Why this fashion designer likes being distracted

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Bulacan-based fashion entrepreneur Esme Palaganas talks about running a design business amid a pandemic, the joys of “Terrace House,” Spotify, and a good old fashioned dance-off. Photo courtesy of ESME PALAGANAS

Rituals is an interview series which highlights the different ways of boosting productivity.

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — “[The pandemic] gave me a good perspective on the amount of things I can do with just working from home,” says Bulacan-based fashion entrepreneur Esme Palaganas. “Meetings can be emails, and long messages can be short calls.”

The spread of COVID-19 gave rise to the need for protective personal equipment (PPE) and cloth face masks. While these were first produced for medical frontliners with limited supply, private citizens have begun to express the need for these protective clothing to transition out of the enhanced community quarantine. Because current supplies from industrial sources are still scarce, the fashion industry has stepped up to produce PPEs and face masks themselves.

There is no doubt that fashion has become one of our frontliners against this pandemic. For Palaganas, this means that the work doesn’t stop despite limited mobility — it just means changing the way they operate. Her business includes made-to-order, ready-to-wear (RTW), and corporate clothing. Her retail brand, Basic Movement, is currently working closely with other local brands to create cloth face masks for purchase.

“I was supposed to launch something for our bridal clients this August, but that will shift to a different tone after this pandemic,” Palaganas says. “I'm excited, though! Our goal is to help others celebrate life by being part of that process; we'll continue to fulfill that role. For RTW, it has surprisingly been really busier for us compared to before the lockdown. For our corporate clients, we're there to serve them. We extended in providing them safety wear beyond our usual services. The pandemic affected my work process more than actual work; it [prompted my use of] digital tools to make our experience seamless and active even with social distancing.”

Due to the pandemic, Palaganas and her team will have to 'shift to a different tone' in catering to bridal clients. Photo courtesy of ESME PALAGANAS

For Palaganas, the challenge of running a production business is ultimately to empower her staff to work remotely. She realized that she needed to be adaptable: “We [would still be] busy until the end of June, so during the lockdown we had to send our machines to some of our staff's houses to continue work,” she says. “We shouldered their electricity and kept check on what they're doing. Our studio manager thankfully lives near the vicinity, so we are able to still work in the mornings. During the curfew hours, she’s able to continue work at home, as we provided her with a laptop.”

With no clear answer yet on when she can head back to Metro Manila and meet clients, Palaganas says that now is the time to stay in tune to what people need — this, for her, is what will allow her business to keep up with the changing times.

“We have always produced with intention,” she says. “Aside from being aesthetically pleasing, good design is purposeful, long-lasting, and functional. As someone who handles the business, our people are the most important. Without them we won't run and serve our role as a brand; it's always taking care of what they need so they can do their work well, from giving them the right salaries, giving them the right tools and protection, and making flexible adjustments for their working conditions. If they do their work well, we can easily find ways to thrive as a business.”

Though her work has kept her busy, Palaganas says she still gives herself time to stay sane. In an interview with CNN Philippines Life, the fashion designer and entrepreneur talks about the joys of “Terrace House,” Spotify, and a good old fashioned dance-off.

What’s the first thing you do each morning? How does that affect the rest of your day?

Check my email, always! (Laughs) And then the usual check: my socials then the podcasts and YouTube channels that I'm following before I head out to get breakfast. If Bon Appétit or Terrace House uploads a new video, that definitely improves my morning!

What time of day do you feel most productive? Why do you think that works for you?

For anything that's beyond clerical work (like checking with my team, emails, etc.) that requires research and long-form writing, definitely at lunch all the way till late evening. Absorbing heavy material? My brain can only handle that by 11 a.m.

What do you enjoy most about your job, and what do you find most challenging about it?

I wear a lot of hats as someone with a fashion and design business. I love being an entrepreneur. It keeps my mind running and makes my everyday exciting, even with the usual headaches it entails. The thing that I enjoy is that I have the possibility to create value from the quality products that we and our partners make. The constant search and development of products that people might need and want keeps my creativity going. The most challenging thing about it is a designer's block, if there's such a term. As a consultant, I like how I can contribute beyond my business. The most challenging part is that some things are beyond my control.

The website of Basic Movement, Palaganas' retail brand, featuring their original face masks. Photo courtesy of ESME PALAGANAS

How do you deal with distractions?

I give in. (Laughs) During these times, when the line between work and home is a blurred one, I give in to distractions from time to time to keep [myself] sane.

With regard to day-to-day challenges, do you have a ritual that helps you through it?

I play my "4:20 Boogie Down" and "Staying In" playlists on Spotify.

When did you start this ritual? Was there a specific moment that inspired it?

I'm not really a ritual girl. I easily get bored with them, but my Spotify breaks bring me back to my center. So if it's not a Spotify break, it's a random dance break while listening to my playlists with my sister if she's around.

Are you always able to accomplish this ritual? Does it have any bearing on your mood and your productivity?

During these times when we're all bombarded by content online — webinars here, video call there, news on the economy with COVID-19 everywhere — there's gonna be a real screen and data strain for everyone. A good music break without looking at any screen, or reading anything and just purely listening to good music is a good break. Also music brings back a positive human thing back to us, especially with all these social distancing measures. For someone who consumes so much information everyday, a good music break gives me back the joy to move forward and work with a more positive outlook.

Would you recommend this ritual to other people? Why or why not?

Definitely, yes! We usually listen to music while we're doing something (especially now that work can be very attached to us with the work-from-home setup). A pure music break without typing an email or scrolling through our Instagram and Facebook feeds or looking through our screens is something that we should do everyday. A good music break while doing the dishes? That's a good way to forget the stress for a moment — grab your sister and annoy your dad in the process. Find the joy in the little things.

Are there any apps you use for productivity?

My phone calendar never fails.

How do you unwind after a busy day?

Because of the lockdown it's been a different one: watch Simply Nailogical videos (even if I don't do my nails), Christie's & Sotheby's art auctions videos (it amazes me how these things work), bake something from a Bon Appétit recipe. To be honest, it's been Bon Appétit (give me Claire, Brad, Alex, Molly any day), "Terrace House" (Japan soothes my soul), and cooking. And I've mentioned this a couple times, a kitchen dance-off or Broadway-off with my sister from time to time. (Laughs)