Patis Tesoro’s card says “Environmentalist”, representing a brand that deals with a different kind of fashion consciousness. Tesoro is more about community service than social obligations, the kind of woman who values craftsmanship and honesty before mindless consumption. She is a far cry from the Hermes-toting matronas that line the aisles at fashion shows and flutter about at high society balls. “We have to evaluate what’s most important to us as humans. I’m looking forward to that day when we all have to slow down.”
Slowing down is just what we did with Tesoro on one Tuesday afternoon. After a hectic day filling customer orders, she sat down with us over coffee and sunshine and talked about her true passions, jejem0nics, and her life in a parallel universe as an organic farmer.
- What would you be if you weren’t the grand dame of Philippine Fashion?
A farmer, specifically an organic farmer. I like to plant trees, I’m specifically into forestry,
it’s my passion.
- What is your favorite item of clothing, something you may have kept over the years?
Anything beautifully embroidered. I have a dress from the 1940s that follows the 1920s style. I made it and I still have it, unfortunately it doesn’t fit anymore.
- What do you think every Filipino man needs in his wardrobe?
Every Filipino man needs a beautiful barong.
- How do you feel about how sloppy men of this generation have become when it comes to their wardrobe choices?
I go through the hardship of teaching people the quality of life. It takes that little bit of extra work to make things just a little more civilized. So the wardrobe choices of today’s man, I find gross. If find it unappetizing, unappealing, and sloppy-looking. And it’s everywhere!
- Can you name three key words that define Filipino traditional dress?
Embellished, identifiable, and environmentally-acceptable.
- Is there a silhouette that you deem vital to the definition of Philippine fashion?
It comes from the Southeast-Asian tradition of blouse and skirt, the malong or the sarong, and the blusa. That’s it. That’s the silhouette: it can be transcended or embellished to high heavens.
- As an agent for the enrichment of local culture, how do you feel about the influx of mega-retail chains such as Forever 21 onto the market for womenswear?
Totally commercial. It’s there just to make money, not to improve the quality of life. It’s not even egalitarian or a means to make everyone wear the same thing for the sake of social correctness. It’s not. And in that effect, it has really diminished craftsmanship.
- Do you think these serve to dilute local culture or enrich it by adding something new to the discourse?
The thing with globalization is it’s so unfair. It’s so unequal. In a sense it’s a euphemism for colonialism. In that sense, it has been more destructive, because although we are enlightened, it has come at the expense of our identity as a nation.
- Given this, do you see your company moving into and carving out a niche in the broader RTW market?
I’ve never been interested. If you’re into craftsmanship, it cannot translate into mass-production. Craftsmanship is community-based, you’re not in four walls.
- Where do you think you would be without the patronage of Manila’s elite?
I’d still be working somewhere. Working somewhere, as a farmer because that’s where the money is. It’s about food and survival.
- On the flipside, in terms of design and inspiration, what kinds of cues do you take from the streets?
I like it now. There was a previous period where things were very black and white, very Western. Now, at least there’s a greater appreciation of craftsmanship with the return of Indian ornamental details and the hippie look. In my day, when we took our cues for fashion from Haight-Ashbury, we had a lot of stuff on our clothes. Now it’s diminished, it’s hard to find, and climate change has affected the sourcing of materials. There’s no water, it’s more difficult to grow cotton. Is it dismal? Almost.
- How do you feel about jejemonics and its effect on culture p0h?
Ghastly. Wow. I can’t even understand it! It’s so abbreviated, I can’t understand it. Am I old-fashioned? There’s a whole new language happening, and I guess you can’t stop it, but is it necessary? Is it good? Is it beautiful? Maybe there will be a society of people talking jeje, but these are also the people who can’t write a full sentence.
- Besides the preservation of culture through the development of raw materials, what other aspects of traditional dress do you think are worth fighting for?
It’s important to go back to handmade, fine craftsmanship, and no to super- commercialism because of the destruction of habitat and communities. And hello to a better quality of life. People keep talking about simple things, but what does that even mean? Simple is a philosophy, but it’s not about less materialism. It’s about bringing back things that are special and have meaning. This has as much to do with personal relationships and family values as it does with relationships with objects.
- You’ve made great contributions to ensure the survival of a pina weaving. What would you say is the next step in the development of a larger scale natural fiber industry?
I saw the problem now because I went back there. It’s not about revival of skill because there are more craftswomen women weaving. It’s not dying or dead like before, but now there’s a lack of material to weave. We have revived pineapple, raffia, ramie, and abaca, but there’s nothing to combine. The cotton companies are gone, even the rejected cotton is unavailable. What’s available is all rayon, which produces subpar products. Because of climate change, there’s not enough water for feasible business so everything is down.
- Is it harder to keep up with demand or to create demand for pina and other local fibers?
It’s hard. It’s even harder now because climate change has made it not only more difficult to grow the pinya, it’s harder as well to grow the cotton because the pinya fiber cannot stand alone. Without a cotton base, there’s nothing to combine.
- Also in terms of developing local and cottage industries, which of your projects would you consider your proudest moment?
There are many, but I think I’ve made my greatest contributions to pinya and to the spirit of community around that product. Now, my biggest project is trying to get communities to realize the value of reforesting and the money they can get out of that. And that again is all community-based.
Everything’s happening so quickly. I look forward to that day where it ca all just slow down.
- When you come home from your travels, what are the things that remind you that you are, indeed, home?
Food, traffic, and my garden.
- You are such a strong advocate for cultural revival. What do you think about local retail chains using blatantly Western models to promote their brand?
Like everything in fashion, it’s a trend. Of course I espouse buy local and use local. It’s cheaper, too *laughs* Not that you should pay people less.
- On tangent with how fashion is marketed, how do you feel about the Philippine fashion industry adopting the “thinspirational” “thin is in” philosophy?
I don’t like it. I believe it’s not healthy to buy that saying that you can never be too thin or too rich. We should promote a more positive attitude towards consumption.
- Do you have any dream collaborations with any of the new talents in art and fashion?
There’s no one satisfactory at the moment. I hope there is though.
- You’ve dipped your toes in developing natural dyes from local plants. You actually create colors; which one is your favorite?
My favorite is red, which is hard to make because you need insects for that. Red is from a cactus-eating insect from Mexico called the cochinille. I also like blue, which is easier to grow because it’s indigo.
Published in the September 2010 issue of Playboy Philippines