DESIGNER and entrepreneur Dexter Alazas was one of those creative souls who got government leaders and the creative industry of Cebu to pay attention to Argao’s dying industry—hablon weaving.
A nursing graduate, Alazas walked away from a promising career in healthcare to follow his passion for fashion design. He was supposed to follow his family, who at the time were all living in the United States.
“I’m the youngest among eight siblings, and they were all (living and working) in the US, including my parents. I took up nursing with a goal to work and live abroad,” said Alazas of Alazas Atelier.
“But life has its way of leading you to other paths. I paid attention to the things that I was naturally drawn to and the rest is history,” one of Cebu’s sought-after fashion designers said.
Alazas recalled that he got into fashion through the influence of friends who were all active in Cebu’s fashion scene. Growing up, he also saw his sister create uniforms and ready-to-wear apparel.
“I got thrilled in this industry. There’s so much fun and creativity,” he shared. “I got so involved in a big fashion show that I forgot about finishing my nursing review.”
“Maybe they (parents) saw me as a failure at the time, but when they saw my ventures were starting to create results, they eventually supported me,” he said.
Alazas became the first designer at Metro Ayala’s fashion textile department in 1994. He helped clients design their dresses and gowns for special occasions.
In 1998, Alazas decided to set up his own shop, which he started at his home. He made use of his sister’s sewing machines and hired a seamstress to jumpstart his entrepreneurial career in fashion design.
Besides family members and relatives as constant clients, Alazas also earned the trust and admiration of influential people in Cebu who were in the field of business and politics.
His first breakthrough in the industry was during the Joie de Vivre (Joy of Living) fashion show that had his collection showcased alongside the creations of his close peers in Cebu’s fashion industry.
Since then, Alazas worked his way up, despite having no formal background in fashion, fine arts and business.
He said he was just blessed to grow up in a family of entrepreneurs who gave him the wisdom to make smart business decisions. His determination and hard work also helped him survive in the industry.
Alazas became more proactive in joining fashion shows. One of his pieces landed in the cover of Preview magazine that was worn by actress Claudine Barretto. That opportunity, he said, further strengthened the Dexter Alazas brand.
“It made me realize that Cebuanos can really compete,” he said.
Because originality, uniqueness and creativity are plus factors in the design world, Alazas thought of using new materials for his new collection.
Alazas’ fascination with hablon started in 2007 when he was searching for fabrics for a fashion show. Since then, he has never stopped looking for fabrics that he would eventually call Cebu’s own.
“You see, other provinces have their own identities, like piña in Iloilo and tinalac in Davao. Cebu, with its rich creativity, still has to make its own identity in this area,” he said.
“However, at the time, I wasn’t able to find the right opportunity and resources to use hablon as a new material,” he added.
The use of hablon took a temporary backseat and Alazas used a different material for his collection.
During the One Cebu exhibit held at the Cebu International Convention Center, Alazas launched the Linea Sugbuana using Thai silk in his creations.
But he admitted that although he got praise for creating impressive designs using that material, Alazas knew in his heart that he could produce better designs with a good story to tell. He said he could proudly promote it, if the materials used were made in Cebu.
“I really wanted something that was handwoven. Then I remembered hablon. And I was blessed enough that when I decided to pursue it, the help of the weaving community came in,” he said.
Alazas gained the support of the Province of Cebu and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) in reviving Argao’s handloom weaving industry. Cebu’s fashion industry also intervened to resurrect the otherwise sunset industry.
Through DTI’s Shared Service Facility, the agency entrusted 20 hand loom weaving machines to the Cebu Technological University Argao campus in May 2016.
Alazas partnered with the weaving community in Argao to create hinablon fabric that he could turn into accessories and fashion pieces for men and women.
Moving forward, Alazas is now gearing up to take the hinablon fabric to the global spotlight. He said he is now preparing his pieces to be exported outside of the country.
He believes hablon will catch the attention of the global community.
What was your first job?
Prior to launching my own brand, I worked as a fashion designer in shops along Gorordo Ave. My design skills were honed by working for somebody else until I was able to create my own network and carve my name in the industry.
Using the sewing machines my sister left, I single-handedly started my business. What I knew for certain at the time was that I had to make it work.
Who inspired you to get into business?
It was my situation at the time that pushed me to work harder. I picked fashion design over nursing because it was a career I found more fulfilling. I had to stand up and be firm on my decision, and make it work.
I was blessed to have friends in the industry who became my mentors. They believed in my skills and talents. I had no background in fashion design but if you work hard for it, you’ll eventually get results and be noticed and appreciated.
When did you realize this was what you were meant to do?
I realized I had what it took to grow in the industry when I started seeing my pieces worn by influential people.
When one of my creations was picked by Claudine Barretto and was used as a cover for Preview magazine, plus the numerous invitations I got for fashion shows and other fashion design competitions I participated in, my passion as an artist was validated.
The loyal clients I was able to make also became my source of inspiration to do better. Over the years, because of these humble accomplishments, the apprehensions I experienced no longer mattered. I woke up each day trying to become the best version of myself, being both an entrepreneur and a fashion designer.
Why did you pick this type of business or industry?
This is an industry that unleashes your creativity. Between the course I finished in college and the path I chose which is fashion design, I am happy to say that this is the industry I truly belong to, especially now that I am involved in sustaining the livelihood of the weaving community in Argao.
It’s my dream to showcase this Cebu-made fabric to the local and international fashion scene, not only to help preserve the old-age weaving industry, but also to help uplift lives of the weavers in Argao.
I am more encouraged to create a strong fashion line as people are now accepting hablon.
Where did you get the training you needed to succeed?
Experience taught me a lot. I get better every day by practicing my craft and by staying open to the feedback of my mentors and clients. I constantly think of many ways to innovate so I could present a better collection and share a good story of what Cebu could offer to global fashion design.
How many times did you fail before you succeeded?
I do things by trial and error. I never considered committing mistakes as hindrances, but rather opportunities for me to improve my craft.
It is by committing mistakes that I learned to be humble, stay grounded and grow into someone who is better than yesterday.
Fashion is a dynamic and ever-evolving industry, so I also strive to be dynamic and agile to remain relevant and survive in this industry.