From uniforms to upcycling


CLOTHES from Michael Cinco and artworks up for auction from National Artist Benedicto “BenCab” Cabrera may have been highlights of the PMA (Philippine Marketing Association) Ramp Fashion Show and Charity Auction Ball, but it was hard to beat the gala’s opening act.

Marketing executives — members of the PMA — modeled sustainable outfits under casual, formal, and Filipiniana categories during the gala on April 30. Over 30 looks were presented — some were jazzed up with trims and accessories made with upcycled materials (there was antique lace on one of the gowns, along with clutches made of aluminum can tabs). All of these clothes appeared on the runway thanks to PMA’s collaboration with sustainability advocate and entrepreneur Tati Fortuna, President of Ucycle.

Ms. Fortuna, whom one might spot in society circles sporting her chicly sharp bob, founded the company during the pandemic. The company specializes in upcycling materials and turning them into uniforms and corporate workwear.

In an interview with BusinessWorld, Ms. Fortuna discussed the clothes she placed on her fellow executives. “We did not shop for anything new. It’s all shopped from their closet,” she said. “I upcycled, I recycled, I repurposed — what(ever) can be used.” While BusinessWorld noticed the trims and the clutches, she pointed out brooches and earrings handmade from scrap and other recycled materials (which to the untrained eye, looked absolutely brand new).

FROM UNIFORMS TO REALIZATIONMs. Fortuna said that prior to founding Ucycle, she had a company which made uniforms and attire for hotels, airlines, resorts, and other industries. “These companies have hundreds, if not thousands of employees,” she said. Since a lot of these industries slowed down during the pandemic, so did hers. “The slowdown in the pandemic gave me time.”

That was when she noticed the amount of cloth that her company used. “Oh my God — there’s so much textile that I contributed to the corporate world.” She then asked her clients if there was a system in place for taking back and reusing their clothes, and, finding out there was none, she got to work making samples (although she did tell us that she had been toying with making samples from upcycled fabric before founding Ucycle).

They still do corporate workwear and uniforms, but now they’re made from deadstock fabric, upcycled and repurposed textiles, and even their former work, returned to them by their former clients.

She founded the company along with her daughter, Carmela, and they’ve designed things like pajamas from old hotel bed sheets. She said that her children were her inspiration, noting that her son, “At a very young age, he would already talk about not using straws… without [us] telling him.”

SUSTAINABLE STYLEThis isn’t her first time melding her advocacies with fashion: last year, Ms. Fortuna wrote a book called Boss Manual: Book of Sustainable Style for Men. For it, she contacted a number of male executives from industries as varied as architecture (Mañosa & Co. Inc.’s chief executive offficer Angelo Mañosa) to chocolate (owner and Head Chocolatier for CMV Txokolat Christian Valdes) and dressed them in sustainable clothing, with handy style notes in the margins. The book was also launched at a fashion show last year.

“My hope is that these bosses, with prominent platforms in their own specific industries, will serve as models through this book to inspire, encourage, and influence more people to practice sustainable fashion,” she said in the book’s preface. And that was also why she was glad to dress the PMA executives for that evening.

“It is important to everyone,” she said about sustainability and its accompanying values. “Right now, we’re all complaining about the heat. That all goes back to sustainability.”

FOR THE EARTH’S SAKEUpcycling in the present sounds like an apology to the Earth. “We all have to be responsible for the actions that we take,” she said. “I think that there’s nowhere else to go but to be responsible about the corporate textile that I contributed in all the uniforms [I made].”

Over 267,000 tons of textile waste are dumped in landfills each year, as per a Solid Waste Management status report of the Environmental Management Bureau*.

“My ultimate goal, as a circular fashion advocate, is for people to keep materials in use for as long as possible,” she said. Ms. Fortuna says that people may think that their own little actions towards greener living may come to naught. However, she said “Everything we do, no matter how little, if we do it together, it’s going to go a long way.” — Joseph L. Garcia