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The Next Trend: The Future of Philippine Fashion According To These Industry Experts

In the wake of Covid-19, here’s what some of the most influential names in Philippine fashion are expecting to see from consumers and designers. Rajo Laurel, Pam Quińones, Zalora and more weigh in.

As the coronavirus continues to affect lives across the globe, no industry is immune to its impact, including fashion. In a sector that has long been associated with luxury and even frivolity, the new focus is now survival. Here in the Philippines especially, fashion’s survival goes beyond making sure that businesses continue to stay afloat—but more literally, has come to be about maintaining life. Local designers, stylists, brands, and consumers are shifting their efforts to ensure the health, safety, and sustenance of the community. 

We see this in the short term response of the industry to the pandemic. Designers like Rajo Laurel and Patty Ang are using their ateliers to make personal protective equipment (PPE) to meet the shortage of supplies for health workers, while others, such as stylist Pam Quinoñes and her group at Fashion for Others have come together to raise funds for creating and dispatching PPE to frontliners, as well as buying and distributing food packs to communities in need.

But though PPE-making will someday ebb, this shift in priorities is not about to go “back to normal” once the worst of the crisis is over. While everyone in Philippine fashion is reeling from the unprecedented disruption to business and life that the pandemic has caused, many are using this time to reflect on what matters and what needs to change. Here’s what industry experts expect from local fashion in the wake of Covid-19.

Slowing down

The slowdown, or in some cases, complete halt, of local fashion production certainly has wide-ranging ramifications on individual livelihoods and the local economy as a whole. However, industry leaders are noting a few silver linings as a result of this disruption. Roxanne Farillas, founder of local fashion brand Plains & Prints, has described this “gift of time” as an opportunity to “reset...not just [for] the fashion retail industry, but for the whole world.” To her, this experience has made her realize “the changes that need to be done to contribute to the greater good.”

Among these changes are what designer Rajo Laurel describes as a move away from fast fashion. In the past, the designer notes, consumers and producers alike were immersed in what he calls the “now now now” culture: addressing the immediate demands of customers by quickly producing pieces that reflect fashion’s current trends—then quickly moving on to the next thing. He regrets being part of this of-the-moment culture, admitting that he would send pieces to clients to wear once for social media, and then never again. The industry’s slowdown, Rajo says, is an opportunity to breakout of this thinking: “We can now say, ‘Wait, we want to do this right.’”

Fashion stylist Pam Quinoñes is hopeful that the slowdown and subsequent time of reflection is going to encourage innovation in the industry. “I’m very hopeful that new, creative ideas will come out of this,” she says, pointing out that, faced with the repercussions of an ailing economy and environment, the industry will have no choice but to think outside the box when it comes to meaningful consumption and production. 


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Leaning on digital technology

One way the local fashion industry must innovate itself is to, as Pam says, “embrace its synergy with tech to be able to adapt to a world of less contact.” This means adapting to the digital marketplace.

Paulo Campos, the Co-Founder and Managing Director of online shopping platform Zalora, predicts that retailers will “continue to sell their products on our online platform even with the closure of their brick-and-mortar stores.” At the same time, consumers will flock to these sites in an attempt to maintain low contact while shopping. For its part, Zalora is equipping its fulfilment centers with their own “innovative technologies, which help our operations run at high order to effectively deliver on consumer demand.”

Given the equalizing nature of online retail, as well as the pandemic’s effect on the global supply chain, Paulo also foresees “a huge opportunity for local designers and suppliers to maximize the resurgence of support for locally sourced goods and products” as shoppers look to buy items that are already in the Philippines. 


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Indulging in comfort

With safety on their mind, consumers are expected to be spending more time at home. Because of this, Patty expects a trend towards “comfort clothing with a bit of style.” Cris Aldeguer-Roque, the CEO of Kamiseta, agrees with this. Because people will be opting for intimate gatherings rather than large or public parties, Cris foresees a skew towards “more casual, comfortable, and versatile clothes,” which are also “timeless and affordable,” such as what her brand offers. Meanwhile, citing 2018 runway collections such as the hazmat-inspired lines of Margiela and Prada, and the post-apocalyptic looks of Yeezy, former Metro Editor-in-Chief Sarah Meier declares that “the fashion industry is exactly two years ahead of the rest of the if we’re headed toward a trend, I put my money on something that looks like futuristic athleisure.”

Focusing on sustainability

Sarah predicts local fashion to skew more towards sustainability. The necessary move towards it would require the fashion industry to “hold a deeper reverence for ethically sourced fabrics,” she says.

Part of sourcing materials responsibly means having a focus on locally made products. Roxanne says that her brand, Plains & Prints, which is already 90% locally produced, is rising to the challenge of hyper-localization not only for the environment’s and economy’s sake, but also for the Filipino consumers to continue having access to “high-quality products at the best valued price.” 

Another way to drive sustainability in the fashion industry, according to Sarah, is by “testing out the rented-closet model” in order to maximize the wearability of a particular garment without the carbon footprint of mass production. “If we can get bigger brands to get onboard and consider affordable subscriptions,” she says, “we could really start making progress in flattening the hyper-consumerism curve.”

Stylist Bea Constantino builds on this idea of sustainability by calling for “fashion brands to invest in machinery to allow the circular cycle of fashion to flow effectively.” Meaning that a change in where, how, and what materials are sourced is not enough; the industry must also change the way it produces and distributes the clothes.


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Redefining luxury

As they look to the sustainability-focused future of fashion, many industry leaders expect there to be a change in the definition of luxury. Digital creator Nicole Andersson predicts that shoppers will be “more wary about luxury spending,” and opting for “more lasting pieces than trendier ones.” Kai Lim of curated designer boutique Cura V reflects this by saying that post-quarantine “luxury will be centered on celebrating life—choosing essentials that truly bring joy.”

Meanwhile, Bea believes that luxury will be about the “time [it takes] for a certain product to be finished or [for] certain materials to be sustainably sourced.” Moreover, Sarah believes “luxury [brands] will be humbled and looking to brands like Northface, Columbia, Patagonia, Levi’s, and Dickies to learn from their product durability.” Patty agrees, saying “People are going to be cautious about spending on the high end, and will be looking for something they can wear again and again.” Likewise, Rajo predicts a move towards more intimate relationships with his clients as he creates personalized items that are “really, really special”—distilling his concern into one question: “How do we make sure what we create lasts longer?”


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Embracing the human value of fashion

While, across the board, fashion industry leaders acknowledge that the most pressing need at this time is for the world to survive the current public health crisis, none of them are jumping ship to other industries. Although it is not the same as food or medicine, we see from the way the industry has responded to the shortage of PPE in the healthcare system, that clothing—and the people who make it—is essential.

Beyond its life-sustaining quality, however, fashion continues to hold inimitable value for many. Rajo, who was quarantined in his Batangas home with four pairs of shorts and five shirts, admits to having spritzed cologne on himself before sitting down for a Zoom interview. “Amidst all the chaos, you need to give yourself certain luxuries that help you function," he says. “We need to cultivate rituals in order to feel human.”

Bea, on the other hand, sees the value of fashion as being indicative of a society’s pulse. “Clothes are essential to human living,” she says, “but fashion is part of the blueprint that makes a culture.”

Although fashion can and certainly has been a celebration of excess, it is, at its core, a personal expression unique to being human. While the industry does indeed need to tighten its belt (Rajo is thinking of reducing his thrice yearly release of new collections to just once a year; Patty is working with donated threads and other materials), the devastating impact of Covid-19 is not the end of Philippine fashion. Rather, it is the catalyst for a Darwinian shakeout that will nourish the essential qualities of fashion, while snuffing out its excess. 


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Investing in consciousness

Leaders throughout the industry and beyond understand, now more than ever, that fashion—not to mention the world as a whole—must be mindful of how we use our resources, including materials, energy, time, and finances. We must respect the fragility of it all by understanding its value beyond the bottom lime. As Roxanne says, fashion in the wake of Covid-19, is “not just about profitability anymore, but adapting to a world that listens and responds to the needs of others.” This means caring for everyone, every thing, and every process in the entire supply chain—from the health and salaries of the pattern makers and factory janitors, to the sourcing and distribution of materials, to the longevity of a product once it is in the closet of a consumer. The only way local fashion, and other industries, can survive, is by working together to create a paradigm shift towards consciousness and responsibility. It is what consumers will want for years to come, and it is what the world needs now.

Art by Raff Colmenar