FASHION is serious business.

Especially for Thomasians Katherine Tolentino, Nicolette Bell, and Evelyn Monroy who are not only living in style but also making a living out of it. Here are empowered women of different generations with different tastes but one goal in mind—to refashion the entrepreneurial world.

In the bag

For someone whose passion is fashion, senior Katherina Tolentino will most likely have a promising career producing trendy totes.

Before Tolentino even graduates with a degree in the Bachelor of Arts in Communication Arts, she already has the bag business at her fingertips, even planning to expand the family-owned shop, Bags in the City (BIC) in Cebu in April.

BIC opened last November, but the young business woman learned fast the trade. She became manager of the shop despite her busy schedules and her studies.

As shop manager, she tracks the sales records of the company and assists clients. Working for the shop, however, does not mean receiving any payment. But having no salary is not a problem because she finds fulfillment in customers’ satisfaction.

“Nakakatuwa kasi kapag nakikita nung friends nila ‘yung bag, nagagandahan sila at tinatanong kung saan nabili. Because of that, clients keep coming back and they always look for me for my assistance,” Tolentino said.

Although she has not design, she has pitched a number of ideas and styles to her elder sister, who does the sketching. Tolentino also monitors the latest trends and researches for fabrics that are classy but durable.

“I look for shape and functionality. Hindi rin ako masyadong tumitingin sa kung ano lang ‘yung uso, but we also try to improve the look of the fabric so that even though it’s not popular anymore, it can still be used,” Tolentino said.

In conceiving new patterns for a bag, Tolentino takes into consideration the styles and concepts of bags by Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Nine West because of their enduring elegance.

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She said that ukay-ukay and tiyangge shops help widen her design perspective because she sees a variety of different styles that can be incorporated into a design.

Working five days a week, Tolentino has learned to manage her time so that she can still make way for academics. She stays late into the night and even not slept at times just so she can cope with school requirements.

Majoring in CA, however, when she could have instead enrolled in a business-related course such as Economics, had been a question frequently raised by her classmates.

But “Katoy,” as most of her friends call her, said she took up CA because she wants to be a magazine writer.

Following the craft’s calling, she said she plans to enroll in Fine Arts in the future. She said that her skills still need to ripen for her to competently cope with the demands of the fashion business.

On toes

Nicolette Rita Bell is a no-frills kind of girl—she lives by the day and accepts everything that comes along. But, right after graduating with a Hotel and Restaurant Management degree from UST, she embarked on a fashion career.

Director Robby Carmona discovered her when she accompanied her sister, Selina, on a modeling stint. Carmona spotted Bell in the crowd and asked her to fill in for an absent model. Since then, she has modeled for a living.

But being in the business side of fashion was unplanned for Bell. Lulei Avecilla, an entrepreneur and Bell’s long-time friend asked her to do shoe designs, since Bell knows the styles that sell. After hitting the drawing board, they immediately went to the famous shoe district of Marikina and knocked on people’s doors to find a supplier.

“Most of them rejected us at first because we were nobody,” Bell said. “But finally, someone accepted our designs and made samples of our shoes.”

However, Avecilla and Bell got sidetracked by their other interest, t-shirt designing, and forgot about the shoes. Even though the shirts were a hit at the bazaars, the two felt constrained with designing t-shirts because the materials are limited. Then, after three months, their supplier called saying that their shoe samples were already made.

Long Distance

“We had about 30 pairs each and it was just for our own satisfaction because we really like shoes,” Bell said. “Then people started noticing them. that’s when we realized that we actually have a market.”

That was the start of Label, their shoe business. Since last summer, when they decided to sell their shoe designs, orders from clients have come in non-stop. They went to offices to sell their shoes and since both had connections, buyers and publicity easily came.

“We design the shoes the way we like it and every shoe that comes out is our personality. We don’t follow the trends. We just think of how we want our shoes to be and we don’t like to compromise our designs for profit,” Bell said.

The one thing that sets their shoes apart is the material and the comfort. They try the shoes first to make sure that they look good and are not a pain to wear.

This October, Culte Femme of Rustan’s and XY Shop will feature Label in their shops. Belle has come a long way from personally delivering shoes to clients.

Crafting life

Evelyn Monroy is a fine example of a woman growing old with grace and definitely with style. Being 57 years old, with two children, and running an entire household certainly did not stop her from her passion for designing and breaking into the fashion business.

Monroy owns a little shop in Cubao called Accesoria de Casa. She specializes in hand-made accessories made of beads like earrings and house ware made of carabao horns and other indigenous materials. She designs all of her products and does the prototypes, after which she leaves the mass production to her workers. The mixture of “ethnic style and high-end taste” in her designs, as she put it, plus affordable prices, have clicked so well in both the local and international markets that her products are already icons in classy resorts around the country and they are quickly gaining more foreign patrons. Accessoria is a regular in fashion bazaars in and out of the Philippines as well. Monroy said she owes all this success to her years of experience as a struggling artist.

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“I got this far because of hard work,” she said. “I just made use of what I have and did my best.”

Monroy’s penchant for crafts started in childhood and eventually became her life’s passion. The world opened up for her when she took up Fine Arts at the then UST College of Architecture and Fine Arts for two years.

After finishing Fine Arts in the University of the East, she landed various jobs in advertising, doing illustrations and apprenticeship for other artists. Her big break came when a top department store hired her to do clothing designs. But when she got married, she prioritized her family. She then started to work freelance for other designers, but after some time, Monroy felt that it was time that she got recognized for her designs. Using the skills and contacts she picked up along the way, she made her entrepreneurial shift.

“Putting up the store wasn’t that hard because I loved what I was doing and even though managing people was hard, it was all worth it,” she said.

Seeing her designs come to life in the form of brooches, bags, and even flatware is enough to inspire Monroy to doodle more ideas on her sketchpad. Although imitators frustrate her no end, they also push her to continue developing and innovating her craft.


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