Imagine being stuck in a foreign country alone at the height of a pandemic that has put the world at a standstill. Now picture yourself being a fashion design student who’s on the brink of finally concluding his four-year journey in one of the world’s most prestigious art schools—a feat you singlehandedly worked hard to achieve and somehow came accompanied by high expectations from friends and family back home. You wonder how this global crisis will affect your education. Will you be able to fly back home with your head held high saying, “Look! I finally did it.”?
Cooped up in your flat, frustrated, and homesick, you receive news that you will not be given the same kind of support previous graduates have had for your final show. With lockdown restrictions in place, your school has decided that it’s best if everyone who can provide you support—seamstresses, wood and metal workers, even the ones who have access to your school’s fabrics—stay safe in their homes. Also, your own suppliers had to abruptly stop their operation.
These are just some of the things that London-based fashion designer, Jessan Macatangay, had to overcome recently in order to earn his degree at Central Saint Martins, the very same school that gave us iconic designers Stella McCartney, John Galliano, and Alexander McQueen. Originally from Batangas, the setbacks caused by the pandemic awakened the Batangueno fighter spirit in him. Instead of giving up, he took this chance to show everyone that with hard work, resourcefulness, and determination, anything is possible.
“The first few weeks after the lockdown was announced was the hardest for me,” shares 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. 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. More than anything else, I was really grateful for the guidance of my tutors from the university.”
He said that one of the biggest hurdles he had to face was having to change his mindset to fit the situation—making do with the limited access to resources and facilities that would allow him to create his pieces.
“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. I did everything manually using the most basic tools and actually enjoyed the process. 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. As I faced the disappointment and frustration of the whole situation, I rediscovered my inspiration for doing what I do as well as resilience. I felt strong and empowered seeing my final garments come together under these circumstances.”
Challenging as it was, all of Macatangay’s hard work paid off. His five-piece collection (everyone else only had three pieces), was one of his batch’s stars, and was even highlighted in international publications like Vogue, The New York Times, Grazia and Net-A-Porter. Macatangay’s visually striking final collection symbolizes how people carry the weight of personal struggles.
“I’m not someone who is unfamiliar with struggles. We all go through different forms and levels of challenges. Some may be more significant than others but each one is very much valid. 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.”
The challenges in Macatangay’s collection is represented by the sculptural pieces attached to the clothes. As you go through each look, the sculptures become smaller. This signifies how struggles become a part of one’s person as they go through life and how each challenge provide one with beauty and strength.
“I understand that this may sound too cliché but it’s a narrative that is very much based on truth. I’ve been working on this idea for two years now and when the Covid-19 outbreak 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.”