(Last of two parts)
The fashion design sector is easily one of the most courageous industries in the country, ironically, even if it’s not even a full-blown industry, unlike others.As shown in last week’s story, these designers lost no time in pivoting to designing and making protective gear, from face masks to PPE.
Even as a veteran fashion designer believes that this pandemic would kill the struggling fashion design industry, still one cannot ignore the creativity, resourcefulness, and resilience of the designers. And their commitment to hard work.
They are plodding on, even as they hang by a thread, as we wrote. Michael Cinco, who is based in Dubai, continues his production of wedding gowns and other rich evening wear, but even his business has been affected. (See related story on C4.)
But more than that, they are tapping into what should be in the heart of every Filipino: the love of what is made in the Philippines. While Love Local was already a battlecry even before the pandemic—thanks in part to the relentless marketing efforts of major fashion retailers like Bench—this time, this is a focused effort.
Many designers organized themselves into the Philippine Fashion Coalition (PFC), whose goal is to make people #buyFilipino. Another group launched the New Mood Online digital platform to sell Filipino fashion.
Not surprisingly, there’s not a single, unified movement. That is the trait of Philippine fashion—fragmented, disparate—just like other sectors.
PFC’s first move was to ask the congresswomen to wear the Araw brooch in last Monday’s Sona. The brooch is made of deep blue and ivory indigenous fabric representing the Philippine seas, the eight rays of the sun in the Philippine flag.
Groups such as Artefino and Katutubo continue to support artisan communities by tapping digital platforms.
Will people turn to buying Filipino-made clothes and accessories because they are functional, accessible, creative—and because they are Filipino?
It remains to be seen whether this call to buy Filipino could be sustained, and could carry Philippine fashion design through this pandemic. It should, if the fashion movers and shakers see this crisis as an opportunity, and not as the coup de grace to Philippine fashion design.
JC Buendia: Joy in pocket celebrations
I’m more careful now than when it was ECQ, with close friends getting the virus.
I’m probably doing one-tenth of what I did pre-COVID. I’m doing small weddings—couples who decide to push through with their weddings without big receptions. Churches are allowing only 10 people for wedding ceremonies.
I tried making masks and posted a photo of myself wearing it just to get a reaction if I’d join the bandwagon of designer masks. I was so surprised to get lots of pre-orders.
Surely designers will miss doing clothes for the Sona, the ABS-CBN Ball, the Red Charity Gala and other balls this year, but for now, I find joy in pocket celebrations of love.
Dennis Lustico: No sign of going back
Truth be told, I was lost in the first few weeks. Before the epidemic, I was one of the many who were wishing for extended hours or another day in the week so that I could make it to deadlines. I was so caught up running around doing this and that, and suddenly everything stopped.
I have no stay-in staff, so the shop was at a complete standstill until I was able to send for three of them two months later. Slowly we got back to work. But what we do is only a minute fraction of what we were doing pre-COVID. Still I was thankful to see a bit of normalcy back in the shop.
But the silver lining behind all this is knowing pro-active people who have a positive business reaction to what’s been happening.
I was asked to be the creative director for New Mood Online shop, brainchild of Dong Ronquillo, Cathy Binag and Puey Quiñones. It aims to help Filipino designers by making their presence felt online, and making shopping easier, faster and safer. And so we worked on this project for two months, from concept, shoots, logistics and launch. It was a breeze since we have so much time and all the partners involved are passionate about it.
Most of my clients have become friends, some close enough that we would do Zoom meetings whenever we feel like having a party. There’s always a constant exchange of his and hellos, since I think everyone has so much time.
But there’s still no sign of going back to before, no actual parties yet. If there are, my clients would wear what they already have. And so we hope that first we contain this epidemic, and everything else will follow.
Philip Rodriguez: New clients
Cebu is getting better.
We have been doing PPE since the start of the pandemic. We were given bolts of fabric to work on by the Jci Sinulog group because there was a shortage of PPE for front-liners. (We use microfiber, waterproof.)
We felt lucky, too, as we kept our sewers busy, and we priced the PPE all at cost. Now that it has become more accessible, we are focusing on small volume and more on fashionable and personalized PPE. Through Facebook and IG we were able to keep in touch with clients, even new ones. This is how we were able to market our PPE.
We are also in touch with our brides, as everything has been postponed and toned down. We are optimistic and hoping to see them soon.
One is set for October and we are finalizing by August. Very understated compared to the original plan. I have a few workers staying in. The majority have gone back to their provinces. In the second ECQ, we have downsized. Hopefully we will be better in the coming weeks.
Mark Bumgarner: Perfect fitting and home service
My team and I are slowly adjusting to the new normal. Aside from heath protocols in the studio to lessen the risks of infection, I think one of the lessons we have learned is to be more productive and mitigate wastefulness at work. We are a skeleton working force, so productivity of each individual on my team is important.
I have developed a protective wear line, The Armor Project, that consumers need and want. It is something I developed during quarantine; it is the core of our business now.
I think developing products that require less physical contact will be important to the business in months or years to come. For custom-made orders, I have to retrain my team to make perfect fitting clothes in the first fitting. We have also started home service for our brides and other custom-made clients.
Social media has been instrumental in keeping my business afloat. I am able to show my new collections on social media. I do Zoom consultations.
Albert Andrada: We stay connected
This is one of the most challenging times in everyone’s life. Everything changed. This time has taught me a lot of things in life, a life we should always give importance to. I learned to live full of hope, through a stronger faith in God. This situation will bring out the best in us.
We’ve made a lot of changes. Since the start of the pandemic I’ve been doing PPE for different clinics and hospitals, supported by different groups and individuals, including clients. I collaborated with Miss Universe Philippines, Miss Universe Singapore national directors Jonas Gaffud and Valerie Lim, respectively, in teaming up with Dr. Liu Hongjun of the National University of Singapore who invented the nCamM fabric, a nano silver fabric which filters 99 percent of bacteria and viruses. This fabric will be used in our protective masks and different fashionable gear.
I am also making a new off-the-rack collection of simple wedding gowns, dresses which are more affordable. This situation shouldn’t keep us from producing things through our God-gifted abilities.
Everything is done now with just one click of a finger. Believe it or not, what makes us connected to people nowadays is food—one way of expressing the value of each relationship, be it family, friends or clients!
Jun Escario: Rough few months
Like with everyone else, it’s been rough the past few months. Most of our weddings were either cancelled or moved to next year. Even my corporate uniform business, separate from my couture house, has been hit really hard. I’ve been running the business just to have work for the staff, making protective wear for clients, but it’s not enough to pay the high rent.
What keeps me busy is really just finishing my house in Cebu.
Cary Santiago: Things will never be the same
I am still in contact with most of my madams. I’m just happy that through time, they’ve become not just clients but also friends. We continue to reach out to each other, sending messages of hope, kindness and compassion.
While I am based in Cebu, majority of my clients are not from here. I’m used to using messaging apps to connect with them.
The new normal is something we all are not ready for. But I have learned to adapt. Challenging, but we all must prioritize the health and welfare of our families. Things will never be the same, moving forward, but let’s all hope for the best as we continue to face all these head-on.
Oj Hofer: Remain optimistic
Cebu is still on MECQ so I am working with my stay-in staff who were not able to go home before the lockdown. With this skeleton crew, my production output has been cut down to less than half, but that’s no excuse not to stay creative. I choose to remain optimistic and to create designs that are shaped by the current climate.
I myself drape all the patterns of the clothes that i sketch, and my nephew Aga, who lives across from our family compound, comes every afternoon to learn advanced draping, to help me finish the coats and put out my new designs online.
I also joined the Philippine Fashion Coalition, and in last Monday’s Sona, we gained support from women in Congress. I designed a modified baro’t saya to foster an image of optimism, that despite the pandemic and its impact on our economy, we can continue to look dignified and our local fashion industry will continue to thrive, as long as Filipinos support Filipino-made products.