Fashion (Paying It) Forward: The Rise of “Responsible Fashion” in the Philippines

By , on September 25, 2013


US Ambassador to the Philippines Harry K. Thomas at "Forward Fashion" held in his home in Forbes Park, Makati on September 17, 2013. Photo from US Embassy Press Release.
US Ambassador to the Philippines Harry K. Thomas at “Forward Fashion” held in his home in Forbes Park, Makati on September 17, 2013. Photo from US Embassy Press Release.

Fashion is often reserved for those who can afford it. Often associated with elegance and extravagance, you would think that a third-world country would have a fashion industry fighting for life, but that’s not the case in the Philippines.

In fact, our fashion industry is blooming and thriving and not just in sales, but in spreading awareness as well. Several clothing and personal care brands have established itself in the market and have successfully shared its advocacy to the public. Most of their patrons celebrate their quality products and championed advocacies as part of “responsible fashion” or fashion with a cause.

Celebrities and public figures also managed to use fashion as a catalyst in bringing social awareness, whether it’s for charity, the environment, or upholding patriotism.

Fashion Show for a Cause

This year, three notable fashion events took place that allowed the public to donate to causes by attending a fashion show.

In 2012, media giant ABS-CBN organized a ‘Metrowear Rocks the Runway’ fashion show for the benefit of the Sagip Kapamilya Fondation. The show featured Kapamilya celebrities like Kim Chiu, Rayver Cruz, and ‘Pinoy Big Brother’ grand winner Slater Young donning creations from the likes of Avel Bacudio, Francis Libiran (who was also featured in ‘America’s Next Top Model’ cycle 18), Louis Claparols, Randy ortiz, John Herrera, JC Buendia, Cary Santiago, Dennis Lustico, Eric delos Santos, Jerome Lorico, Joey Samson, , Jojjie Lloren, Kermit Tesoro, Mak Tumang, Martin Bautista, Roland Alzate, Ronaldo Arnaldo, Veejay Floresca, and Sassa Jimenez.

The Sagip Kapamilya Foundation is known for being at the forefront of disaster relief operations, being a part of Bantay Bata 163, and environmental causes.

In June 2013, former and current Miss Philippines – USA delegates walked the runway wearing creations from Lou Razon Couture and designs of ethereal bridal and evening gowns. The fashion show happened in Los Angeles, California. Razon’s designs exude elegance and sophistication, yet shows bold silhouettes and vibrant colors. The show also became an avenue for other Los Angeles-based Filipino designers to showcase their talents and innovation. The proceeds of the fashion show went to the Ms. Philippines – USA competition and Bagong Kultura Pilipino (BKP) – California.

BKP California is “a non-profit organization driven through the efforts of volunteers, to benefit the poverty-stricken children of the Philippines through literacy initiatives.”

On Tuesday, september 17, the home of US Ambassador Harry K. Thomas in Forbes Park, makati became the center of fashion “glitz, glamour, and green” when they hosted the first-ever eco-fashion show in the country. Dubbed as “a US-Filipino collaboration in eco-fashion and design, corporate social responsibility and sustainable development,” the show aimed to showcase creations from top designers utilizing indigenous materials found in the Philippines.

The show was entitled “Forward Fashion: A September Evening to Remember.” And it was indeed a night to remember because it was as earth-friendly as it is star-studded. It was directed by Aristeo Tengco and featured designs by Dita Sandico-Ong and Paul Cabral.

Personalities from the Ms. Philippines Earth Foundation and fashion industry showed up to participate in the event. Local celebrities like Bb. Pilipinas Universe 2010 Venus Raj, Anne Curtis, Dennis Trillo, Matteo Guidicelli, Daniel Matsunaga, Victor Aliwalas, James Franco, and Fred Payawan strutted their stuff clad in environmentally sustainable designs from Levi’s, Timberland, Lumago, and Rags2Riches.

“The United States is a leader in sustainable development and environmental protection, not just at home, but around the world. Our governments’ cooperation via the Philippine Tropical Forest Conservation Foundation is helping preserve the biodiversity of the Philippines’ forests. And our bilateral Science and Technology Agreement ensures that the best science and technology will be available to meet the challenges of sustainability,” Ambassador Harry Thomas said.

Bb. Pilipinas - Universe 2010 Venus Raj. Photo from US Embassy Press Release.
Bb. Pilipinas – Universe 2010 Venus Raj. Photo from US Embassy Press Release.

He also praised the joint efforts of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Philippine government to develop and promote sustainable fisheries, improve power and energy security, and negate the effects of climate change.

Champions of Causes

The Filipino consumer has always been, and always will be, a champion of affordability. If it fits the budget, it will work. It has to work.

But since the birth of several Philippine brands that launched a patriotic and environmental campaigns, Juan and Juana dela Cruz just can’t seem to get enough of these famous brands with a cause.

Team Manila's minimalistic and patriotic concept is a hit to young Filipinos. Photo from Team Manila Lifestyle Facebook page.
Team Manila’s minimalistic and patriotic concept is a hit to young Filipinos. Photo from Team Manila Lifestyle Facebook page.

Founded in 2001, Team Manila has been the epitome of modern Manila fashion: authentic, comfortable, simple yet loud (in terms of statements). On Team Manila Lifestyle’s Facebook page, they wrote, “Team Manila Lifestyle draws inspiration from the urban lifestyle, culture and imagery of the city of Manila, capital of the Philippines. From graphic interpretations of national icons to silhouettes of odds and ends from everyday life in the city’s streets, Team Manila Lifestyle incorporates anything and everything that exemplifies life in Manila. The shirts, totes, pouches, wallets, bags, limited edition prints, artwork and other lifestyle accessories intend to stand as stylish reminders of the truly unique qualities of what many consider mundane and everyday, elevating all-too familiar lampposts, jeepneys, road signs and beyond, to iconic status.”

Punchdrunk Panda boasts funky designs from local artists. Photo from PDP Tumblr site.
Punchdrunk Panda boasts funky designs from local artists. Photo from PDP Tumblr site.

What started out as a humble online store on now-defunct Multiply, Punchdrunk Panda (PDP) boasts of bold and psychedelic designs, which oddly fits a preppy college freshman or a professional photographer (or a writer like yours truly). On their official Tumblr page, it reads, “With a shared frustration with the lack of affordable, funky, functional laptop sleeve, Jen & Gail combined their powers to design the funkiest, yet most practical laptop sleeves. Today, Punchdrunk Panda continues to grow its pool of artists with each release while finding new products to apply designs onto.” Together with their partners from Muni PH and other burgeoning local artists, PDP aims to “Funkifying the world with passionate fellow Pinoys to create functional graphic designed products & happy events.”

Rags2Riches doesn't just improve your wardrobe, but the quality of life of families in Payatas as well. Photo from R2R's Facebook page.
Rags2Riches doesn’t just improve your wardrobe, but the quality of life of families in Payatas as well. Photo from R2R’s Facebook page.

Another very famous fashion endeavor with a cause is Rags2Riches. It started in 2007 as a way to help out the women of poor communities in Manila. Now, 6 years later, R2R products have sold worldwide and gained popularity even among Hollywood personalities. It has also gained investors from all over the world, like The Rolex Foundation in Switzerland and Liechtenstein Global Trust Venture Philanthropy (LGT VP).

As written on their website, Rags2Riches is a “for-profit social enterprise based in Manila, Philippines, creating eco-ethical fashion and home accessories out of up-cycled scrap cloth, organic materials and indigenous fabric… Rags2Riches’ philosophy stands upon its four bottom lines: People, Profit, Planet and Positive Influence. Rags2Riches Inc. was created to provide these artisans with fair access to the market and the formal economy, as well as with additional skills-based, financial and health training so that they can maximize their career potential and take steps towards long-term financial and personal well-being. R2R integrated a design solution by partnering with well-known influential fashion designers like Rajo Laurel, Amina Aranaz-Alunan, Olivia d’Aboville and Oliver Tolentino turning scrap materials into fashion handbags. After four years, R2R has already trained 800 artisans across 21 communities in the Metro Manila area and continues to expand its social impact and eco-ethical footprint in the country.”

And of course, any fashionable ensemble wouldn’t be complete without make-up.

Human Heart Nature helps alleviate poverty and your natural glow. Photo from HHN's Facebook page.
Human Heart Nature helps alleviate poverty and your natural glow. Photo from HHN’s Facebook page.

Human Heart Nature nailed all three major advocacies: pro-poor, pro-Philippines, and pro-environment. “Gandang Kalikasan, Inc. was the brainchild of Gawad Kalinga volunteers Anna Meloto-Wilk, Dylan Wilk and Camille Meloto who burned with the desire to help uplift the Philippines and the Filipino people from poverty,” as it says on their website. And soon enough, the organic products industry in the Philippines started to boom — thanks to Gandang Kalikasan and Human Heart Nature.

They take pride in bearing all-natural and organic cosmetics and personal care items that’s easy on the budget since 2005. Upon logging in their website, one will read, “Human Heart Nature is, above all, a passionate social enterprise. We are driven by love for the Philippines, the poor, and the environment and loving our families as we provide personal care products that feel as good on your skin as they do in your heart.” And we couldn’t agree more.