MANILA -- The COVID-19 pandemic that affected every business in the country did not spare the fashion accessory industry, whose members recently banded together to help each other sustain their livelihood.
After the fashion designers staged last May the digital show, “Fashion for Healing,” to sustain the fashion industry and keep the business alive, the Fashion Accessory Makers of the Philippines (FAMph) followed suit and presented “Fashion for Healing, 2,” to highlight the need to protect the craftsmanship of cultural communities and local artisans.
Noted fashion director Jackie Aquino, who worked at the helm of the first “Fashion for Healing,” inspired the fashion accessory designers to create a digital campaign for their group.
Before the lockdown, designers Gina Nebrida Ty (Agsam Fashion Fern) and Carissa Cruz Evangelista (Beatriz Accessories) were already in discussions to create a non-stock, non-profit organization with the country’s fashion accessory brand designers and makers as members.
“Our initial objective was to create a collective voice and representation to further promote and strengthen the value of Filipino craftsmanship,” explained Ty, one of the founding members of FAMph.
“We plan to do that by seeking government subsidy and trade concessions, both in domestic and international trade shows, among others.”
However, when the lockdown happened, the discussions of FAMph were put on halt. “Like the rest of non-essential companies, we all struggled, to keep our operations at bay,” Ty said. “Then, Jackie Aquino’s ‘Fashion for Healing’ happened. I saw it as a shared Facebook post by Amina Aranaz Alunan (Aranaz).
“That propelled me to instantly contact Carissa, on May 30, to resume our discussions that this is the best time to move forward with our plans to establish a fashion accessory group. We immediately initiated talks with Jackie to create a similar digital campaign and call it ‘Fashion for Healing, Part 2.’ But this time, focus shall be on fashion accessory designers and makers.”
Meanwhile, Evangelista was immediately thankful to Aquino for heeding the request of the Magic 8 group. “Jackie was kind enough to accommodate our request to help make a video to help our brands showcase our craft, weaving communities and artisans,” Evangelista recalled.
There were a total of 45 brands that worked together for “Fashion for Healing, 2,” sharing the same goal of helping each other and their producers survive this year and move forward.
“It has since been the start of our industry’s journey towards navigating the new world order,” Evangelista said. “We’re also currently looking to work with government agencies and other possible partners to explore ways by which our industry can innovate, evolve, adapt, pivot and thrive.”
The group lost no time to translate their talks into concrete action. “Everything just snowballed from there,” Ty recalled. “Three weeks later, the FAMph digital campaign premiered on June 25.”
As the fashion accessory industry has been categorized as non-essentials, the designers felt the need to band together and consolidate the efforts of fashion accessory brands, all of whom have been affected by the recent lockdown.
“This posed both as a challenge as well as an opportunity for us to exercise our creativity and innovation,” Ty declared. “It was because of this that we decided to create a unified and collective voice for fashion accessory brands and designers. Thus, saw the founding of Fashion Accessory Makers of the Philippines or FAMph.
“The idea was for us to come together and work hand in hand to establish our relevance and thrive in the new normal. At the core of this movement was the desire to promote and showcase Philippine craftsmanship, an extension of our history, heritage and ongoing evolution as a culture.
“More importantly, we felt we needed to come together and rise so that we could support our artisans and communities, most of whom rely on our FAMph members as a primary source of livelihood.”
The fashion accessory designers were invited to participate in the digital show that showcased their creations. “The idea to create a FAMph digital campaign and more so, establish the collective, elicited hope among members,” Ty said.
“Many of our brands were impacted by the cancellation of trade shows and closure of brick and mortar boutiques. This was an obstacle that made us look into ways to sustain our businesses and promote our brands.”
SUPPORT FROM JODI STA. MARIA
The digital show had actress Jodi Sta. Maria on the frontline and doing the voiceover on the video. On behalf of all the FAMph members, Ty and Evangelista were really thankful for the support Sta. Maria extended to the accessory designers.
“Magic 8 came up with the idea to invite Ms. Jodi Sta Maria to be part of our campaign,” Ty said. “Jodi is a patron of local crafts and has been a staunch supporter of various FAMph accessory brands. It was through Tessa Nepomuceno [of Calli brand and who is also part of Magic 8] that we were able to connect with Jodi.”
Directed by EJ Bonagua and Maco Custodio, “Fashion for Healing, 2” used the song, “Tinatangi,” composed by Ben&Ben's Paolo Benjamin and Miguel Benjamin Guico as background piece. The song was recorded by Cookie Chua and Bayang Barrios and published by the Philippine Popular Musicfest Foundation, Inc. (Philpop).
“Together, we shall remain relevant and thrive, given this era of new normal, as we continue to promote and highlight Filipino craftsmanship,” a hopeful Ty said.
“More importantly, we will continue supporting our cultural communities and artisan workers, most of whom rely on FAMph members for their source of livelihood.”
Through the digital show, the fashion accessory designers were able to showcase their “beautifully-handcrafted accessories to a large audience on the digital sphere,” according to Ty.
“What sets our digital presentation apart was that we saw to it that audiences also get to know and appreciate the artisans, cultural workers or indigenous people behind these products,” Ty explained. “That way, we establish a deeper and more emotional connection with our market despite having to transition into the digital medium.
“Within the collective, there was a spirit of oneness that permeated. Now more than ever, we saw the power and potential in being able to rely on each other for inspiration, guidance, expert advice and encouragement amidst a pandemic crisis.”
Ty remains optimistic that the fashion accessory industry can bounce back after the lockdown and dauntlessly move forward even through this pandemic.
“Our businesses are reliant on domestic and international trade shows,” Ty emphasized. “It also generates sales through brick and mortar engagements with customers. The crisis was a catalyst in making us expand beyond this traditional format or model.
“Because of economic uncertainty and travel restrictions, strong digital presence was inevitable. The ‘old way’ of doing business isn’t going to return any time soon, so an online platform coupled by digital presence was how we decided to pivot.”
Apart from the focus on digital, the fashion accessory designers were convinced to rethink their product offerings and shift toward direct-to-consumer selling, focusing more on business-to-consumer (B2C) than business-to-business (B2B).
“We also plan to maximize the technology we have available to us in trying to connect with our customers,” Ty said. “I don’t think trade shows will be replaced completely which is why we are also looking into the creation of digital trade or trunk shows.
“Collaboration is also key, moving forward. Strategic alliances and guidance from e-tailers, government agencies as well as industry movers and shakers are also in the offing.”
Ty is aware the lockdown has impacted all of them. Very few were able to make other streams of income. There were instant “revenue opportunity losses” from domestic retail, pop-up stores, domestic and international trade shows, trunk shows, and others.
Laying off workers and wages subsistence were also inevitable. Then, they had to deal with inventory surplus of merchandise.
Subsequently, Ty and Evangelista welcomed suggestions from the other designers on what needs to be done by their group. Thankfully, there was never any negative reaction.
“We’ve had great response from designers, as well as other brands and industry creative,” Evangelista said. “FAMph began with a small group which we call the Magic 8, a group of eight artisan brands which participated in the Magic Fashion Trade Show 2019. This number has since grown to now include other brands that had been part of the CITEM (Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions) trade shows.”
Evangelista added: “Other labels who are regular exhibitors in international venues like Premiere Classe in Paris have also joined. As of this writing, we are a collective 45 fashion accessory brands all committed to helping each other thrive and support artisan producers.”
Joining Ty and Evangelista in “Fashion for Healing, 2” are Adante Leyesa, Georgina Teng, Amina Aranaz-Alunan, Tessa Nepomuceno, Chris Gomez, Earl Gariando, Katrina Delantar Mon; Katrina Charmaine Ong, Janice Chua, Isabelle Ocier, Jo Ann Bitagcol, Jun Artajo, Ken Samudio, Milagros Imson, Yen Pomida Nacario, Maco Custodio, Neil Felipp, Noelle Llave; Tal De Guzman, Abecel Rosende, Thian Rodriguez, Tina Campos Magistrado, Tweetie de Leon-Gonzalez, Twinkle Ferraren, Martha Rodriguez and Christine Vertucio.
In an effort to cushion the impact of the pandemic, the fashion accessory designers understandably adopted measures that will benefit them not just individually, but also their loved ones.
“The crisis resulted in an inventory surplus of our merchandise,” Ty said. “This is why brands continue to promote their products in creative ways through social media.
“We have a few members who have shifted from making fashion accessories to producing items that are considered essentials or relevant for the times, like face masks, plant boxes using indigenous materials.
“We also have a few members who have sought assistance from government agencies like the DTI (Department of Trade and Industry) or the NCCA (National Commission for Culture and the Arts) for additional capital infusion or cash assistance for artisan workers.”
Recently, FAMph also partnered with Globe Telecom for a long-term campaign that aims to help the fashion industry, most of which are through SMEs (small and medium-size enterprises).
“We are grateful to Carmina Jacob for including FAMph in her #BeLoyaltoLocal advocacy,” Evangelista said. “Bianca Salonga, too, for her huge help in the ongoing #craftingthefuturetogether. The campaign hashtag was the brainchild of Tweetie de Leon of Tdlg and supported in the PR campaign group of FAMph.”
Evangelista is undeniably thankful for the “amazing response” of many accessory designers to “Fashion for Healing 2,” to help one another. “Everything was done to help our designers and our industry,” she reiterated. “Other possible partners have reached out to us and welcomed our plans that are evolving.
“We are so grateful and hopeful. We live for the day now as we all do and have faith in God. We put one step in front of the next. We trust that the Lord will guide all our steps.”
Though the pandemic is apparently not abating any time soon, the FAMph members keep the faith that work will come, albeit slowly but surely. “We remain hopeful as we see a shift within the domestic market towards sustainable product patronage,” Ty said.
“Moving forward, we strive to conduct ourselves with a strong sense of social responsibility. Our plans are in progress and constantly developing and it is through constant brainstorming and feedback from our peers in the industry that we are able to put together the piece of the puzzle – one step at a time.”
The aim of FAMph is not simply for survival of their businesses, but also to be able to support cultural communities and artisan workers through livelihood and job security. Through support and patronage, they trust their brands can make this happen.
Ty calls on Filipinos to strongly support local artisans and emphasized the importance of buying Philippine-made products. “If you must buy, buy local. If you can buy, buy local,” she stressed. “This call is not just a marketing statement, but more so a testament to commitment for promoting enterprises with a purpose.
“We are no longer merely trying to keep businesses afloat. Beyond that, we are pledging support for communities, for the preservation of our country’s craft, culture and heritage.”