Every year, hundreds of students graduate with degrees in fashion design. While many will go on to occupy various positions within the industry, some won’t even end up pursuing fashion at all, which leaves only a handful of actual designers to put up a line bearing their name.
Putting up your own label isn’t without its own set of challenges. The most seasoned pros will tell you to work for someone more established first, but even if you do that, the odds are still stacked against you when it comes to making it in the local industry. The question of sustainability, both in an environmental and business sense, is often a point of contention in the mind of the Internet-born designer.
The first complaint you will hear out of most designers’ mouths is that the local textile industry is flat-out non-existent. Everything is imported from neighboring countries. This provides no space for innovation on the textile front, leaving very little wiggle room within the design process. Choices are limited to the surplus of other fashion capitals. The option to create your own textiles is often how foreign fashion houses get their edge —you can only manipulate a pre-existing fabric so much. Even when you do find a special fabric, it either comes in such an obscure quantity, or you can’t order the same exact one again should you need it to fulfill your orders.
A lot can be said about the creativity of Filipino designers when it comes to working with available fabrics, in that there is still so much that our minds can conjure up, even when boxed in. But the freedom that comes with having control over the entire design process —from creating the textile all the way to the finishing of the garment—is an edge that we’re clearly missing out on. The Philippine Textile Research Institute, an actual government agency dedicated to fabrics, conducts research and development on textiles, but they don’t have any power to produce on a scale that can accommodate the needs of designers.
This also brings up the question of maintaining the environment on the fashion front. If there are enough fabrics from the big European houses to make it to our shores, what does that say about the sustainability of the fashion industry at large? There are a number of efforts that try to address this problem, but nothing that creates a big enough impact to counter the entire industry’s waste. The PTRI has expressed interest in building their competency in this area as a response to the alarming amount of waste, but even that is an uphill battle. According to them, there are three routes to recycling textile materials: repurposing old fabrics into new products; physical transformation or grinding down the fabrics down to their fibers to be spun anew; and blending fibers into non-woven fabrics to be purposed as filling or insulation material, a method that’s popular in synthetic fibers like polyester.
But here’s the real talk: how many young designers are thinking about sustainability in the environmental sense when they’re too busy trying to break into the industry? The PTRI says that in the country, there are no companies that utilize the second and third routes to recycling fabrics; the first is commonly used by the likes of Rags to Riches to fashion bags from upcycled fabrics. Lulu-Tan Gan is an example of using little to no electricity in her production, but that’s only because she produces knits that require the use of a handloom. Unless your product is rooted in this ideology, this aspect of sustainability is only second to the effort of trying to make it in an industry that is already still struggling to make its own mark on the global stage.
A lot has been said about the state of local fashion, and what we can and should do to uplift the local industry. #Supportlocal needs to be much more than just a hashtag in order for fashion design to become an exciting and viable enterprise for young people, because let’s face it: creating clothes is hard, grueling work. The glamor dissipates quickly once you get to sewing, and more often than not, it is rewarded with nothing more than a social media shout-out, and in extreme cases, damaged or missing clothes.
Without the right tools, supply chain, and infrastructure, the local industry is still a long way from getting a hold of truly great fashion. How encouraging is that?