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Looking Back to Humble Beginnings

While writing this, I am in the middle of a roller coaster of emotions since my biggest fashion show so far is already TOMORROW! A lot has happened the past few weeks including being frustrated about my collection and encountering people who could break your morale. The latter triggered an internalization. Entering the fashion industry, I am very much aware that there will be a lot of drama and there are people who will make you feel like you don't belong in this industry...which I don't get because everyone starts from a humble beginning. So I don't get the point of crab mentality. Why not encourage everyone to thrive?

Anyway, I realized I'm almost on the way to a rant blog but that is not the point of this entry. Because speaking of humble beginnings, I would like to share to you how I came to this point where I chose to stay in the very risky and costly world of fashion knowing I'm a graduate of business administration.

I think it traces back to when I was a kid. We are a family of musicians and artists. We all know how to sing, play the piano, and draw well, but I guess among everyone, I have the craziest mind. Our house tends to be really messy because of all my arts and crafts and drawings and etc. I just love creating, drawing and inventing things, and Art Attack was my favorite show. I was vocal about my dream of being a painter some day and take Fine Arts as my course, but because of life if in the Philippines, my parents encouraged me to take the practical routes. My options were being a doctor, engineer, businesswoman, accountant etc. In school, I was good in Math, so I considered taking accountancy and business. But even so, I would always have my extra curricular in either singing, piano, theatre acting, or visual arts. I also discovered I could do graphic and web design and photography. And when we transferred to Manila (I was from Albay, btw), I was exposed to the city life and became fascinated with nice clothes. My first idol was Tricia Gosingtian. I loved her poofy skirts and short dresses, her floral pieces, boho tops, curly hair. She was my first fashion inspiration, hence I got her style.

There was a period in our family where a lot of drama happened which led my parents to be extra protective with me. They transferred me to an all-girl school. There was just one absurd part: they were so worried about me starting to dress up well. They feel like I'm doing it for the boys, but for me, I was just a girl who was fascinated in fashion. I wasn't allowed to buy clothes online. Good thing I entered the University of the Philippines which has a generally liberal culture. It encouraged me to be more independent of my decisions and go for what I want to do as long as it doesn't harm anybody. So like what I always tell my audience when I deliver a talk, here's that one strong sentence that started it all:

"If I can't have my own clothes, then I'll make my own clothes!"

And VOILA: a fashion designer was born! I opened my first brand Girl After Class in 2012. So as you can see, my first track was retail. And because I got so focused on my passion, guess what: I got kicked out of my accounting course and my world felt like crashing because I know I'll be a big disappointment to my family. Eventually I got over it and continued studying business instead since it's more related to the track I was heading. I originally wanted to be a fashion retail entrepreneur.

BTS of a shoot for Girl After Class

For some reason, a friend referred to me the Solstice: the First UP ACTS Fashion Competition. A first I was hesitant because I had no formal background in fashion design. I was just a newbie RTW designer, but she was able to convince me. Little did I know that I will be the champion of the competition for my "Flora" collection which came from my fascination with flowers. After the show, one of the judges Allen Castillo booked me for my first fashion show. It was ecstatic! I was the youngest, had the least experience, yet I was there. I felt so shy but I went on. I became a consistent featured designer for his modeling agency.

Flora Collection

My first fashion show

The university also trained us to have more social awareness, so I thought of turning my brand into something more meaningful. So ONLY MNL was born in 2015: a clothing line/fashion magazine that served as a platform for young fashion artists and brands to promote their craft and products. I believed so much in Philippine fashion, of how designers, sewers, stylists and etc are very creative, have attention to detail, and how they put so much heart in their craft. ONLY MNL was doing good and people admired the cause of the brand. It felt rewarding helping other people and I really wanted to make the brand big so I could continue the cause. So alongside my business studies, I also had social studies and tourism classes that exposed us to field trips and immersions. This made me love Philippine culture especially indigenous cultures that stood the test of time despite years of colonization and modernization. Oh how I love UP!

ONLY MNL Clothing

Igorots in Banaue

I also took clothing technology electives and ultimately took fashion school after college. I finally learned how to make well-constructed garments and had more knowledge on design principles. I started having my clients for custom clothes. Graduation dresses were my first creations, then a prom dress. My career was doing well and I had no plans to enter the corporate world anymore.

My first evening wear client

But came 2016, when another drama happened that I was forced to find my first job and leave fashion school and close my business. Here's is where my anxiety started. I was already invested in fulfilling my dream, so redirecting was a big heartbreak. I tried my best to accept the corporate life. I was exposed to the unhealthy lifestyle of marketing agencies where in we stay up to early morning just to meet client deadlines. I transferred to a fashion company, hoping that at least being close to fashion would make up for the lost dream. I was thinking, "maybe after 5 or 10 years, I could start all over again".

My anxiety developed into depression early 2018. I just wanted to die. Even if I worked so hard in the company, I felt unappreciated. The job was not fulfilling me and even if I wanted to leave, I can't because I had to work. Because I can't go back to fashion school anymore. 2 years of waking up demotivated, feeling worthless and empty. Even the most encouraging words could make me feel better. All I wanted was for my existence to end. Even if I traveled often. Even if I drink. Even if I eat a lot. Nothing helped.

One day, I had a catch-up with two good friends Jeffrey and Vianca who are pursuing their dreams in the world of the fashion. I was so envious that they could follow their passion despite all the risks. I asked them "How can you survive? Without a stable job? How can you stay so happy and worry-free?" I got one simple answer from them: "Because of Him." 3 words brought me buckets of tears that I needed to let out in the past 2 years. We also talked about purpose. In our faith, we believe that to honor God, one must follow the purpose that He has given us. And purpose should keep you running towards Him. I realized that the past 2 years, I lost my faith in Him. I talked to God that night and I asked, "God, what is my purpose?" He made me remember my humble beginnings as a fashion designer. He made me remember the good cause I did before.

I took the risk. I resigned from my job even if I was already the marketing head of a really popular local brand. And from then on, I felt better. I explained to my mother that I already did my best to try to love the corporate world and she saw how it affected my mental health. She gave me her full support. I jumped in to a big pool of uncertainty where I had no regular pay. I honestly still don't know what to do next, but I just trusted my life in the hands of God.

One night, I got a message from the origanizer of Philippine Fashion Gala, Mike Tagle. I almost forgot that before, I messaged the page of the show and told them "I wish someday, I could show my creations in your show.". It was already months that have passed, but Sir Mike took note of it. The moment I got the invite, I drew a 10 piece collection that I always wanted to make: a collection made out of Philippine textiles. I had no idea what the theme of the show this year was, but I just drew the collection. When I met with Sir Mike, he revealed the theme to me... LOKAL: Made in the Philippines. Indeed, the stars aligned for me.

Next problem: where will I get my funds? One day, I made a casual visit to my former employer. I was actually hiding from the big boss. I just wanted to see my old friends, but she found out I was there and called me. I was so nervous and wondering what was it about. To my surprise, she offered me a home-based job: a graphic designer and copywriter! Again, the stars aligned!

I still needed more funds to go by, so I posted my couture creations in UP's Facebook group. I was surprised of how it was well-accepted. Hundreds of likes, comments, personal messages. I was able to close deals for graduation dresses, bridesmaid and wedding for 2019.

Doing the collection was no easy. I sourced the fabric from Sagada (I'll share more on my next entry). My silhouettes were also more complicated and fabrics were more expensive. It was also a challenge that I had to travel from Batangas to Manila to transport the fabrics every week. And as I write this, I'm doing water therapy because I got sick because of exhaustion and sleepless nights!

And now, I am just waiting for my comeback show! I can't be more thankful. I have already conquered my fears and depression. I still get anxiety attacks once in a while but at least now, I know how to fight it. To be honest, I am also thankful of the redirection. My downfall was humbling and made me love the craft even more! I am still in the early phase of my career and I know I still have a loooooong way to go, but everyone starts small. This is my dream. For the love of fashion, of Philippine culture, of art, for God. <3

In my next blog, I will be sharing the story behind my 2018 collection so stay tuned!


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