Embracing Your Heritage: Jeff Rustia

By , on June 12, 2015


Jeff Rustia, founder and executive director of Toronto Men's Fashion Week (Photo by Jefre Nicholls, used with permission)
Jeff Rustia, founder and executive director of Toronto Men’s Fashion Week (Photo by Jefre Nicholls, used with permission)

A World Atlas book opened to show the map of Canada started young Jeff Rustia’s love affair with the Great White North.

Born to Filipino couple Melinda and Armando Rustia from Bacolod City, Jeff and his brother Mike moved a lot when they were kids. Their father, then an expatriate working for a multinational company, was stationed to various Asian countries as part of his job. But Jeff will never forget that fateful evening in Bangkok when his father brought out a map and pointed to Canada.

“I’ll never forget that day in Bangkok, when my father came home and gathered the entire family around the dining table,” Jeff shared. “He opened a giant World Atlas book and pointed at Canada, and asked all of us what we thought about living there. My brother Mike and I asked if there was snow, and upon his resounding yes, we all screamed for joy and happily agreed to move there.”

The Rustia family officially immigrated to Canada in July 1982 and the brothers grew up in Toronto.

“And the rest, as they would say, is history,” Jeff said.

And now, he is graciously sharing that history with the Philippine Canadian Inquirer.

Life in Canada
By having an expat as a dad, Jeff and the rest of their family have lived in many Asian countries, including Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand. But for Jeff, Canada was a whole other story.

“Growing up in Toronto has been a wonderful experience for my family and I,” he started.

“We arrived in 1982 when we were just young kids, but it was a very exciting time for new immigrants and for Canada, with the establishment of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” he said, even sharing his fondness of former Prime Minister Trudeau and his “vision and legacy of a multicultural Canada.”

“I’m proud to be a child of Trudeauism,” he pointed out.

“I have always felt very much a part of the rich diverse Canadian mosaic and from an early age, was encouraged to embrace being Canadian and also loving my Filipino heritage. For this reason, I am truly proud to be Filipino Canadian,” Jeff said.

He also expressed great appreciation for the country that he has called home for over 35 years. A home that has given him and his family greater opportunities than he imagined.

“Canada is truly a leader in world human rights, diversity and multiculturalism,” he said.

“The health care system is bar none in the world,” he added. “The education system is first class. I’m proud to be a graduate of the University of Toronto.”

He also said that unlike many immigrants, he loved winter in Canada.

He explained, “I know many people complain about the cold weather, and the very long winter months, but I have always loved this country from the very beginning, especially the snow!”

A Pinoy through and through
“I get very nostalgic when I think about the Philippines,” Jeff shared, thinking of the years he spent as a child in Manila, Cebu, and his parents’ hometown of Bacolod.

“Like many Filipinos abroad, little things trigger my homesickness. Like eating mom’s Filipino home cooking or hearing a corny Tagalog joke,” he said.

“So when I’m back in the Philippines, I take every opportunity to soak up all that I can and fully experience everything that I miss: the incredible people, the smiles, the beaches, the churches, the shopping, the culture and most of all, the food!”

Hands down, Jeff loves Filipino food — “from tanglad-stuffed (lemongrass-stuffed) lechon, crispy pata with suka (vinegar), sinugba na bangus (grilled milkfish), Bacolod Chicken Inasal with Garlic rice, ginataang alimango (crabs cooked in coconut milk), La Paz batchoy, pinakbet, kare-kare (peanut stew), halo-halo; to street food like fried fishball and green mangoes with bagoong (fermented shrimp paste).”

Sorry for making you salivate, kababayan.

“In a nutshell, I miss everything about the Philippines,” he said.

But even if he misses authentic Filipino fare when he’s in Canada, Jeff never fails to incorporate his Pinoy roots in his everyday life.

“I proudly wear my Filipino heritage on my sleeve,” he said.

“Everything I have done has always been intrinsically linked to my pride in being Filipino,” he added, thanking his”wonderful parents who instilled in [him] great Filipino family values.”

According to Jeff, he tries his best to promote the Filipino culture and the Philippines itself.

“[During] my university years, I founded FYC (Filipino Youth of Canada), the first umbrella organization for young Filipino-Canadian University students. In fact, my first job in television with Channel [V] (formerly MTV ASIA) was being the Producer of Sigaw Manila, the very first international music video show about the Philippines, broadcasted all over Asia,” he shared.

“My career in television also included launching and creating the on air identities of HBO, Cinemax and Nickelodeon in the Philippines,” he added.

Passion for fashion
Today, Jeff is the executive director and founder of Toronto Men’s Fashion Week or “TOM,” a bi-annual leading fashion event across Toronto, which showcases “the best in menswear design and brands from Canada and around the world.”

TOM is an award-winning men’s fashion week event, earning international recognition from prestigious publications such as GQ, Vogue Italia, WWD, Details, and Forbes Magazine.

Before founding TOM, Jeff started out in the television and entertainment industry. He worked as a producer of various shows, which aired across Canada and Asia, like Channel V’s “Sigaw Manila” and “By Demand,” as well as fashion-themed programs like “Fashion Police.” Jeff even became the host of his own show.

“I eventually became the host of my own fashion program “Club Fashion” on BPM:TV, Canada’s 24 hour Music channel, where I covered fashion events and shows around the world,” he shared.

Jeff’s inclination to fashion led him to organize his own fashion festival to showcase home-grown Filipino talents and products. Today, this festival is known as the award-winning “Canada Philippine Fashion Week,” a fashion event to promote Filipino designers and culture in Toronto. The event’s main sponsors are Philippine Airlines and PLDT.

“Being a proud Filipino-Canadian, I wanted to showcase the talent of the Filipinos on a global scale, but more importantly to open up the economies for fashion, trade and textiles between the two countries,” Jeff explained.

“It was only natural that I fell into producing fashion shows, and I have to thank Canada Philippine Fashion Week for being my first foray into producing week-long runway presentations. Canada Philippine Fashion Week in 2014 won Best New Festival of the Year, awarded by FEO (Festival Events Ontario),” he added.

On loving what you do
No vocation is easy-breezy, but if you find your passion, all the hard work will be worth it.

Such is the truth for Jeff.

“I love my job because it combines all of my passions: Fashion, entertainment, and most importantly philanthropy,” he said.

“My family and I started our own Children’s Foundation named after my late son, Kol, who was diagnosed to live 3 months and survived for 14 years. He is the inspiration and the story behind the Kol Hope Foundation for Children. I am proud to say that all of my initiatives such as Canada Philippine Fashion Week and Toronto Mens’ Fashion week have a charitable element, and play an active role in helping children through Kol Hope.  TOM*s recent donation of $12,500 to the Kol Hope Fund at Sick Kids now brings up the cumulative total to $107,500 CDN or (Php3,870,000 ) since its inception,” he proudly shared.

For anyone who’s still trying to find their passion and their purpose in life, Jeff has a few words of encouragement.

“Always be proud of who you are and where you came from, for it is that pride in your heritage that will lead you to great success. Work Hard, be the best and follow your dreams.”

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Do you know an outstanding member of the Filipino-Canadian community whose story deserves to be told? Nominate the next Filipino-Canadian In Focus. Click here.

  • Tess Cusipag

    Read the NOW article about his Fashion show and Balita.ca. Read all the articles about him as well.