MODEL-FITTINGS, magazine spreads, runway shows, international fashion weeks, and living life of luxury are all that people see a fashion designer does. What they do not know is that life in fashion is fast-tracked, as Heidi Klum’s famous line in Project runway, “One day you’re in, and the next day you’re out.”
Glamour only adds ten percent on the scale, the rest? Blood, sweat, and tears. One designer opened his world and narrates his experience competing globally for his country.
Emi-Alexander Englis, a practicing designer for 16 years, was a nursing student before he became a fashion designer. His store, located at Juna Subdivision in Matina, Davao City, was founded eight years ago, through the shared interest of the Philippine Women’s College to open a Fashion Design program, with him leading the team.
Recently he became one of the top designers in Mindanao to showcase a collection worn by Miss Universe contestants last January 20. His creation which featured an olive-green silk gown and a native locally weaved jacket and the indigenous necklace piece became a stunner in the show.
His passion for the arts and design fueled the fire in his interest in fashion at a very young age.
“In our generation when you’re an artist, parents would always have this notion that there’s no money in that profession. So they would force you to venture into other fields,” Emi expressed.
In 1998, he decided to finally enroll himself to PWC (Philippine Women’s College) and study fine arts. By the year 2000, he finished his studies and right after graduation PWC hired him to teach in the Fine Arts program.
It was not until 2007 that PWC decided to open its fashion design program and on the same year, the fashion illustration program was opened.
Having been a fine arts graduate and a teacher in the same field, teaching fashion illustration came naturally for him. And in 2008, with the opening of his shop, upon the recommendation of Ched (Commission on Higher Education), the launch of fashion designing in his shop came to a collaboration.
During the day, his shop would be a classroom where students would learn to sew garments, and in the afternoon after five o’clock, it transforms into his own shop where clients would walk in and get fitted.
PWC and Emi continued their collaborative classroom until such time their six-month agreement finally came to an end. From there the Commission on Higher Education recommended PWC to have its own on-campus facility.
“I realized that I’m really grounded in my artisanal heritage,” Emi said. He had been working with two ethnic communities here in Mindanao. He’s been working with the Maguindanaons since 2005 and the B’laans in Lamlifew, Sarangani since 2000.
“I would love to call myself an Artisanal Heritage Fashion Designer,” Emi expressed.
Being an artisanal heritage fashion designer means you are trying to go back to your roots and integrate it into your practice as a contemporary designer.
Emi hails from the Sarangani province, where the B’laans and the Muslim Communities down the coastline of Sarangani reside. Since there were two weaving communities within his reach, he was able to work with both.
He started working with the B’laans starting with a very small hut where the women were eager to revive their weaving culture of Mabaltabi which was lost for quite some time. In a way, his cause had been instrumental in the resurrection of the lost tradition because he was the first designer to work and collaborate with the B’laan weavers and beaders.
Moda Mindanao, formerly known as Urog Etnika, had been his first platform in showcasing his collection collaborated with the B’laan tribe in Lamlifew. People started to take notice of Emi and the unique textiles he used in his collections.
Ten years later, the national museum conferred on them as the 1st village museum in the Philippines. And because of that, ABS-CBN came to their aid and now the road going to the village had already been cemented. The entire B’laan village became a museum itself and the culture was preserved and revived.
The younger generation awes him, describing them as successful and cerebral in reinterpreting what ethnic is and making it globally appealing. Because of the presence of social media, the younger ones are very engaged and connected. They're even brilliant in the use of difficult textiles like T’nalak which is known for its stiffness and discomforting qualities.
In his rank, he was with Canada, USA, & Japan, a complete fashion powerhouse.
Emi became a finalist of the famed Paris design competition, Concours International de Jeunnes Createurs de Mode in 2005. And the first runner-up in MEGA Young Designer’s Competition back in 2006, just a few months after his Paris entry.
Emi Englis is every Filipino designer that champions heritage and modernity. He showed to the world that nurturing our heritage and culture allows us to find our true identity. That whoever you may be as a person your sexuality will not define you but your character and how you rose from challenges you faced in your lifetime. That whatever was once lost may be found again. Having been separated by 7,107 islands, each tribe carries its own DNA in its utmost unique and distinct structure. But our deep connection with our roots unites us and weaves an indelible mark into the global age. (Kyle Kristoffer Baldos, Trixia Pearl Ebita and Evan June Ugdang, ADDU Interns)