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Filipino fashion by way of Switzerland

SWISS and Filipino fabrics were woven together during a fashion show at a party celebrating the 65th anniversary of Swiss-Filipino diplomatic relations on Nov. 29.

The roof deck of the Zuellig Building served as the runway for Pampinay, made by Filipina designers Pamela Gotangco and Christian Belaro. Both are artists residing in Europe; Ms. Gotangco lives and works in Switzerland, while Ms. Belaro is in London.

For the show, the designers put together lace from St. Gallen, deadstock fabric from Swiss factories, and combined them with their own designs, plus Filipino indigenous fabrics like binakol and inabel. Ms. Gotangco told BusinessWorld in an interview that they source their fabrics from Abra and Ilocos (as well as from actress Dina Bonnevie, who has herself started a business with indigenous fabrics), and then have the T’boli people of Mindanao do the beadwork. However, a bulk of their operations rely on a team of seamstresses from Taytay, Rizal the site of many garment factories near the capital.

“It’s my advocacy,” said Ms. Gotangco. “I’m Filipino. Even if I am a global Filipina, I take it as my responsibility to be able to help my countrymen.”

The business started in March 2021 with a single T-shirt with a slogan that she made craving for pinakbet (a native Filipino stew of vegetables in fish sauce). “If I’m going to do this, I will do it properly. It has to have some support to the lives of other women in the Philippines.”

Since the creation of the business, they have since built a foundation and cooperative called Bayanihan Spirit, in the form of a co-working space with sewing machines for women who don’t have their own. They have started with one machine, and at her count, they now have eight sewing machines in the space.

They take a slow fashion approach to clothing, so many pieces are one-of-a-kind or produced in limited numbers. Asked for the importance of this approach, she said, “I don’t want to make clothing that would end up in the landfill after two, three, four years.

“There’s no Planet B,” she said.

Their usual fare includes pairing their designs (inspired by pop art and Filipino exclamations) with Filipino indigenous fabrics. The limited collection shown during the party with the Swiss Embassy is just a first step towards a similar approach. These included designs approaching the avant-garde, with jeans paired with paillettes made with binakol or inabel, or else camouflage fabrics in the shape of a terno paired with the Swiss lace.

The business is quite young, and the limited numbers they produce won’t exactly be seen on thousands — in fashion, success is usually measured by how many people want to wear your work. Ms. Gotangco measures success differently. “Success is not measured by metrics of money, power, or fame. It could also be measured by the impact that you created in other people’s lives,” she said.

“It doesn’t work as much as currency, or how much money you make out of it, but how people will remember you, or how you’ve helped them, and how others would learn from you.”

Visit pampinay.com for more items. — Joseph L. Garcia

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