Local Fashions Pay Off for Southern Designers

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Fashion earns big money around the world: The global clothing industry is estimated to be worth US $900 billion a year. For many decades, strong American brands have been the desired commodity for those looking to be cool and contemporary. People were willing to pay high premium prices to get the cache of American cool that the brands conveyed.

But the decline in popularity suffered by American brands in recent years has become a boost for local brands. And this is creating a whole new opportunity for canny Southern entrepreneurs. It is being called ‘fashionalism’ or fashion nationalism – a pop culture trend blending patriotism with fashion.

One of fashionalism’s pioneers is Italian-educated Filipino designer Rhett Eala. He is credited with coming up with the snappy name fashionalism, after launching his My Pilipinas clothing line. Its signature logo is the Philippine archipelago on collared shirts and cotton polo shirts. An experienced designer who has worked in Hong Kong and for a major department store, Eala joined Collezione C2 as creative director two years ago.

He started with just three styles sporting the map. But now he has expanded the design to cover almost his entire range of clothing.

“It’s a fun way to show your pride in being Filipino, without a lot of words. Filipinos have today become global citizens,” said Eala.

Eala’s design talent stretches to pop art paintings as well, with an art exhibit called My Pilipinas Series, 18 Filipino pop art paintings that transcend flag-waving notions of nationalism.

But Eala is no parochialist: he is very much inspired by global artists and trends. His work is a blend of foreign concepts and patriotic ideals. Common Filipino iconography gets the high-design treatment, as Eala draws inspiration from Damien Hirst, David Hockney and Andy Warhol. He tries to challenge his customers, taking the complicated and oblique Rorschach Test patterns, and blending them with other designs.

The fashionalist logoed clothing not only sells well domestically, but also amongst the large diaspora of Filipino expatriates around the world.

“Fashionalism has a very positive impact on our business,” said Joey Qua, the Managing Director of Collezione C2. “We’ve always wanted to highlight the ingenuity of Philippine artistry and what it feels like to be proud to be a Filipino.”

“More importantly, we want to make Filipinos proud to wear our brand here and abroad, since the Filipinos of today are more global in nature, we have so many Filipinos who are more exposed globally.”

“We want to make nationalism hip and relevant to today’s generation,” said Eala.

Supporters of fashionalism say it is about restoring pride in the country’s development and achievements, not in stirring up negative xenophobia and other negative aspects of nationalism.

Another group of Manila fashion designers, Team Manila and Analog Soul, are marking the 25th anniversary of the death of Filipino nationalist hero, Ninoy Aquino – who was assassinated at the airport after returning to the Philippines from his self-imposed exile in the United States on August 21, 1983. Their t-shirts include sayings like: “I am Ninoy.”

The clever designers have turned Aquino’s signature old-school eye glass frames into an iconic logo.

“Ever since our humble beginnings as a Design Studio in 2001, we’ve made it a point to celebrate the Philippines and the Filipino people in our designs,” said Team Manila’s chief operating officer, Nico Bacani. “It was only natural that when we established our clothing and apparel line in 2005, the messages would remain the same – positive messages about the country, the culture and the people, be it explicitly or through subtle means in design.”

Underground t-shirt designers had been selling yellow Ninoy t-shirts to the young and trendy urbanites. But it is the professional design flair that has taken the trend to the next level and created an industry in its own right, with the fashionalism branding spreading beyond clothes to coffee mugs and other everyday items.

“We started as a design studio working from our Macs (Macintosh Computers) at home,” said Bacani. “and when we did start selling merchandise, this would be done literally in our garage and obscure spaces throughout the apartment we were renting. We then participated in bazaars, until such time as we raised enough capital and loyal clientele to expand into a stand-alone store.

“So the obstacles we faced were more towards asset capitalization and recruiting people well-versed in the retail industry. We were, however, luckier than most, as the media would frequently feature our products, which was a big boost.”

And Bacani hopes for a big payoff for the Phillippines as a whole.

“We really wouldn’t say there’s anything negative about it, but we would say that it would be quite disappointing if it ended up just being that – wearing the clothes and not living the message. We would be quite pleased if Fashionalism were a trigger, a catalyst for something bigger, such as a more active participation in the development of the country as a whole. And we see that people starting to think and feel proud of being Filipino and representing the Filipino well, whether it be at the workplace here or abroad, or in everyday living around the world.”

As for other fashion designers thinking of going down the fashionalism path, Eala said: “My advice is being honest with your design. Try to design from your heart and your mind. Be inspired with what’s around you. Design for your environment and if you have a chance, travel to places that you haven’t been to. ”

Resources

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.