Jill Lao on designing clothes for women and building a brand


The Filipina fashion designer launches her first pop-up in Powerplant Mall featuring her spring-summer 2022 collection ‘Amelia’

It’s about the digital leap. That’s what we saw during the pandemic as businesses try to make a virtual exodus as physical stores are pushed to close their doors. While that move bridged entrepreneurs with their customers safely and conveniently, it didn’t capture much of what people are experiencing when they are dining out or shopping and seeing the clothes live. But as we are now trying to go back to what’s normal before, brands are welcoming customers back to their spaces. Among those who are inviting Filipinos to rekindle with their pre-pandemic retail moments is fashion designer Jill Lao as she opens her pop-up in Power Plant Mall.

Jill Lao

Embodying Jill’s subtle and understated design sensibilities, the boutique has confidence mirrored through its minimalist approach. Upon entering the space, people would know what she has to offer. It is the physical manifestation of what she wants to give to her customers that cannot be translated online.

“There's really nothing quite like entering a space, having that experience, and seeing the garments up close,” she tells Manila Bulletin Lifestyle. “Even if you have good photographs, people still want to feel the fabric, to see its lightness, the transparency, how it feels. I think we can also admit that whatever technology can help us with, there is still a limit, there is still a barrier and distance between us. It cannot replicate a physical interaction.”

Inside the store is Jill’s latest creations. After working on personal protective equipment for medical workers during the onset of the pandemic, the designer shifted from materials for hazmats to delicate textiles and crafted clothing that will fit with Filipinas’ post-pandemic lifestyle. Dubbed “Amelia,” her spring-summer collection is an ode to the women she is designing for. Drawing inspiration from notable woman figures, both real and fictional, she brings elements of American aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart and film character Enola Holmes to her contemporary collection.

Pieces from "Amelia" collection

“They work like rebels just for themselves. They championed others,” Jill muses. “For example, Amelia championed women in aviation and business. She was an example of how a marriage of equals was supposed to be. She launched her own line of fashion at Macy's for women to feel very comfortable. Enola, although she is a fictional character, is also very inspiring because she saved those who are weaker than her, and she constantly sought out the truth.”

“More and more women, Filipinas in particular, are speaking in their careers, making equal decisions in their homes,” she adds. “I don't think this is meant to put down men at all. This is an exciting time because women are getting more and more comfortable in their own skin.”

Inside the store

To help empower women more, through her “Amelia” collection, Jill created pieces that will match today’s women’s attitude. In her collections are cutout trench dresses, tiered frocks, tie bustiers, among others, that are designed to celebrate the wearer in whatever size she may be in. D-rings, adjustable straps, gathers, belts, and drawstrings are thoughtful details that support the movement and freedom of modern-day heroines. The pieces are flexible and can easily adapt to women's ever-changing bodies with just a few pulls and knots, making them forever wardrobe staples.

“For me, ‘tiis ganda’ is not something that I accept,” Jill says. “With the pandemic lifestyle, everyone got used to wearing PJs, loungewear. It is really about comfort and functionality. I love that our pieces are so comfortable that it feels like you are wearing a cloud, but it doesn't look like a duster. It doesn't look sloppy like you just got out of bed.”

The designer's pop-up in Power Plant Mall

“Amelia” also captures Jill’s design journey since establishing her brand in 2017. From her days in Parsons School of Design in New York and training under esteemed fashion houses like Oscar de la Renta and Marissa Webb to being one of the Filipino design delegates at last year’s PHx Fashion in Japan, the designer gathered all the lessons she got in the past and applied it to this collection.

“It is a process. I didn't realize this when I started but I really have to listen to my customers,” Jill says. “I have to listen to what women are saying, what they are looking for. They need to have options. I have to also create an environment of trust. If I don't have that, then they are also not willing to tell me what they are looking for, what they want to see, or how I can improve.”

“With regards to building a brand, in the words of the great Diane Von Furstenberg, ‘Let everything you do be in service of the brand.’” she continues. “There will always be mentors, well-meaning advice—whether creative or for business. Ultimately, I have to make the decisions and be at peace with them.”

“Amelia” is available at Jill Lao’s pop-up in Power Plant Mall, Rockwell, and online at www.jilllao.com.

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