FASHION

How young designers can access mentors in the PH fashion industry

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(Left) Feanne is an artist and surface pattern designer specializing in maximalist illustrated pattern design for printed fabric and wallpaper. (Right) HaMu's inventive pieces are grounded by a very humble commitment to pay sewers more. Photos courtesy of PHx FASHION GROUP

Fashion used to be so physical, experienced in pop-ups, pages, photo shoots, and fashion shows. But one Saturday evening in June, veteran designer Jerome Lorico, and Abraham Guardian and Mamuro Oki of independent brand HaMu sat down for that most ubiquitous of formats now: the Zoom webinar.

Part of PHx Fashion Previews, it was organized by young designers crossing over into education and community building, Esme Palaganas and Seph Bagasao, whose first big salvo was a four-day conference in 2019 that aimed to take fledgling Filipino brands to a global level.

Mediated by self-taught fashion photographer Onin Lorente, the conversation bubbled over from art (“the images are inside me,” said Lorico, referring to the sooty stills of Mount Mayon when it exploded, informing his presentation of pleated outerwear achieved by baking abaca textiles) to commerce. It was real talk that would have flowed from tangents in the classroom (Lorico actually taught the two HaMu designers in De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde), hitting the event’s intent on the head: to bring designers in conversation with fashion industry insiders.

HaMu, whose inventive pieces are grounded by a very humble commitment to pay sewers more, emphasized the importance of maintaining spreadsheets for full visibility on the cost of goods (they described having to value-engineer a garment because the costs to produce it were starting to balloon), sustaining demand, and actually selling pieces. Lorico, with a painting like ashfall behind him, concurred: one’s creative ideas are validated by a sale.

Earlier in the week, there were other discussions with a roster that witnessed fashion discourse disperse across print, social and digital: Andrea Ang of creative agency Varsity, L’Officiel Philippines Junior Fashion Editor Yanna Lopez, renowned stylist and contributing Fashion Editor for Preview Andre Chang, Joyce Makitalo of namesake jewelry brand J Makitalo, avant-garde fashion designer Kelvin Morales, accessory designer Neil Felipp, Parsons-trained Jill Lao, Seph Bagasao of environmentally-conscious brand Bagasao and artist and print designer Feanne.

Joseph Bagasao, who worked as an embroidery designer for Josie Natori, reflects on ethical issues within the fashion industry and "always strives towards a meaningful design process." Photo courtesy of PHx FASHION GROUP

The Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions (CITEM) supported the event. Through its executive director Pauline Suaco-Juan, it is championing mentorship through a partnership with Tokyo’s H30 Fashion Bureau and LIT Fashion Consultancy, brought on to help Filipino fashion brands enter the Japanese fashion market.

Suaco-Juan, the long-running editor of Preview Magazine when it was in print, had launched its own prize for young designers. It was she who opened the Zoom webinar with her welcome remarks, not to mention a poise developed from years of being in the front row.

Market specialists Hirohito Suzuki and Jason Lee Coates of H3O Fashion Bureau and Tetta Ortiz-Mattera of LIT Fashion Consultancy served as the mentors of the eight designers who will be going to the three-day showroom exhibition in Lifork Harajuku in Tokyo, Japan this July. Photo courtesy of CITEM

Actively engaging in the discussion was Trickie Lopa, who would from time to time type out “LOVE” in the webinar chat. She advises the PHx Fashion Group.

In the open forum, Lopa asked HaMu, “Your pieces are very one-off, but say, would you be able to produce an order of 12 pieces?” The HaMu designers nodded, yes!

Palaganas wrapped up the Zoom call with key learnings: “Spreadsheets,” she said, with a knowing smile, perhaps thinking of her own experience operating her brand, Basic Movement, at the peak of pop-ups (she had a space in the defunct Soma Stores). “And you can’t do it alone.”

After this, Lopa rallied the speakers and organizers in the background to turn on their cameras for the customary group photo. “You’ll have to bear with us,” she told the audience earnestly. “We haven’t seen each other for a year.”

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With additional reporting from Patricia Villoria