover; (3) US leather, this is the kind of leatherette being used in the jeepneys today it is much cheaper and comes with an array of choices for color, it is more flexible than Class B because this type of leather can easily be cut into the desired pattern; and (4) German leather, according to the upholsterers this is the best type of leatherette to use in jeepneys, for it is more thicker but not less flexible than US leather, and on top of that it is more durable and the color is more long-lasting. These kinds of synthetic leather are usually ordered by the upholsterer in an upholstery supply shop in Iloilo.

In terms of the design of the jeepney seats, unfortunately only one upholstery shop in Jaro, Roger upholstery shop, had a catalog of the old designs. While the RJ upholstery shop owner, Mr. Ramon Japitana, has been an upholsterer since 1986, fortunately he still kept some samples of the old designs in back in 1986-1990s. The rest of the patterns for the seat covers were gathered thru contacting several Jaro-bound jeepney drivers via the upholsterers and asking them when their seat covers were made, also pictures were taken for documentation. The sewn leatherette patterns are not the only artistic thing about the jeepney cover seat, usually different kinds of buttons are also used by the upholsterer.

Timeline of the Designs

1986-1990

According to Mr. Ramon Japitana during these years there were no upholstery designs of the jeepneys and “De-oso” seats. Only a one simple cover for the seats along with their respective plastic sheet, no complex patterns were seen, some jeepneys up to today still requested this kind of upholstery work. This could reflect a minimalistic approach back then and also the drivers could have wanted their jeepney seats to have a leathery look without buying real expensive leather. Some drivers would also want design on their seats however it is limited only to sewn designs.

1990-2000

In these years, the upholstery work in Jaro-bound jeepneys began to accommodate several design upgrades. The simple covers would now usually have buttons arranged to form a diamond patterns, as seen in one the pictures of Mr. Roger Garino in his catalog. The buttons used also came in different shapes and sizes. Also some Mr. Japitana also saved some design samples back in 1990s for jeepneys and “de-oso”. During those years the design called “paha” (belt) was frequently used , for it really resembles a belt although not as intricate as the designs today it still added a certain uniqueness to the seat covers. Another design shown by Mr. Japitana is the Miami, according to him this is the most requested design back then, it resembles burning flames – maybe it envoked a sense of being fast that the jeepney’s trails will be on fire or it could also mimic the logo of the Miami Heat basketball team just without the ball.

2001-2005

These years the designs of the jeepneys began to become little more complex, geometrical patterns were the canon in these years, mostly composed of checkered styles. Also the button design was still seen, it was reflected on the seat designs.

2005-2010

These are the years where the designs really became intricate, but the buttons style still lingered on up to these years. The only difference in these years was that the upholsterers would use a design that alternates on each other. Buttons style then one single logo, the logo usually resembles flowers, shells, or random geometric patterns requested by the owner of the jeepney.

2010-2015

According to all the upholsterers, upon late 2010, the jeepney drivers now had an idea how to design their jeepneys, so some owners would usually incorporate some of the symbols that resemble or define their families. Not only that some designs (e.g. button style) are kept and modified, some are kept and still reused by other drivers no matter what the year is.

2016

In the current year, the design style that lingered is the alternating buttons style and logo, it is now just modified. Minimalist design looks is coming back, no more intricate designs for flowers, only simple geometric shapes again. This further supports the earlier notion that designs way back are still being used up to this day.

According to the upholsterers, the designs are better today than before because today almost all jeepneys are unique for the owner decides what the design will be. According to Mr. Japitana, jeepneys with similar seat covers and designs are usually owned by the same person. This adds a sense of uniformity in the part of the owner. The upholstery job for a jeepney would usually take 2 weeks but it also depends on the size of the vehicle. The work is tiring and quite meticulous but the finished work would usually give relief to the upholsterer. Not all the time a jeepney will go to their shop and ask for a repair or a new seat cover, in a year they said maybe 8-10 Jaro-bound jeepneys will go to their shop. The profit from each upholstery job is also enough for their family. When asked if they would rather want more jeepneys to come to them for more upholstery job, all of them answered they hope so, but they also said more jeepneys returning to them for seat cover changes would also mean that their work is substandard and faulty, they want the jeepneys drivers to have a long lasting seat cover, because they know how hard it is live as a driver. The interesting thing about the upholstering business in Jaro is that all the upholsterers are friends with each other, the same goes with the jeepney drivers, which creates a kind community of drivers, upholsterers, and mechanics. A community that is neatly sewn together like the intricate patterns and styles in the jeepney’s seat cover.

Artists’ Locations:

RJ Upholstery Shop

Ramon Japitana

Lopez Jaena St., Jaro, Iloilo City

Roger’s Upholstery Shop

Roger Garino, Michael Perez

Lopez Jaena St., Jaro, Iloilo City

Chito Upholstery

Brgy. Sambag, Jaro, Iloilo City

Reference:

Otsuka, K., Kikuchi, M., and Hayami, Y. (January 1986). Community and Market in Contract Choice: The Jeepney in the Philippines. Economic Development and Cultural Change. 34 (2): 279–298

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