Lulu Tan-Gan, the country’s queen of knitwear, has pioneered versatile, fashionable and sophisticated garments for close to half a century. She further explored the possibilities of this medium.
We recall how she transformed the entire Ayala Museum and Mall Gardens into an explosion of colors through her Yarn Bomb Knit Bomb project in late 2017 and early 2018, back when she was the Senior Industry Fellow of the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde.
This initiative wrapped tree trunks and branches with crafted weaves such as her crochets, knits and other yarn-based creations. The open-air show gave importance to and made the public rethink which spaces, aside from museums and galleries, could be utilized as a venue for the arts.
She is one driven lady who does not sit on her laurels. In fact, this past decade, she has focused on our traditional piña fabric and incorporated it into her iconic knitwear. Initially, it was a challenge for clients to accept this new combination as contemporary wear but through time, her persistence and influence prevailed.
“To sustain a traditional craft, design must be relevant, most specially to the youth,” she said.
She did not stop. She likewise wished to reinvent the Barong Tagalog to be suited for casual wear instead of just reserved for milestone occasions. With inspirations from the classic Filipino attire, combined with history and tradition, heritage and art, she went against the grain of the traditional wear and the tendencies of the catwalk. Instead, she and her team focused on a global acceptance of contemporary use.
And thus, “piñawear” was born — fashion which highlights the modern design possibilities for both materials.
Amid the pandemic, she did not rest either. She launched a summer line for resort wear. These consisted of indigo-dyed caftans, ponchos and loose blouses in silk.
When pressured, Lulu does not waste time; she solves whatever stands in her way. She then engages in tai chi to release tension.
On her precious free time, she reads books, watches Netflix and spends time with her grandchildren, whom she admits have transformed her personal life to be much more blissful.
We had a chat with her as she shared more valuable insights:
On the creative process
“I enjoy the product development process most. You decide on a concept and start to illustrate. Then, you work on product development. You can change the style during this stage as you handle the fabric.”
“As a designer, you can either follow a paper pattern or be like a sculptor that manipulates the form.”
“Production is a love and hate relationship but it is the business part. One needs to enjoy efficiency and accuracy.”
On shifts due to the pandemic
“We continued other sustainable practices, this time surface treatments like fashion up-cycling, utilizing fabric remnants to innovate something new. We also found more time in fabric dyeing with natural dyes, like indigo.”
On hurdling lockdowns
“There weren’t many. It was fortunate that we discovered new ways to innovate with mixed fabrics, remnants and dyes.”
On business challenges
“This pandemic was unexpected, but it fast-forwarded my planned retirement in September 2020. Six months after, my subcontractors and I all needed to go back to work. Luckily, some seized permanent jobs in nearby provinces, as they were good craftsmen and Makati was too far for them. On my part, I still have inventories. I continue to innovate, upcycle, work with available part-time creators and join pop-ups.”
On lessons learned
“I felt the world needed to pause. It was going too fast. We were consuming and throwing away too much. The air cleared during the first several months of community quarantines. We also needed time for ourselves, our family and our home.”
Advice to aspiring designers and entrepreneurs
“Fashion is not easy. To sustain a brand, one needs to be passionate, curious, hardworking, know the market and have the tenacity to constantly innovate. You need a partner as soon your business grows.
“Education helps but one needs experience. You must work for others first if you intend to be successful.”