They say New York is where you go and live out your dreams. For Filipina designer Colene Yap, it’s where she found her place in the fashion world.
Colene has always loved fashion. Before getting her Associate of Applied Sciences in Fashion Design degree at Parsons, she was already doing gown sketches in high school and eventually became an intern at LVMH and Marchesa Notte. She also became the youngest manager of Zalora Philippines.
Currently, Colene is working as a designer for luxury athleisure retailer Bandier. According to Forbes, it curates selections from emerging fitness brands and even limited-edition pieces from brands like Nike and Adidas. Bandier gained attention when influencers and celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Hailey Bieber started sporting pieces from them.
In between sketching designs for six brands under Bandier, we managed to chat with Colene about her influences, fashion journey, and her plans for the future. Get to know her below!
Before you got your degree at Parsons, you were already working a steady job at Zalora. What pushed you to take the leap?
Even before my job at Zalora, I already knew I wanted to someday go back to school for fashion design, I just didn’t know when. About 10 months into my job, I went to New York with my dad and we dropped by Parsons. He urged me to apply as soon as I got home, so I wouldn’t change my mind, and I got in! At that point, I had just gotten a big promotion in Zalora, taking over my boss’ role as Marketplace Manager. I had to manage a growing part of the business and my own team. I loved working there, so I deferred my enrollment two times. After which I had to enroll or apply again. Looking back the timing couldn’t have been more perfect.
Where does your love of fashion come from? Who inspires/influences your style?
As corny as it sounds, it’s always been a part of me and my personality for as long as I can remember. A big part of it probably has to be because my mom and I are so close. I grew up traveling a lot with her, and shopping has always been a major part of the itinerary! My mom says that part of it is also innate. When I was two years old, I asked for a pair of brown leather boots for Christmas!
Today, I really just get inspired by what I see on the streets and the things around me. I’d say my style is pretty classic in a casual way, but I do sometimes mix in trendy pieces like bike shorts or dad sneakers.
What was the first piece you designed?
When I was in my senior year of high school, I used to design gowns for my friends for all the debuts and balls we had to go to! I had a seamstress at the time who would come to our house to alter clothes, but it turns out, she was also good at making full garments from scratch! She made a lot of my gowns just by my direction and a really basic sketch. I didn’t really know anything back then, but I probably had six friends at the time who trusted me—and even paid me!
You wrote in your resume that you were working part-time at Louis Vuitton while getting your degree. How did you juggle your time?
An internship is not a requirement for Business Management in Ateneo, but it is for most courses! I was thinking ahead and didn’t want to not have any type of work experience on my resumé, when most of my peers did. As I said, I always loved fashion, so I knew it had to be related to that. My friend, Patrick and I applied together and both made it. In fact, he’s now still working for LVMH in Paris! It was a great experience, but I won’t lie, it was pretty exhausting. Even if I had a test or paper for school the next day, if I was scheduled to work that night, I had to go. Luckily, it was only during the holiday season.
Overall, was a lot of fun. You learn a lot when you’re in sales, like the art of selling and patience—even towards rude people. To this day, it makes me respect everyone in retail. Now, I never go to a store and ask all these questions if I have no intention of buying.
What kind of training did you get from your design internship at Marchesa Notte? How did you utilize your skills and knowledge in Bandier?
Marchesa and Bandier are two very different companies, and likewise, the day-to-day experience was also different. At Marchesa, there were a lot of other interns, at least five of us on any given day. Most of the work was hand-sewing lace and ribbons onto dresses, making flowers from fabric, and copying patterns to send to the factory. On a good day, we would help drape the gorgeous fabric to create the silhouettes of the gowns; or join the head designer at the fit sessions with Georgina Chapman and Keren Craig.
I actually learned a lot from my internship that I applied in fashion school (instead of the other way around). I learned how to use delicate fabric like lace, how to drape it, what fabrics to layer and line it with, all of which I applied to my couture classes. It felt Marchesa really matched my design aesthetic, and even before moving to New York, it was the brand I dreamt of designing for!
Run us through your job at Bandier—what pieces you usually design and your creative process in creating new pieces.
We are a very lean team: just my boss, Ardith Singh, who’s the VP of Design, another design assistant, and myself. We design everything for six private label brands, which is about 30 collections a year. It’s insane! The overall concept and color story for each of the collections come from Ardith. We then work collaboratively on the mood board. We sketch and color out different options, then present them to our merchants, CEO, and Jennifer Bandier, who finalize which styles we should produce based on what customers love and are looking for. We get a lot of inspiration from what’s happening on the runways, but also from going vintage shopping.
What drew you into creating sportswear?
It’s what I wear five out of seven days a week! I love working out almost as much as I love fashion, so its a great marriage of the two. I hate having to change after a class, especially after barre or pilates. (I’m not looking to double my laundry load!) Fashionable, good quality activewear lets me do that. Before moving here, I always thought I was only going to do bridal or couture, but I realized I didn’t have a strong emotional connection to it at this point in my life. Sure I could design a gown, but would only wear it once—maybe twice.
Activewear, on the other hand, I wear almost every day, and keep repeating! I also think it’s important to be versatile as a designer, especially because it’s just how people dress nowadays! Athleisure’s not just a trend anymore. People wear it to travel, to do errands, even to work! It’s becoming more like a staple.
Do you think your work experience in the Philippines has helped you in your journey to becoming a designer?
Yes, I really enjoyed working for a successful start-up like Zalora, and in a lot of ways it is very similar to Bandier. Like Zalora, Bandier is just a few years old, but is wildly popular here in the US. The perception is that we are a giant corporation behind it, but there really aren’t that many of us! Being a designer within a smaller team comes with a lot more hard work and challenges, versus working for a bigger company with more of a structured process. On the flip side, it’s probably not as creatively satisfying! Being so lucky to have managed a growing part of the business for Zalora also came with a lot of hard work that wasn’t formulaic at all, so it was great training for what I do now. The roles were very different, but in a sense, kind of similar! Having to be a little scrappier, more resourceful, and quick to react are qualities you can really only learn in a start-up.
What’s next for you? Do you have any plans on starting your own brand in the near future?
Yes, my long-term goal is to move back to the Philippines and have my own brand. The problem is I like designing sportswear, ready to wear, eveningwear couture, and re-working vintage clothing.
Currently, I have my own little business of re-working custom vintage pieces, like denim jeans and jackets, and even designer suits and dresses. People come to me with a specific item they are looking for. For example: They ask for dark wash mom jeans. I go out to Brooklyn, hunt for the perfect pair, and alter as needed! So, before I start my own brand, I need to figure out exactly what it will look like and how to design pieces in all those categories without looking like a hot mess. I want to make sure I am putting out the best designs and quality as possible, and living and working here is helping me do that. I will surely have a brand that caters to all those categories in the not-so-distant future, so stay tuned!
Interview has been edited for online publishing
Photos courtesy of Colene Yap
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