Style Weekend: Ivan Fabia captures the Philippines’ stories, one design at a time

'My mission is to create products that will ignite the sense of who we are. '

It was a handbag inspired by mangroves that enabled Ivan Fabia to become victorious at the Design-A-Bag Competition 2024 in Hong Kong last March. Aptly titled “Rooted,” the bag, with its wrinkled texture and curved lines, was definitely an eye-catching piece. But for the 25-year-old emerging designer, for an accessory to become a true statement piece, it must also tell a story.

That has been Ivan’s mission from the very beginning, to design pieces with intention, purpose, and narrative. This is not the first time did it. In the past, he produced a shoe design in homage to a kalesa horse. Recently, his “Juana” boots, an ode to the beauty and bravery of Filipinas, were hailed as the Lady’s Boot Individual category winner at the 13th International Footwear Design Competition in China.

For the June 7, 2024 cover of Style Weekend, Ivan gives us a glimpse of his life as a designer, from designing his winning piece and meeting other creatives from different countries to what drives him to create accessories that capture the Philippines’ culture and heritage.

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Ivan Fabia's 'Rooted' bag and 'Hibla Habi' shoes headline Style Weeknd's June 7, 2024 issue (Photo by Kenneth Enriquez)

How would you describe your aesthetic? What are the techniques do you usually incorporate in your designs?

My design aesthetic is always Filipino. Anything that would speak, narrate, and identify parts of us, as Filipinos fuels me to design. For the technique, I always start with the inspiration or story I want to convey and ask myself the question: What would differentiate this from the products that have already been produced? Then, I follow my design ethos of innovation, sustainability, and empathy.

Let’s talk about your Design-A-Bag Competition journey. This is not the first time you joined the contest, right? What made you decide to compete again?

Yes, I joined the Design-A-Bag Competition 2023 with seven entries, two of which were shortlisted. My “Perlas” design became an online favorite. Despite not making it to the finals, I said to myself to just try again next time. I joined its 2024 edition, made it to the top three, and eventually became the grand winner.

Can you tell us more about the bag you designed? Does it have a title?

“Rooted” is inspired by an experience and appreciation I had during my travel to the mangrove lagoon of the Great Sta. Cruz island in Zamboanga City last May 20, 2023. 46 out of 70 species of mangrove could be found in the Philippines, and one part of the tree that I find interesting is the root system.

Roots are one of the parts of plants that often receive less attention, yet they are crucial for nourishment and support. Though hidden from view, roots play an essential role in sustaining plant life, emphasizing the significance of the idea that what lies beneath the surface is important. Similarly, essential elements in life aren't always immediately visible. Sometimes, their importance resonates from within. This analogy parallels how the strength derived from deep-rooted foundations mirrors one's resilience against life's challenges.  Just as plants gain stability and sustenance from their roots, individuals with deeper connections to their core values and beliefs often exhibit greater strength and resilience when faced with adversities.

How long did you work on it? What are the materials you used?

The production of the bag took less than a month with the guidance of my mentor, Tal De Guzman of Risqué Designs, and my partner manufacturer Roweliza Landicho of Roweliza Shoes and Bags. Special thanks also to Venancio Dizon and my mother Bernadette Fabia who sewed the bag. I used leather from Chelsi Leather and Services Inc., sourced from Meycauayan, Bulacan, and the bamboo textile consisting of 70 percent lyocell and 30 percent bamboo developed by the Department of Science and Technology–Philippine Textile Research Institute (DOST-PTRI)

How many countries competed in this year’s competition? What are the lessons you learned from meeting other creatives from different countries?

Out of more than 110 qualified submissions from 35 countries (including Argentina, Belgium, Bulgaria, Thailand, Egypt, India, Iran, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, South Africa, the UK, and the US, etc.), 50 designs were shortlisted. Three finalists were selected, one from Estonia, another from Hong Kong, and yours truly. It was my first time attending an international trade show and competition.  It was nice to meet individuals from all over the world who could understand the language of beauty even with the language barrier.

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Ivan and his kalesa horse-inspired shoe design titled 'Rambo'

What is your mission as a designer?

My mission is to create products that will ignite the sense of who we are. Products inspired by our culture and heritage, using locally sourced materials, created by local artisans and speak a part of who we are.

What can we expect from you next?

After winning the Design-A-Bag Competition 2024, I’ll be participating in a four-week accessories design course at Arsutoria School, Milan in the last quarter of this year. I am also launching my brand next year. Expect that I will continue to champion Philippine culture and heritage through design, and share the learnings with fellow creatives, with the hope that through these we can uplift our creative industry.

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