Making Fashion Relevant

By Isabela Blancas

I love fashion. Call me “kikay”. Even as a child, I used to wrap blankets around my body. Envisioning myself as a Korean princess. I would hide inside the cabinet, then perform a dramatic entrance with a flourish. I was such a wannabe princess to the core with my own signature catwalk.

When I reached the age of 13, I thought of  starting  my own social enterprise. And naturally it just had to do with fashion. I established One Closet, a formal wear rental shop in Butuan City. We ask donations of preloved gowns from fashion designers and celebrities, and rent them out to ladies in Butuan for them to experience their “Cinderella” moment. I gladly play the role of the Fairy Godmother. Who knew that the joy fashion gives me could be so contagious? So I thought to myself that perhaps fashion has a greater purpose after all.

Enhancing someone’s hidden beauty and giving them the confidence they need. We’ve dressed up women of all types as well as of all shapes and sizes. It brings me happiness to see so many satisfied clients. I fondly recall the times we lent dresses to teen survivors of abuse and female inmates of the city jail. Their joy was overflowing and a sparkle in their eyes seemed to say, “I finally see the beauty in me.”

And yet One Closet has a deeper motive. Fashion’s depth is much deeper than you think. Through it, we encourage people to share. The donors, they get to clean out their closet and share their preloved items. Our clients, they get to share with the less fortunate because a part of our profit goes to helping marginalized youth in Butuan and Agusan del Norte with their education.

We produced The Resty Lagare Charity Fashion Show in May 2019. Because of this, we were able to donate money to the female teen survivors in Gesu Eucaristico Children’s Inc and the former street boys of Balay Silonganan. My view of fashion as a way to help others became stronger.

While we were preparing for a sequel charity fashion show for this year, Covid 19 struck. Because of the pandemic, our charity event was cancelled and our shop is closed. I could barely fathom the idea that we’d just be sitting ducks waiting for the situation to get better. We were itching to do something during these trying times.

When there was a need for protective personal equipment (PPEs) to protect our frontline doctors and other health workers, One Closet responded. With the help of our network of donors and seamstresses, we donated 837 PPE suits to frontline health workers in Butuan and the Caraga region.

Our PPE making project was replicated in Luzon and other parts of Mindanao. In addition to the PPE suits donated in Butuan and Caraga, we, together with our partner donors and fashion designers, were able to donate an additional of over 4,000 PPE suits. We would joke around saying that our project covered  Bataan to Butuan or Manila to Mindanao. It’s great to think that One Closet and the whole fashion industry was able to help in this time of strife.

The pandemic lingers. Our small business is affected but we fight back no matter what. We still want One Closet and fashion to be relevant.

We have reinvented our business model. We want to continue making women feel good about themselves and make wonderful memories without compromising their health.

Because of social distancing, it’s quite difficult to get customers to rent from us, and so we decided to venture into indoor shoots and intimate parties to push our formal wear. We focus on providing designer gowns or formal wear, and we’ve partnered with experts like Soljin Robles for event styling and catering, Red Epic Production for videography and photography, and Junel Hinayon for hair and make-up.

We urge potential clients to try something cool like renting 18 dresses for a debutante or two or more bridal gowns for a bride.  They become “confidently beautiful” in a safe manner.

With our desire to provide protection to ordinary people in this time of COVID 19, we have ventured into ready-to-wear (RTW) PPEs in collaboration with local designers Johnbert Hubahib and Tine Arabejo Montejo. We made sure that our washable fashion PPEs are made of the right fabric, taffeta with silver back lining, to provide ample protection to people who travel or go around places as part of their work.

But we are not just after their protection, we also want to inspire women with beautiful PPEs. For some of our PPEs, we incorporated  the inaul fabric in the design. The inaul fabric is woven artfully, beautifully by women of Maguindanao. Due to this, we are also able to promote the livelihood and culture of Mindanao during the pandemic.

One Closet has also ventured into church veil making. This idea was brought up by my ninang. Then I read that millennials in the US, particularly in the Mid-West, have re-adopted the tradition of wearing church veils. According to a millennial quoted in the article, “It just kind of resonated with me.” According to the article, wearing a veil made her feel humbled and reverent, enabling her to focus on her prayer.

During the pandemic, it became clear to me that I had to trust God and deepen my faith. I have become more prayerful and when I get to go back to church, I would like to wear a veil as a symbol of my renewed faith.

I worry that people might think I’m a holy wannabe or playing saint, but it’s not like that . It’s something personal. Through fashion, I’m reminded of God’s unconditional love. Perhaps other women share my view. Through fashion, we are given faith, hope and joy.

Fashion can be relevant in many ways.

Photos by Shayla Sanchez and Carlo Dilla

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