BEING an accountancy graduate and already having two small boys then, Compostela Valley-raised Cheri Lou Aranjuez did not imagine she would tread on the path of being a fashion designer.
After resigning from her job, she went from one business to another without utmost success before she decided to venture into a gown rental business. Seeing the need to be more knowledgeable and hands-on with this type of business, Cheri decided to study Fashion Design as her second course at Philippine Women’s College (PWC) in Davao City. This decision was difficult for her especially that her children were still very young then.
But she persisted and did her best. In PWC, the Fashion Design course sees to it that there is a preservation of the art and the culture of the indigenous peoples (IP) here in Davao City. For the thesis of the graduating Fashion Design students, they are to create a collection inspired by the 11 tribes in the city. For Cheri’s batch, they were assigned to interpret the 11 tribes’ folklore.
“From the folklore of the Mandaya, I came up with the 10-piece collection. The aesthetic there was pattern manipulation. The story that I got was all about the beginning of the Mandaya. Through that story, I interpreted it as marriage. The collection was all about the stages of marriage. The translation of that thesis into clothes was that you can manipulate the clothes in whatever way you want. Luckily, I was hailed as the Designer of the Year with Albert Andrada as our chairman of the board of judges,” Cheri said.
After graduating, she decided to go back home to Compostela Valley and pursued her retail business particularly the making of corporate uniforms. While doing this, Cheri felt the need to make her immediate community part of her endeavor. She has now nine stay-at-home moms who work for her corporate uniform business.
She has also partnered with the Montevista District Jail and had persons denied of liberty (PDL) help her make bags. She assists with the dressmaking and the bagmaking trainings of the jail as well. Aside from this, she collaborates with the Mandaya tribe in New Bataan.
“After the basic sewing is done by the PDL, we send them to the IPs in New Bataan for them to complete the more complicated embellishments. This working with the IP community is really more on collaboration. We ask them what design they think should be appropriate for their own fabric. In a way, this respects their culture and tradition while modernizing it,” she said.
Last year, she was able to submit her Mandaya folklore thesis portfolio in the London Fashion Week and was the only Mindanaoan invited to take part in the fashion show. Because her visa was denied, she just shipped her collection to London and the fashion show went on without her. But luckily, this February 2019, she was again invited in the same fashion show to showcase her masterpieces. Denied once again, she applied for another visa, and was finally approved. The Filipino community in London as well as the Department of Trade and Industry in London was more than happy to accommodate and make her feel at home.
“This is our edge from the rest of the world. No one else does these patterns and beading like how our Mandaya brothers and sisters do it. That is why they really appreciated the pieces,” she said.
In the recent Bulawan Festival of Compostela Valley, Cheri was awarded the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the field of culture and the arts and employment creation.
Going back home after the fashion show, Cheri met again with the IP Women Federation President Raquel Dante and talked of the plans and partnerships that they will be having in the near future to further promote the tribe’s culture. Raquel was very excited about it and was looking forward to the projects. Cheri shared how Raquel was grateful that finally their tribe will be more known and be more understood.
Unfortunately, just hours after this meeting, Raquel suffered a cardiac arrest and died immediately. Still on her 40’s, Raquel’s death saddened and shocked everyone including Cheri.
“Her death poses a challenge to me and the rest of the community to really push through with the plans because she was really excited about it. She was looking forward to it,” she shared.
“I feel like I have a responsibility with the community, that I have to give back to them,” Cheri said.