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Greener living: How two young designers are pushing for sustainability in fashion

Greener living: How two young designers are pushing for sustainability in fashion

For Jao San Pedro, 20, and Celine Mallari, 22, everything starts with intention.

The two very recent graduates of Fashion Design and Merchandising from the College of Saint Benilde presented their theses last week in the collaborative fashion exhibit Cariño Brutal, held at the HUB|Make Lab in Escolta, and it is a showcase of their distinct approaches regarding sustainability in fashion, both as an art and a business.

Cariño Brutal juxtaposes San Pedro’s Ihulma with Mallari’s Di.Sastre, but the dichotomy between them has been the running theme in the two designers’ relationship. Whereas Ihulma incorporates Brutalism and industrialism into very precisely tailored pieces made out of deconstructed secondhand shirts, pants, and suits, Di.Sastre is an homage to Romanticism, with soft, flowy pieces that skim the body and ripple in movement. “We’re polar opposites, but for some reason, we find an intersection,” says San Pedro. “We clicked since day in college,” Mallari adds. “While there are differences in the way approach fashion, we ultimately hold the same vision.”

That vision is the promotion of responsible consumption in fashion, which was developed through many enlightening conversations and research. Though neither has shopped in any fast fashion or commercial retail brand for a few years now, San Pedro and Mallari used to be like any other college kid who was into fashion and would buy clothes at the usual mall stops. But after getting to know and work with the HUB team of makers in different capacities, the two realized how the current set-up in the fashion industry has conditioned people to be immune to the effects of the materialistic and acquisitional mindset and behavior. San Pedro, who has interned at HUB, recollects, “As we became part of that community, we began learning how unethical shopping for fast fashion is, that plenty of things need to be changed in the industry.”

It isn’t just on the consumers’ end that requires major shifts. Mallari, who owns the Kahilom store at HUB, sees sustainability as every designer’s and manufacturer’s responsibility, from the raw materials they use to how they package their products and market them. “Even the concept of [how] fashion shows [are done] here don’t really make sense given the local structure,” she opines, adding that most of them consist of little more than one runway show after another, the garments presented within a de-contextualized setting. With fashion inextricable from lifestyle and culture, the two see the necessity of presenting the work they’ve done with Ihulma and Di.Sastre within a more holistic context, which the HUB community and setting can provide. “We wanted to deviate from the usual format,” San Pedro says.

Ihulma by Jao San Pedro

With Cariño Brutal, they celebrate the craft and the intention behind every garment. The pieces call to mind the old practice of tailors and seamstresses knowing their clients and their measurements well, and how to dress them to their best advantage, which the ready-to-wear industry and the fast fashion scene have all but erased. Instead of the glamour factor of having guests flank a runway and presenting them a limited view and little to zero interaction with the outfits, San Pedro and Mallari’s exhibit highlights the laborious intricacies involved in the design and production of each of their garments, allowing guests to see up-close every stitch and seam; the work is not at all hidden. Says Mallari, “We want to put the value back on the makers, the pieces, and the consumers too.”

Like most of the members of their generation and the one right before them, the two face the anxiety and guilt that come from the awareness of how living unconscientiously has far-reaching effects. “How we choose where to live, what to eat, what to wear, what to buy…they’re not isolated choices,” Mallari reflects. “It can be difficult to make changes in our individual lifestyles at first, but while trying to live in a more sustainable manner is not the most convenient thing to do, once you become aware of the effects of your actions on the rest of the world, that becomes hard to ignore.”

In fact, for San Pedro, the whole production process of Ihulma gave her the chance to deal with her own journey into becoming a more conscientious creative. “Putting every piece together, stitch by stitch—it was a catharsis for the consumerist, mass production mindset that I have been dealing and grappling with as a designer, starting from when I didn’t know anything to now when I’ve developed awareness of these issues,” she admits. Prior to coming up with the concept of Ihulma, she was already bothered by the amount of garments, both used and unused, that get discarded every year—one of the biggest effects of the rampant consumerism in fashion. She then thought of presenting a way to regain the value of products already in existence as an antidote to the “produce, produce, produce” mode that most businesses resort to. “It’s about helping others see how discarded things still have use, because in a production-driven world, the responsibility of the maker gets diminished. People think that when you make something, you can put it out there in the world. What we have to note is that the responsibility we have over what we create doesn’t end there.”

Details of the stitching on one of the Ihulma pieces

She envisions her future as a designer to be not as “productive,” in the sense that she wouldn’t be cranking out collection after collection. “Taking up less space is what feels natural to me. It also feels natural to create something that’s impactful, no matter how small it may be. Ihulma has been a way for me to reconcile these ideas. It’s been a hard process, and there’s no single right or wrong way to live by sustainability. It’s about intention: The purpose in creating something and making it matter.”

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Linen Gurkha pants, a jusi slip dress, and an x-ray jusi corset from Di.Sastre


As for Mallari, she approached Di.Sastre from the production end, but also with intention as a guiding principle. She created 10 pieces, which are available for pre-ordering, out of natural fibers such as jusi, cotton, linen, and silk and dyed with coloring extracted from tea and mahogany. While the silhouettes are uncomplicated, Di.Sastre reveals details that showcase Mallari’s techniques, like smocking and distressing. “My brand is really about the craft of dress-making. It’s about quality and the uniqueness of each piece too: If you own one of them, there’ll be no other like it. I may make a similar garment, but it won’t come out the same, and there’s heart put into it, unlike in the mass-produced pieces found in the market.”

The two are under no delusion that they have found the formula for sustainability that the industry would do well to adopt. But they are hopeful with the fact that they have started to put into their respective design practices what they have learned so far, and maybe have other designers and even makers be convinced of the feasibility of going a different, more sustainable route. “Developing awareness is how change starts, after all,” Mallari concludes.


Cariño Brutal is currently on display at the HUB Make Lab at the ground floor of the First United Building, 421 Escolta cor. Burke Streets, Binondo, Manila. 

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