DESIGNERS make great entrepreneurs.
Such is the journey of Cebuano installation artist Francis Sollano, who has exhibited his “trashion” or trash-fashion pieces in various capitals around the world.
The UP-Cebu business management graduate recalled he was five when he started putting pieces together to form them into fashion accessories, just for fun.
“I knew I already had that creative sensibility since I was young. I have always thought that kids have innate creativity in them,” said Sollano, who was raised in a conservative Chinese family.
Growing up, he was told to focus on business school. Sollano majored in finance and economics but his heart belonged to art and fashion.
Sollano shared it was during his internship at the Cebu Furniture Industries Foundation Inc. (CFIF) and his six-year-job in Kenneth Cobonpue’s Interior Crafts of the Islands Inc. that exposed him to unlimited opportunities in the creative industry.
“I thought back then that this is the industry I want to belong to, not because it is a posh industry, but because of the idea that at end of the day I want to be surrounded by beautiful things,” said Sollano.
“I learned to be more creative, to make the most out of what you have.” While working with Cobonpue, Sollano slowly started building his own portfolio on the side. He paid particular attention to turning trash into fashion or into wearable art. The famous saying, “there is cash in trash” holds true for him.
“I got so affected with too much flooding in Cebu. I started wondering: How can you create a movement that is both catchy to the people and the media? I then thought of fashion as one of the best tools,” said Sollano, co-founder of Youth for a Livable Cebu (YLC).
“Trashion or trash fashion then became my advocacy in YLC. I wanted to create beauty out of trash,” said Sollano, adding that what he learned from Cobonpue’s mentorship is to make sure one doesn’t make garbage out of garbage.
Sollano turns used plastic bottles into a wearable art like headpieces. For him, what others call trash is his high fashion.
“I pick up plastic bottles scattered on the streets, upcycle them into a wearable art, like headpieces or installations,” he said.
In 2015, Sollano decided to become a full-time artist. He created new pieces to beef up his portfolio. He also got himself mentored by Ditta Sandicco, a fashion designer who embraces ecologically-friendly design and sustainable production processes.
Sollano then started going abroad to widen his horizons. His first stop was the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, through the group Global Shapers. Sollano was the only Filipino under 30 who participated in the WEF in January 2016.
“Attending WEF beefed up my credentials as an artist—that artists don’t need to starve. You can be an entrepreneur while being an artist,” he said.
“It also opened linkages in terms of individuals who speak the language of sustainable development,” he added.
Sollano’s works have been shown in major cities across the globe, including New York, London, Paris, Tokyo, Singapore and Bangkok.
Last year alone, he had five exhibits, all held abroad.
Besides creating installations, which are either bought by universities and museums, Sollano also makes handmade creations distributed by Denuo Philippines, an online boutique that sells brands made of sustainable and upcycled methods and materials.
“If there’s one thing that I am grateful for, it is that I grew up in a family who is inclined to do business,” he said. “Artists and entrepreneurs are both passionate about their crafts.” Sollano is also a self-made social entrepreneur. He supports small communities and buys from them raw materials for his handmade pieces.
Looking forward, Sollano dreams of seeing his “trashion” pieces being worn during the MET Gala, perhaps by Lady Gaga, Emma Watson, or Oprah Winfrey. He said it is crucial that influential fashion and media personalities, who have their own advocacies, acknowledge the trend and role of sustainability in the fashion industry.
“It isn’t about the glitz and glamor of it. It is about the science behind it, the material and the story of every artwork,” he said.
Moreover, Sollano plans to make the T’nalak of the T’bolis into a high-fashion brand and collaborate with the biggest names in the global fashion industry.
“The country’s design industry still has a long way to go. But trashion is now slowly getting accepted,” he said.
“While creativity is a complex process, it has always been my vision that artists will be able to engage stakeholders to help fuel innovation, employing skills and capabilities that play a significant role in improving the state of our communities,” he added.
Sollano recently held his first solo exhibit in the Philippines at the SM Seaside City Cebu last Jan. 17, where he showcased his new “trashion” collection.