It was a slow, quiet Saturday morning in Poblacion. I arrived at Commune and was greeted by Esme Palaganas of retail company Basic Movement. The event that day was the first leg of Conversations by Basic Movement Club: a panel discussion led by big names in fashion.
Over coffee and brunch, we sat down with Fashion Design Council of the Philippines (FDCP) president Amina Aranaz-Alunan, Vogue Italia Talents Carl Jan Cruz and Ken Samudio, Proudrace creative director Rik Rasos, and style influencer and model Kim Jones. For a good hour, we discussed the ins and outs of sustaining passion in business and maintaining the integrity of the craft.
When did you begin?
Amina: Like the very, very, very start? You mean the local business? 1999.
Carl: I’m trying to think, mine would be 2014.
Ken: Technically, 2011.
How was the process like turning your brand to what it is today?
Ken: Well for me, back in 2011, all we wanted was to be published in a magazine. Social media was not as relied on. Before, for people to actually take you seriously, you need to be seen on a magazine or on a celebrity, so that’s what we did. We did several editorial pieces. I wasn’t paid. It was all out of my pocket, but I wanted to that to have a long-term effect on my brand. When I launched my actual collection, I was able to ask editors for exposure.
Amina: It began as a family business. It started because my mom has been a manufacturer since I was born. So she was doing manufacturing and exporting, and we made the transition to local because it was really more out of fun. We focused on the local market, while my mom was making bags for every American designer brand that I was aware of. I would go to the factory and I’d see all these brands in my mom’s factory. These were brands that I wear, or I would like to wear. And then every month, we would buy an issue of InStyle, Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, and I’d always see a bag that my mom made featured in the magazine. But it always had another American brand on it.
We did from high-end to low-end. They’re all made here, but nobody even knows that. My siblings and I started out selling export overruns in bazaars. At that time, the native style, you’d think it’s a baduy souvenir item. Colonial mentality is still around, but it was really evident back then. There was nothing about wearing local. But you know, we started selling it, and we saw that people are actually interested in these native straw bags. So we made our own and sold them in Christmas bazaars in Manila Polo Club, Peninsula Hotel, and Makati Sports Club for six straight years.
At that time, it was really my mom running the show. It was her business. She designed. And then I finally I went to study in Instituto Marangoni for one year for accessories design before I went back to conceptualize our whole company. We then opened our first shop in City Golf Plaza in 2004. After that, we got calls from Rockwell, Ayala, and Rustans. That’s how we shifted from bazaar to retail.
How about you, Rik? When did Proudrace begin?
Rik: We started around 2009, but it was just t-shirts. We were selling to friends only. Then, around 2010, we decided to produce more from deconstructed shirts. We did a lookbook, which Love magazine did a story on it. After the article came out, a store in Singapore picked up the whole collection. We got lucky that it got sold out within a few weeks. Plus, it was the time when Singapore was into independent designers. They had no idea that we were Filipino. When we started, nobody thought it was Filipino. Even when we were selling in Singapore, we had to live there for a month. We did the press, we did TV shows. It was our biggest stint starting that time.
So it took two years for it to be recognized?
Rik: Yeah, actually it was 2006 when we were doing t-shirts. Then around 2009-2010 we started making the collection, and then that’s when we started selling.
My sickness is that I don’t ever stop thinking of new things to do. It never ends for me, but it doesn’t feel that I’m not successful yet. – Amina Aranaz
CJ, your turn. You were always passionate with fashion from what I’ve heard. You childhood friend (NBHD Photographer) Renzo Navarro mentioned that you used to play volleyball–in Gucci shoes!
CJ: Hey, I got those shoes in Las Vegas at 70 off. Anyway, my brand was just a concept that I’ve always wanted to do. It began in 2013, my last year in university. Going to design school, we were always open to the idea that you can go be employed somewhere, or you can do your own thing. Not even do fashion. I guess that’s how our tutors would always condition us. I have friends who are like PR managers for Ashley Williams. It’s good because we all know the whole process of the ins and outs. When you’re young, you’re so hungry for doing fashion design and you just want to do your own thing. I guess the point where I realized that I want to do it was when I was doing my job interviews at 2013. I had this void feeling that I wanted to make something on my own. And since my final year project led me to developing our own textiles, forming a modest studio, we produced everything in-house. I felt that I wanted to continue that, but at the same time, being 21 then, it was hard to walk away from all of these other job opportunities.
Where did you work before?
CJ: Well I was an intern at Celine, and then there was the opportunity to work for other big designer brands. In these moments, I could be sleeping in Europe, and have a cappuccino the next morning in, I don’t know, my Gucci shoes. But I get the sense of fulfillment of doing something on my own, and that’s how it started. Even the business side, it came from a design point of view. I’m only going to do this if I’m going to design how I want my business to run, on my own terms. And if it doesn’t work out, the ultimatum was that at 25—which I am now—if it’s not working out, then I can just go back to employment. I can move back, or apply elsewhere. But I guess I started my brand at the cusp of the transition of–like Amina and Ken were saying–when the print was at its peak.
And then you had a social media boom?
CJ: It’s become kind of like that. I’m not going to deny how technology has really changed the game. But then it’s not always good, not always bad. It’s becoming more sophisticated in a sense that I’m learning how to manage it. You know, before, it was so crass to use a pager or a cellphone. How unromantic! But now, emails are so personal, like text messages. I would get Sarah Andelman’s email through Instagram, Sarah Moore’s email through Instagram.
Amina: I remember before, when you had to interview someone, you had to like hunt down their number and then call them. But now, you just slide in.
For me, success is really more of an asymptote. It’s more of a process as opposed to an end-goal. – Kim Jones
CJ: It kind of became that, but geographically, it really helps. I really like being in Manila, I don’t know if you guys share the same sentiment. It’s kind of nice how I don’t feel the need to always be on, especially in this industry, when you’re there trying to do it, it just feels like you’re wired.
Amina: You mean online?
CJ: No, like you’re on. Sometimes you just lose the essence of what you really want to do, which is to make clothes and create things. We have these conversations from a personal point of view. Even the simplest thing, like, wanting to cook Adobo. It just revolves around those conversations. Any kind of balance is from the technology we have. So that’s how it’s working out, the business is almost three years in. But I wouldn’t say officially. We didn’t really go into it as a business until a year and a half. I treated all of the seed money I was able to put in. It was more of like R&D funding; it could go to waste or it could have its fruitions. Now, it’s kind of at that cusp, like, it’s kind of this very moment that we really live into, it’s almost interesting how I could differentiate that idealism of when I was young. When you really like something, you’re so amazed, but you don’t really know how it’s done, how it’s made, to being on the other side of the corner to actually doing it, without being caught up with the idea that you’re overwhelmed. You just got to seize that moment. That’s your reality, you just got to live it. And the turnover of things is quicker now, more than the past few years.
Now it’s just more fast-paced?
CJ: Yeah, but I feel at the same time that people are being more discerning.
We were just talking earlier about how important it is to have a business degree.
Amina: Me, 100 percent. I think it’s very essential.
Ken: Yeah, I took up business, I didn’t take up fashion. It’s secondary for me. It helped me a lot. I can apply what I’ve learned in school, but I don’t know, parang for me it’s still gut feel. That’s the most important thing talaga, and dumb luck–combined with how to work your business.
My mom did tell me, it’s boring if you’re just always ready for something. There’s no thrill. – CJ Cruz
CJ: I think what’s important along the process is knowing how small or big you want to be. It’s so interesting because I have all these brands that I admire that are my heroes still. They’ve existed for 15 to 10 years. Do you really want to venture out? It really depends. That’s where the realization of what a brand is, if it’s what you really want to do. At the end of the day, we’re all just human, and our point of views are all very different. I come from a modest and practical background. Whatever success, if you’re not happy, if you don’t feel content, it kind of works hand-in-hand with your career and your personal life.
You mentioned something about being content. How do you define success, and do you think you’ve achieve it?
Amina: I’ve always felt successful in every little thing. My sickness is that I don’t ever stop thinking of new things to do. It never ends for me, but it doesn’t feel that I’m not successful yet. I feel that I’m successful in my own way, my own terms.
So just because you don’t stop thinking or working, it doesn’t mean you’re not successful? It’s not about the end of the road.
Amina: No. For me, there’s always more to do. I’ve always been a big dreamer. It’s not financial, really, it’s more of big ideas. When I was studying in Milan, it’s kind of absurd to think: Why can’t Manila be like this? Why can’t the Philippine fashion industry be at par with the fashion capital? And that was like a question that came up. This was back in 2003. I remember I was working at a magazine, that was my first job. When I came back from fashion school, I wrote an article about putting Manila on the map and making it a fashion capital. So, that’s what I mean by dreaming big. It’s not about my brand only, it’s not about me. This whole thing led to me opening SoFa. Success is not one thing. It’s continuous.
CJ: I would think that small successes proves that what you’ve always wanted in your head and it could actually happen. You could never quite predict what it is, right? It’s just this feeling, and it becomes realized, it’s something that you don’t even think about or see coming.
Amina: I believe in the whole power of positivity, the power of thought, the law of attraction.
Ken: That’s true, because when I was working as a professor, a biologist, my sister would buy magazines and I would read everything, and I would say, “One of these days, I’ll be here.” I say that a lot of times, and then it finally became true.
Amina: In everything in my life, I dreamt it. I knew it was coming. I always say it’s so surreal that this is my reality because it’s something that I dreamt and worked for.
CJ: I think it’s also because of that eagerness of wanting it no matter what comes your way. You want to go over that and accomplish it, or else you won’t really find out. I subscribe to that saying that if you really want something, you should just stop waiting for it; you should do it. If you don’t get it, then you’re just back to the same place that you are. And if you get it, you deserved it cause you went for it. I mean, that’s just how life is.
It’s not about taking up a business degree and thinking that it doesn’t matter if you even went to business school, but if you want to do it…
Ken: I think you’ll figure it out along the way.
Amina: Yeah, don’t feel ill-equipped because you lack certain resources.
CJ: My mom did tell me, it’s boring if you’re just always ready for something. There’s no thrill.
Amina: Don’t wait until you’re ready. People get scared all the time that they can’t do something, but you know, just do it.
Ken: I think that’s what separates artists from creative persons. Because I think designers that have business sense like most of the designers here have this “let’s do it” mentality. I mean, dive headfirst. Take the risk. There are many good designers who weren’t able to advance their work because they were too afraid to spend money, or too afraid to fail
Like it started to be about money than art.
CJ: Yeah, going into it, it’s hard to grasp the idea of success. When you go into it, before it even happens, you’re even ready for the worst.
My sister would buy magazines and I would read everything, and I would say, “One of these days, I’ll be here.” I say that a lot of times, and then it finally became true. – Ken Samudio
Amina: And the thing is, you do it just because it’s really something you love, whether you fail or succeed, you just want to do it.
CJ: I’m just happy I did it.
Ken: My mom told me her definition of success is doing what you love and earning from it.
Rik, you said it probably started booming when Love featured you guys. Was that success for you?
Rik: I don’t know, not really. It’s like we just keep working and we don’t expect anything. Just continue working and as long as you can pay your store, you can pay your staff, I think that’s success for me. Sustain your business. Grow your business slowly. I get happy with small triumphs for the brand. I didn’t expect to be on Vogue, that’s the last thing that we were expecting, to be part of that list. We’re a streetwear brand. We weren’t expecting them to really pay attention to us. Small triumphs are what make us happy. That’s all we want.
Amina: Small triumph ba yun? Big triumph yun!
Rik: I don’t know, it’s just the right time. It’s not going to affect you as a person, it’s not going to affect how you treat the people around you.
Ken: In my experience it will help your business. People will call you and you will be the first designers in line that they would contact in case they needed someone or a brand that would be a perfect fit for a collaboration. When I did a collaboration with Swarovski, they thought I was a perfect brand because I was doing beads and embroidery. So in a way, it will, hopefully not affect you or make your head grow. On a business side of things, it will help you build your network and get opportunities. In 2014, I was unknown in Asia. All of the sudden, I was in a party with all these people that I just see in magazines. They invited me to go and that’s where I got clients. And, of course, being stamped with Vogue gives you an edge.
They had no idea that we were Filipino. When we started, nobody thought it was Filipino. – Rik Rasos
Kim, would you consider yourself successful now?
Kim: I think it’s a question that we get asked a lot as well. For me, success is really more of an asymptote. It’s more of a process as opposed to an end-goal. It’s obscure in a way where I’m always working toward something but it’s always going to evolve. Who I am five years ago would never have this idea now: getting to launch my business, collaborating with other designers. I mean, that’s a huge success for me in itself. But I think it’s more of a series of micro-moments. Once you build them, you create an idea of what success might be for you. I think that’s more attainable for me as opposed of thinking of it as a solid end goal.
It’s about celebrating each one.
Kim: Yes. Looking back at the last 7 years of my life, there’s no one defining moment. There’s no one decision where I reached the crossroads and my life changed. I think it’s really a series of micro-moments and it’s true because, you know, success doesn’t happen overnight. It’s the smaller decisions that lead to enabling me to move forward to whatever I choose to do.
Photography by JP Talapian
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