It’s been a year since Super Typhoon “Yolanda” struck the country, devastating the lives of thousands of Filipinos. For Tipay Caintic, the hours leading to and following Nov. 8, 2013, were harrowing.
Although the Tacloban-born and raised fashion designer wasn’t in her hometown when Yolanda struck, her family, friends and everyone she grew up with were all there. It was traumatic seeing Yolanda’s aftermath on television after almost two days of not hearing from her loved ones, with no hint of their survival.
In the weeks that followed, Tipay poured her energy into sending financial aid and relief goods to different parts of Leyte, and transporting her family from Tacloban to Manila.
Thus, “Hell Knows No Wrath Like Yolanda” came into being. It is a collection inspired by words the designer wrote as a way of dealing with her personal experience.
The collection is made of six different looks that represent the stages she went through. It was included in the International Fashion Showcase at London Fashion Week earlier this year, and was consequently featured on CNN.
Reflecting on the project, she said: “What the British Fashion Council and British Council wanted the designers to create were editorial pieces that represented our country’s culture. My reality, our reality that time, was Yolanda. Culture, for me, is the shared experiences of people; there was nothing else in my mind that time.
“That collection was born of frustrations with the government, devastation, and a bit of self-pity at our plight, sadness and fear. I wrote a theme during the Yolanda tragedy for each look. The words came before the sketches. The writing became a healing process for me, too; by the time I was on the last look, I was no longer holding on to the anger.
“I thought of the help that strangers were so willing to give. I thought of how friends and acquaintances were there for each other. The finale piece was called ‘Blind Hope.’ It was lighter and airier than the earlier pieces… that after all that we went through, we are more hopeful, but there is no definite direction. This is a great improvement from that dark place we were all in, but we need to translate all these fuzzy feelings into workable actions that have results.”
Tipay has since moved on and continues to pursue her calling. She has come a long way from where she started.
Her fascination with fashion began when she was very young. Upon realizing that her body just wasn’t cut out for the usual shirt and jeans, Tipay learned to experiment with her wardrobe which went through a number of changes—from her dad’s ties to bright socks and neon platform sneakers, to elephant pants. She straightened, chopped, colored and grew out her hair into an afro.
“I regret nothing,” she said. “That’s what fashion was and is for me, it’s very personal. It’s a tool to explore and challenge and ultimately find my comfort zones.”
Rich person’s hobby
Tipay admits it took time for her to realize she could pursue her dream of being a designer. “Part of me didn’t feel like I deserved to be in fashion because it was a rich person’s hobby or career path, and it was too frivolous to be within my reach,” she recalled. After graduating with a Fine Arts degree, she worked as art director in an ad agency.
When her stint in advertising didn’t pan out, she found herself looking at the website of School of Fashion and the Arts (SoFA). As if on cue, SoFA was giving out scholarships at the time. Tipay qualified for a scholarship in 2011; she finished her Fashion Design course the year after.
She started her career as a designer. Her first show was for Preview magazine, in which she received the Emerging Fashion Talent Award. The Department of Trade and Industry-Center for International Trade Expositions & Missions (DTI-Citem) invited her to participate in Manila Fame and she became a member of Manila Wear, Citem’s brand initiative to promote local designers to an international market.
Tipay’s exuberance for the refreshingly unconventional shows in her designs. Think loops or pompoms on a dress, knitted spikes on a dainty sweater, and a playful print juxtaposed with delicate fabric. Her ready-to-wear line, By Tipay, is made of one-of-a-kind clothes and accessories with handmade elements for an “offbeat, covertly insubordinate and unserious” dresser. The designer uses local pineapple fiber, cotton, linen and homegrown leather in her creations.
Tipay also designs gowns. Although her bridal ensembles offer less shock value, they are characteristically distinct, with unique elements that define her flair for the unusual. Her bridal clients are less traditional and more adventurous.
“I like making clothes that would delight you, clothes that make you stop for a moment because it might have sparked something in you, clothes that make you want to touch and experience,” she said.
While it’s Tipay’s greatest passion, designing clothes isn’t always as glamorous or exciting as many would assume. The job is a solitary process that involves interaction mostly with suppliers. But she finds redemption in participating in fashion shows, where she has the opportunity to collaborate with photographers and stylists.
In her free time, Tipay nurtures her love of travel. She recently went on an Italian holiday that inspired “Sweet Treachery,” her prêt-à-porter collection for 2015.
“In Naples, I went to an underground cemetery of skulls,” she recounted. “The experience of seeing those skulls, lined and piled up, row after row in the open air, made such an impact on me.”
Skulls are a recurring theme in the collection, along with animal horns and spikes. She even developed a character, a voluptuous, doll-like lady with empty eyes sitting atop a skull, which can be seen embroidered on dresses and bags.
Tipay and illustrator Katrina Teh came up with the Pineapple Print, an exclusive print for her brand. “This all-seeing, tough yet sweet fruit is a huge component of my clothes,” she said.
Her plan is to move back to Tacloban next summer to set up a workshop for production, with the intention of creating jobs for displaced locals. She is working on expanding her distribution to other parts of Asia in 2015, and to the rest of the world in the next five years or so.
Tipay believes in Filipino talent and in the industry that she has become part of. “I sincerely believe Filipinos are a very special people. In London, when the Philippine exhibit was put side by side with our European and Asian counterparts, I saw a stark difference in our sensibilities as designers.
“It’s hard to explain, like we’re not as ‘cold’ as the Westerners and not as ‘exotic’ as the other Asians. I know we have a rich heritage that we are in danger of forgetting, as we are a very open people, susceptible to foreign influence and accommodating.”
She shares her aspirations for the local fashion industry: “It is my fervent hope that we take care of our own. We should encourage diversity among designers and acknowledge there is enough space for everybody, for every designer to do his own thing.
“I would like to see laws enacted to support local business and independent designers. There is nothing wrong with bringing in foreign brands, it’s a sign of progress and it shakes local people up not to be too complacent, but there should be mandates to take care of our economy, and not only the pockets of a few.”
Tipay’s advice for other aspiring young designers: “Be diligent. Being a designer is a job, a career, a business, and not a ticket to parties. Created constantly. Be stubborn and be true to yourself. Don’t let failures define you, and don’t let the opinions of others override your vision. Be prudent and watch out for your best interest, which includes knowing when to listen to those who give good advice. Seek inspiration like it is your life source, because it is. Enrich yourself, keep on reading, do your research, bounce your ideas off people, talk and ask questions.”
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