Designer Profile: Angela Sison of CONRADO
We recently had the opportunity to chat with the creator of one of our favorite sustainable clothing brands, CONRADO (which is currently available in the shop at 30% off!) . Founded by the lovely designer Angela Sison, CONRADO uses deadstock fabrics and produces it’s clothing in the Philippines, in Angela’s mother's small, family-run factory. Read on to learn more about Angela and the brand as she answers a few of our many questions about the biz.
Tell us about yourself please!
I was born in San Francisco and raised in Manila, Philippines. I went to school in Manila from kindergarten until High school but always spent my summers in SF to visit my aunts and uncles. I moved back to SF after high school and pursued a BFA in Fashion at the Academy of Art University. I started out as a fashion merchandising student but ended up switching over to the design side. On the first year of college, I took my first fashion design class and my professor said that she would love for me to take the next level of design classes. I reflected on this and realized that I did enjoy all the design class better than the merchandising ones. On my second year, I switched all my classes to be design focused.
After a couple of years working for other bigger brands, I started working on the side to create some designs of my own for fun. I always thought of creating my own brand but didn't know when or if I ever will start it.
How did you land on Martha's Vineyard as a home base?
Three years ago, I had the opportunity to move with my partner to his hometown on Martha’s Vineyard. It was risky but I told myself this was finally the time to try and work for myself and build something. I decided to really work on my own brand and try out the Vineyard for the summer. Three years later, I’m never left Martha’s Vineyard and still happily working on Conrado!
Your family has such a rich history of working in textiles and design- can you tell us a little bit about it and how it informed your own design experiences?
I’m so lucky to have been in the industry since I can remember. My mom started her garment manufacturing company from scratch over 40 years ago. It’s still true to its core where she is the one really running it and along side her are really loyal employees. It’s very my family oriented.
I’m really really lucky! I saw the backbones of the fashion industry growing up. I understood what trims, patterns, purchase orders and invoices are by the time I was 8. I came into perspective of what a quality made garment is too. I understood why two shirts even though very similar in styles can vary in pricing.
In school, when I had art projects I always tried to incorporate fabrics. I loved going to the workshop and being crafty with all the scrap fabrics and extra buttons I found there!
At an early age too I found out that there were always extra fabric and trims for every order that the workshop produced. I understood this as, in case something was made incorrectly the workshop can whip something up that quality control deemed did not pass. Over the years, my mom had accumulated extra bolts of fabrics and various trims. My mom always encouraged me to use them then. Little did I realize when I was young that I would actually really be using these types of materials now! I’m so lucky to have been taught at a very young age to be resourceful.
Why is working with deadstock fabrics so important to you?
Being a small designer, it’s hard to fulfill minimum order requirements that factories and mills have. When you’re starting out or on my end, I wanted to test out different styles and fabrics. That means making just one or two of them. The only accessible way was to buy from retail fabric stores. That’s honestly where I found out what deadstock meant. Some of these stores have fabrics that says it was used by bigger brand names. I started my first pieces by buying fabric in SF, LA and NY’s Garment districts. I also bought a couple of fabrics from our workshop that had a good handfeel to them. I contacted some other factories we knew in the Philippines and reached out to them. They now know to help me find certain fabrics that I like to use which are mainly woven natural fibers like linen and cotton. I was persistent in finding the deadstock fabrics because I saw it with my own eyes how much waste there is in this industry. I didn't have the heart to custom order a fabric from a mill.
It’s important for me to have that the brand stick to being resourceful. It’s not only our fabrics that are deadstock, I also source deadstock trims and materials. Our care labels were old blank care labels that I ended up printing on. The thread and buttons we use are also deadstock. Our hang tags are made from recycled paper. I practice zero waste too. We make tote bags, scrunchies and pouches from our scrap materials.
Do you find it challenging to work with a limited amount of materials? How does the type of fabric available inform your designs, if at all?
Most bolts of fabrics I see are made of polyester that I tend to not use. When I choose the fabric, I’m very particular about the hand feel, weight, texture and colors. I spend hours going through fabrics. I examine each one I get. Deadstock fabric are the left-over fabrics. Some may be damaged a little, was printed off set or has some little stains. I make sure that these damages never reach our final product by being particular with the fabric I choose from the start. Some times, I cut around these damages and use the part of the fabric that can still be made into a garment.
It can be challenging working with limited amounts of fabrics. Sometimes I can only get a yard and make one top. But I learned to work with it. Most of my styles are limited ediiton and that makes it more special!
Are there other members of the core CONRADO that you work with?
Right now, at the workshop, there are four artisans who work on creating and producing the garments. I’m so happy to say that all four of them have worked at the workshop for over 15-20 years. Two of them, I knew growing up! How cool is that? My production process so unique, I wouldn't know how to do it without the deep connection I have with all of them. I’m so happy we get to support their livelihoods and keep everyone happy! A great rapport with one another and ensuring they have a livelihood that is sustainable for them and their families.
For the rest of the operation of this business, it’s mainly me who runs Conrado. There’s so many shoes to fill in running a business as mainly a one woman show out here. I dream up and sketch all designs, make all the patterns, technical packs, work on getting the right fit, deciding what fabric goes with the right style. I handle working with stores and collaborations too. I’m the graphic designer, social media manager, website developer, sales associate, inventory specialist and anything else that comes with running this business. I’m the one dancing and cheering when packing an order. I’m the one you’ll see at every tradeshow or pop up that Conrado travels to.
You do popups and markets A TON. You're essentially on tour. :) Does it ever wear on you? What are some of the highlights and pitfalls of the traveling market game?
It can be overwhelming running this business on my own, especially the logistics of production and travelling constantly to shows. I’m honestly still figuring out the best ways and practices for Conrado and myself. Conrado is very much inspired by travel. I personally always dreamt of a lifestyle where I am able to go to different places. It’s an exhilarating lifestyle. It also has some downside to it. My calendar is blocked out constantly, the exhaustion that comes with travelling and wearing different hats can get confusing. I also tend to go hard on myself. When things get to much more than I can handle, I just try to remind myself that I’m human. I make mistakes and the only thing I can do is learn from them. I speak and act towards myself with kindness.
One of your goals for 2019 is for you personally to be a more visible part of the brand. Can you tell us a little bit about why that feels important to you now, and why you think you shied away it before?
The story of Conrado is so personal to me. The people who make your Conrado pieces are so special. They have over 15-20 years of experience. The garment export industry in the Philippines was thriving during the 80s -90s making clothing for brands all over the world but collapsed during the time that China’s labors were so competitively low that brands were moving their production to China. About 150,000 filipino garment workers were out of jobs as a result. My mom stayed a float as she had several local clients that she provides utility uniforms for.
I want people to know how I came about working on Conrado as I feel that my production process and approach is unique. It’s a little bit different from a normal fashion brand’s processes.
It’s important for me to share this because I want to be transparent to my customers. I want them to know that I am trying to make changes and help others along the way. Supporting the livelihood of the artisans by providing fair wages, healthcare and even some sponsorship to housing and continued education.
I also feel like as the brand grows that I’m having less time telling Conrado’s story because I get preoccupied with other parts of the business. That is why I put this as a goal for the year.
What does it mean to you to have a small woman owned business? What are some of CONRADO's achievements that you're most proud of thus far?
The connection and vulnerability that women have with one another is what has helped Conrado grow from what it was 3 years ago. Since I am a women's wear brand, 98% of my customers are women. I always design thinking of how a woman wants to be comfortable, feminine and put together all at the same time. It is through my clients that I hear their concerns about clothing, what makes them feel good and at the same time what annoys them about fashion.
I’m proud that as a woman under 30, I can be in this role of owning and designing for my own brand. I wouldn't be here without my role models - who are all women. I came from a family where the mother is the breadwinner. I looked up to a strong and powerful woman growing up. I reach out to fellow designers and business owners who I ask for advice from. All the stores that carry Conrado are also ran by women. When I’m down, I’m constantly uplifted by my group of girl friends who are also mostly artists, entrepreneurs and creatives. We’re even trying to start a collective to help one guide one another with our struggles and successes as entrepreneurs!
I’m so proud that this small brand I had started has connected me to such special people from my amazing customers, artisans, stores, peers and role models.
What are some of your favorite pieces that you've made?
Hands down I’m in my Regine Overalls at least two - three times a week.
And the Sonya Culottes have been a staple in my wardrobe since I started the brand. It’s the first pant I designed! Another item I bring with me to literally all my travels is the Shazelle Jacket in Denim. Perfect layering piece to dress up or down!