The designer who wants to put Philippines on the fashion map

The designer who wants to put Philippines on the fashion map

Sofia Borromeo, who launched her label, Sofie B, in 2015, is on a mission to promote Filipino craftsmanship by incorporating native techniques and design elements into her minimalist, easy-to-wear styles


Why did you become a fashion designer? “I told my parents I wanted to go into fashion when I was 15. I wasn’t the girl who loved to buy clothes – instead I was inspired by how women dress. I loved to draw, so I see myself more as an artist than a fashionista. My guidance counsellor recognised this, so after high school she suggested I apply to SCAD [the Savannah College of Art and Design, in the United States] and I got in. I was such an introvert but what gave me confidence was when we showed our final graduate collection. My cape dress became the icon of the week and I was interviewed by Marie Claire and the CFDA [Council of Fashion Designers of America].” 


What led you to launch Sofie B? “I worked for three fashion houses and as a buyer before launching my own label. I knew that if I continued to work for someone else my interest in design would disappear. My husband then introduced me to Tesda [Technical Education and Skills Development Authority], a government-funded department that promotes technical professions in the Philippines. I took in a few seamstresses, trained them and launched the brand a year later.”

Part of your mission is to promote Filipino craftsmanship – why? “Being based in the Philippines can be a disadvantage because we are a dot on the map but our strength is our rich culture. I wanted to explore the manufac­turing industry and its artisans, so our first collection was launched with basket weavers in Cebu, who wove the fabric for us. At the same time the Filipino connection in my work is very subtle – I don’t want my clothes to look too ethnic. I want to show how the Philippines can do hand embroidery, beading, laser cutting just as well as China or any other country.”

How is the fashion scene in the Philippines changing? “The culture in the Philippines is all about copying, mainly because we’ve been deprived of so much for so many years. Zara and luxury brands are still relatively new for us and the local scene is dominated by couture designers. The new generation isn’t designing anything new but replicating what’s out there because it’s commercial. If we keep doing this, our industry will become stagnant. I want to give the next generation a new perspective on what the fashion industry is all about. I am the only brand that has a ready-to-wear offering that’s completely unique in the Philippines.”

How would you describe your style? “I am inspired by art and architecture so I love the minimalist style of Jil Sander and Joseph, which is understated but is known for easy-to-wear cuts. I constantly fuse the two aesthetics together and include Asian design elements to make it unique. This can come through in the print, technical aspect or craft, even the fabrication.”