Sew and tell: Rod Malanao’s designs come alive in gender play

Sew and tell: Rod Malanao’s designs come alive in gender play

In the first of a series of fashion editorials featuring young designers, we talked to the DLS-CSB graduate about fashion school and inspiration.

Photos by Cru Camara


There is no doubt in my mind that the Philippines is rich in design talent. Doubts may arise, however, about the landscape in which young designers try to make a living — the Philippines is not exactly a fashion capital with a large and thriving fashion industry. But many thrive nonetheless, with some even getting to the global stage. There are a lot of hurdles, from the lack of government support, to very limited fabric supply, to meager press coverage — the list goes on. In this series of fashion editorials we’re calling Sew and Tell, we aim to give a platform for young designers to show what they’ve got, by showing you their work and talking us through it.

For the first of this series, front and center is Rod Malanao, whose work focuses on bright colors, textures, asymmetrical lines and silhouettes. We talked to the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde graduate about his process, his thoughts about the local industry, and whether or not fashion school was worth it.


YOUNG STAR: Was there a specific moment or memory that made you want to become a designer, or had you always grown up with fashion? 

ROD MALANAO: I knew since I was seven that I wanted to become a designer. My first encounter with the idea of being a designer was with magazines that my eldest sister would leave around the house. I remember telling my sister I wanted to be a designer while wearing her school uniform skirt. (Laughs)

Firesong: Rod’s use of fringe, fabric strips, and asymmetry create dynamic shapes reminiscent of fire and flight.

What do you love about making clothes, and what do you hate about it? 

I find it therapeutic to sew. I love the process, from drafting the patterns to sewing them. The idea of creating something from a piece of flat paper and fabric into clothing still amazes me. (But), in all honesty I hate having to install zippers. 


What’s the most difficult thing about being a young designer in the Philippines, and how does this affect your work? 

I guess it’s the doubt about even pursuing a career in design. (Even) with the slow but continued growth of the Philippine fashion market, it’s still pretty unstable. It’s scary to put yourself out there; to create work that’s not just going to be another passing brand. Fashion is the mixture of art and commerce, and finding the right mix for the local market without losing your “identity” as a designer is jarring to say the least. Also, there (aren’t) a lot of platforms here locally that allow young designers to showcase their work.

Back to the beginning: Rod knew he wanted to become a designer since he was seven years old.

Where do you get your inspiration? 

Are there any specific references or things that constantly make their way into your work? I usually get my inspiration from personal anecdotes — a diary entry, almost. One recurring thing is gender play: mixing masculine and feminine clothing archetypes and how it’s affected my worldview.


Do you think fashion school was worth it? 

I personally loved going to fashion school. It made me explore different technical fields in fashion. Fashion school allowed me to play with ideas, not necessarily thinking if it was going to sell or not; there was freedom to do what you wanted. It also grounded me in a sense that there’s a lot more to learn about your craft and it’s just not all the “glam” it’s hyped to be. Fashion takes hours of hard, grueling work. If anything, fashion school gave me a good support system with the friends I was able to make during the four years.


How is the next year looking for you? What are you looking forward to as a designer?

Nothing’s set in stone but here’s to hoping it’ll be better. I’m looking forward to see my growth as a designer — it’s always fun to look at work after sometime and see how much you’ve grown.



Follow the designer at @rodmalanao on Instagram.

Photos by CRU CAMARA
Styled by NASH CRUZ
#career #fashion #style

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