Every person has their share of struggles since the pandemic begun. For rising Filipino designer Jessan Macatangay, it was finishing his final collection with lockdown restrictions in place and graduating from a four-year course alone in a foreign country without his friends and family.
“I’m not someone who is unfamiliar with struggles,” shared Macatangay. “We all go through different forms and levels of challenges. Some may be more significant than others but each one is very much valid.”
Originally from Batangas, Macatangay went to London to pursue a career in fashion by earning a coveted degree from Central Saint Martins, the prestigious art and design school that churned out some of the world’s most iconic designers such as John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, and Stella McCartney.
Prior to moving to London, he worked as a registered nurse, fulfilling his mother’s wish, and transferred to Manila to study at the Fashion Institute of the Philippines.
The pandemic, he said, awakened the Batangueño fighter in him. Stuck in a foreign country alone at the height of a global crisis, he had to accomplish his graduation collection with limited resources as his suppliers had to abruptly stop their operation.
“The first few weeks after the lockdown was announced was the hardest for me,” recalled Macatangay.
“We needed to move our work from the university to our homes. I considered flying back to Manila to be with my family but thought it was wiser to stay in London since my sewing machine and basic tools are all here.”
He took this chance to show everyone that with hard work, resourcefulness, and determination, anything is possible, pandemic notwithstanding.
"What I want people to see with this collection is how challenges can eventually become part of your beauty and strength if you stay resilient.”
Since he had limited access to the people he works with—seamstresses, wood and metal workers, and fabric suppliers—Macatangay had to change his mindset to fit the situation and make do with what he had.
“My final collection is quite different from how I envisioned it before the pandemic. I needed to change a lot of things from design to materials and the process by which I was going to make them,” he shared.
“I had to buy fabrics online, which meant that I had very limited choices. I only used two fabrics for the entire collection, lycra and cotton. I also had a bit of silk satin, which I was able to use. I dyed and digitally printed my fabrics to achieve the looks I wanted. For the pieces that required metal and wood working, I worked with scraps and whatever I could get my hands on.”
He also had to do everything manually using the most basic tools at his disposal, a process, he said, he “actually enjoyed.”
“It made me realize that what I was going through completely reflected the concept of my graduation collection, which is finding beauty and power in the midst of struggle,” he shared.
Macatangay continued, “As I faced the disappointment and frustration of the whole situation, I rediscovered my inspiration for doing what I do. I felt strong and empowered seeing my final garments come together under these circumstances.”
Thankful for the lessons he learned in school and guidance from his mentors, Macatangay finished his five-piece collection featuring 3D concepts that caught the eyes of Vogue, The New York Times, Grazia, and Net-A-Porter.
According to Macatangay, his designs symbolize how people carry the weight of personal struggles. The challenges are represented by the sculptural pieces attached to the clothes. As a person goes through each look, the sculptures become smaller, signifying how struggles become a part of one’s journey as they go through life.
“What I want people to see with this collection is how challenges can eventually become part of your beauty and strength if you stay resilient,” said the designer.
“I understand that this may sound too cliché but it’s a narrative that is very much based on truth,” he said. “I’ve been working on this idea for two years now and when the COVID-19 pandemic happened, it made me realize how important it is to get this message across. Little as it may seem to others, I want to inspire people to keep pushing forward and to never give up hope.”
Macatangay plans to stay in London to further hone his knowledge and skills in designing.