MANILA -- What happens when a fashion accessory maker collaborates with an artist of distinguished lineage and unique talent?
Gina Nebrida Ty of Agsam Fashion Fern and one of the founding members of the Fashion Accessory Makers of the Philippines (FAMPh), recently unveiled her impressive line of products showcasing the unique art work of Khristina Manansala, granddaughter of National Artist in Visual Arts, Vicente Manansala.
The Agsam Fern x k.Manansala capsule collection symbolizes and inspires hope and resilience amid the pandemic. Both brands share a deep passion for timeless handcrafted designs that truly represent Filipino craftsmanship and ingenuity.
Each Agsam x k.Manansala handbag, beautifully and intricately handwoven by indigenous women from Surigao del Sur, boasts a canvas by Manansala as she personally handpaints her timeless artwork onto every Agsam Fern bag.
Ty came across Manansala's artwork in August 2020, through a common friend who posted on Facebook some of the latter’s artwork.
“So impressed was I with her unique and stunning art pieces, I immediately called our common friend and that same day, I got to meet Khristina, digitally though,” Ty recalled.
“She instantly got excited when I pitched the idea to collaborate with her to use my fashion accessories as her painting canvas. My aim was to create beautiful bag masterpieces that are not only functional, but also worth collecting, just like a collector's art pieces.”
The collaboration happened sooner than both Ty and Manansala expected. “The day I met Khristina and talked to her on the phone, I shared with her that the concept would be anchored on a woman's resilience, strength and hope, thus, very timely amid these trying times. And that this collection is also about women helping women,” Ty explained.
Since this is Ty’s first handcrafted bag collection, as her fashion accessories are mostly custom jewelry, she requested Manansala to specifically create women face images that would inspire and invoke resilience and hope.
“After a few prototypes, we came up with three distinctive handpainted images that gorgeously represent a woman's strength and resilience, yet still embracing her grace and feminine side,” Ty said.
“For instance, one of the handpainted bags called Redonda [round in Spanish], has a captivating handpainted image of a woman with a fish on her face. Abstract it may seem, but this is Khristina's creative brilliance at work, as she translates my design concept into a lovely artwork.
“The fish on the woman's face represents a fisherman's job and that any woman can take on a fisherman's job or any job, if she wills it. So the artwork depicts the beauty and grace of every woman, yet over and above that beauty is her reliability and ability to survive, amid the odds.”
Collaborating with Manansala was an exciting experience for Ty. “Our shared ideas and concept always resulted to lovely prototypes, so much so that it was difficult to choose the best artwork, as they were all simply stunning.”
Prior to talking to Manansala over the phone, Ty researched on the artist’s paintings and instantly fell in love with her artwork. Manansala’s works have graced various exhibitions in other countries. She describes her painting style as “bold and undaunted,” that translates into stunningly exquisite artwork.
“While her artistic talent is in her DNA, being the granddaughter of National Artist and cubist illustrator and painter, Vicente Manansala, I was impressed by Khristina's painting style – bold and undaunted,” Ty pointed out.
“Her subjects were often focused on women. It is no wonder that her paintings are found in private art collections, both in the Philippines and abroad. She has likewise participated in various exhibitions in New York, Germany and Malaysia.”
This is not the first time, though, for Ty to work with an artist for her creations. Three years ago, she released a heritage-inspired collaboration with National Living Treasure (Gawad ng Manlilikha ng Bayan or GAMABA) awardee, Eduardo “Mang Ed” Mutuc, considered the country's best metal craftsman.
“Called Agsam x Mutuc collection, the works translated Mang Ed’s concept on the value of Filipino heritage and craftsmanship into excellent metal artwork pieces that served as embellishments to my Agsam necklaces and bracelets,” Ty said.
The limited edition collection was well-received that the stocks of Ty’s products at SM’s Kultura Filipino stores and Manila FAME (Furnishings and Apparel Manufacturers’ Exchange) exhibit were sold out the moment they went on display.
As the fashion industry has been greatly affected by the pandemic last year, with trade shows and exhibits cancelled, as well as intermittent closure of retail stores, Ty’s initial fear was how to keep her business afloat.
“The new normal would mean low production of our handcrafted accessories,” she admitted. “Thus, providing a sustainable income for my artisan workers will be a challenge. So I instantly had to find a way to make our products easily accessible, yet still visually-appealing to our customers, while staying safe in the comforts of your home.
“As my company produces on demand, it was likewise a challenge to outsource locally-produced raw materials because of the ECQ [enhanced community quarantine] and travel restrictions.
“But that didn't dampen our spirits, as we sat down with our workers and told them that we need to do an AFC – Adapt, Find Ways and Carry On. And carry on we did by instantly strengthening our digital presence, first and foremost.”
As fashion brands were impacted by the cancellation of trade shows and everybody was compelled to adapt to the new normal, Ty considered the highs and even the lows in business both as a learning curve for her.
“It was imperative for our brand to be more visible than it was prior pandemic,” she explained. “Before the pandemic, while we have active social media accounts, there was no shopping experience.
“My products were readily available in the country's biggest retail chain, SM's Kultura Filipino, wherein our products were displayed in 12 key branches nationwide, for the past six years.
“With the new normal, we created a seamless shopping experience (www.agsamfashionfern.com) to ensure that our valued customers are able to conveniently purchase their favorite Agsam Fern fashion accessories from the safe comforts of their homes.”
Ty was compelled to re-route her marketing efforts. “From B2B [business to business] to B2C [business to consumers],” she maintained. “The old way of doing business isn't going to resume any time soon, if at all. So, those that survive and thrive will be those that keenly observe and immediately adapt in ways that work, given this new normal.”
As customer preferences and behavior shifted to the new normal, Ty’s Agsam Fern strengthened its digital presence. “We also created a collection that would be relevant and functional to the times,” she explained.
It was for that reason the Agsam x k.Manansala capsule collection was born. “Apart from our Agsam Fern handcrafted bags that are handpainted with Khristina's vibrant artwork, we also came out with artsy care kits and tote bags or simply called We-Care set, in limited edition.
“The Care Kit, with digitally-printed artwork of Vicente and Khristina Manansala, has a neoprene washable face mask and three personalized bottles that can be used for personalized alcohol, hand sanitizer and hand lotion.
“While the black tote bag that can be used to store your PPE [personal protective equipment] overall or other essential items, also comes with a neoprene washable face mask and a pair of Agsam Fern detachable earrings, for added flair and pop-art style, that you can also wear anytime. The tote bag and the face mask have the same digitally-printed artwork of Khristina Manansala.”
Ty insists she has been compelled to continue creating “products with purpose” through her new collection, as she had always been. “But this time, making our customers further understand and appreciate that when they purchase Agsam Fern products, they are not just helping a community of artisan workers, but they are also helping us preserve and promote our beautiful heritage and culture,” she said.
“The new normal also saw consumers' heightened interest and patronage on sustainable products. Thus, our brand's unique story of creating charming fashion accessories made of sustainable material and using a 45-year-old weaving heritage is also our way to remain significantly relevant.
“Consumers are now buying less but buying better and purpose-driven products, so this is where Agsam Fern sets itself apart. We are and have always been clear with our brand ethos and unique selling proposition and it has served us quite well, amid the pandemic.”
Ty also emphasized the surge in work-from-home as part of the new normal mode. “We saw it as an opportunity for Agsam Fern to further promote our necklaces.
“I call it the era and power of ‘self-adornment,’ as fashion-conscious consumers try to look their best during online business meetings or virtual reunions with family and friends. So most of our social media postings focus on vibrant neckpieces and how they may be worn in various ways.”