ERZULLIE, FIERCE PLUS SIZE FASHION FROM THE PHILLIPINES
As a curvy lady myself, I love seeing the emergence of new plus size fashion brands. I do think that being body positive in today’s society is an act of rebellion, because it entails not buying into a multi-billion dollar industry that thrives on the hang-ups we have about our bodies. I love that Erzullie is a brand that is as rebellious, and as fierce as the body positive movement itself.
Personally I am a huge fan of the culture of Erzullie, and the woman they dress the Erzulliesta. A woman that isn’t afraid to dress up, and be both fierce and sexy. The brand has received accolades from Preview, Mod Magazine, Illustrado Magazine, Manik Mag, and Cosmopolitan just to name a few.
I would love to know what inspired you both, Berna Cuevas and Aries De Guzman, to create something so powerful for plus size women.
Before Erzullie, our first fashion line was Style People Designer Co., it was our first foray in the fashion industry. The main message of the brand was all sizes are beautiful. We catered from XS to 4L. We closed the fashion line even if it was successful in its own right, we just did not feel as fulfilled as we thought it would be.
Through that experience, however, we have learned that we are very good with plus size fashion. Being plus size women ourselves, it only makes sense that we pursue solving our own fashion problems (lack of sizes in styles that we want) through creating a fashion line for it.
The brand in itself is fabulous, exclusive in its feel. I love that each collection is visible in look books online. Are there any plans in the future for any international stores?
As of the moment, we are switching to demi-couture. At first, our plan was to just produce 8 pieces for each style, however, we have found a way to make it even more exclusive by creating just 4 pieces. This means that for every design we create, there will only be 1 piece of 1L, 2L, 3L and 4L. In UK SIZE it translates to UK 18, UK 20, UK 22 and UK 24.
We wanted to focus more on the quality of clothing as we definitely believe that our Erzulliestas deserve only the best. They work hard for their money. So we want to make sure that every piece that they buy will last more than a year to them.
With that in mind, expanding to international markets is definitely a possibility, but we have to study it greatly. We want to make our Erzulliestas in London feel as special and as fierce as the ones we take care of here in the Philippines. We also want to make sure that our designs can definitely translate to the daily lives of our international customers.
Would you consider expanding your brand to international fashion events such as UK Plus size Fashion week?
To be honest, it’s one of our dreams and target to participate in an international fashion event. As soon as all the obligations are ironed out, we will participate. We would like to show that the Philippines also has a thriving and growing plus size fashion industry and that as designers, we are both passionate and obsessed bout creating our own fashion. We would like to showcase our mastery and creativity when it comes to creating amazing plus size garments.
How long have you been finding your own curvaceous models?
All of our plus size models or Erzullie Icons are found through our in-house go see. We call it The Next Erzullie Icon Search or #TNEI. It is actually an annual event. But last year, due to the hiatus, we have changed it up a bit to scout for as many plus size models as we can.
When we were first starting back in 2010 (for Erzullie) and even way back for our first fashion line (2008 --- SPDCo.), it was very hard to find plus size models locally. There were plus size models back then but it’s either we didn’t find them or if we did, they were concerned about the designs that has to be worn. Even when we called out for a plus size go see, only a handful would come about. It wasn’t even called TNEI back then.
So how did we find the one, finally?
Our first plus size model was Kat Catapia. I met her more than 7 years ago. When we were starting Erzullie and after a failed go-see (no one went), I literally just asked her bluntly, “Hey Kat, would you like to model for our plus size fashion line?” She just said, “Yes” and the rest was history. She was the first plus size model to become part of the Erzullie fashion house.
By 2011, Erzullie was turning its first year and we were invited to join Empresario Manila, one of the premiere fashion events here in the country. It was a fashion show and we needed models. Since people saw Kat Catapia’s photos in the internet, this time the go see was better. A lot of new models came in and soon enough we met Loren Monares, who is now, up to this day, one of the top plus size fashion models in the Philippines.
It was through Loren Monares’ batch did we start calling it officially, The Next Erzullie Icon Search. The reason mainly is because we are looking for Icons. Icons in the sense that they are not just models, but actual plus size females making waves in their own lives, representing the Erzulliesta --- the woman that Erzullie dresses up everyday.
So historically, we have been trying to find plus size models since 2008, but officially, it was 2010. It had a name by 2011.
I love the idea of your customers being able to be a part of the brand, but I noticed it is currently available to only women in the Philippines, are there any plans in the future to make this open to international customers?
That is definitely one of targets and plans. However, right now, we need to make sure that we perfect it here before we start working on that. Also, we want to make sure that we are also ready for the Erzulliestas in the international arena and that we create pieces that is actually worth their closet space.
I really enjoyed reading the blog on the website which gives your Erzulliestas a chance to read the process of making the brand, and even an insight into the decisions made while building it. How do you manage to keep the brand feeling exclusive, and make a very personal shopping experience for your Erzulliesta's and make each Lady feel like a VIP?
Everything boils down to customer behaviour. Our Erzulliestas actually love exclusivity and thrive in it. That is why we hold VIP only events for them. In each event, we have stylists on board to help them choose in their purchases, light food, music and cocktails for them to enjoy. To add, the designs that we make are all about the Erzulliesta lifestyle. This creates a more realistic angle for the clothes on how they actually work for the people that we made them for.
The collections available to see online, are any pieces from the previous collections available to buy? If someone had a favourite piece.
To be honest, we have currently closed our collections and made it fully exclusive to the VIP- Erzulliesta list. We do run online pop-shops 3 days every month, but that would depend on the available inventory at that point.
If we do have stocks, we will open an online pop-shop, but if we don’t have enough, then, for us, there is no point for it. After all, nothing is more irritating than a non-stocked online shop.
When we do have online pop-shops, we usually announce it in all of our social pages. Erzulliestas get to enjoy easy shopping in our website with credit card options and flat rate shipping fees.
I have noticed that your couture is currently only made with eight or ten of each piece, would you ever consider making items made to measure if a customer was willing to wait for a longer delivery?
To be specific about it, we are proceeding with demi-couture. This basically means that we are producing couture-grade tailoring in limited pieces. We have recently announced to our VIP list that we have managed to even raise the quality level of our work by creating only 4 pieces per design of each collection. Since the piece has a copy and produced beforehand, it is still considered demi- couture.
For couture or made-to-measure, our calendars are currently full. And with our current dedication to demi-couture, it is safe to say that we may not produce a couture collection for a while.
What is your inspiration for each collection? Can it be anything from art work to nature? Tell us a little about your creative process.
As designers, our main focus really is our customer, the Erzulliesta --- her taste and lifestyle. With that in mind, Berna and I then proceed to go on our separate ways for the creation process.
Berna usually does it with songs. She gets inspired by the beat and lyrics and visualizes an Erzulliesta being in that “music video” directed in her head. What is she wearing there? How is she styled? Things like that.
For me, during the first collections of Erzullie, I would be imagining how she would be on vacation or at work. Later on, as I have met Erzulliestas, I started to take cues from their personal style, likes and dislikes as well as their life in general. When I design each piece, I would always imagine them wearing it, if it looks good and if it does, where are they going to wear it?
Is the brand Erzullie Fierce Plus size fashion still in collaboration with any of the other plus size brands in the Philippines such as Chubbly or Ward88? Do you think these types of collaborations are a big part of the ever expanding plus size fashion industry?
The owners of these brands are great women and I am honoured to have collaborated with them. Whenever there is a possibility, of course we do. I love how these brands complement our designs (and vice versa). Our Erzulliestas are always thrilled to discover a new plus size fashion brand that they can add to their well-curated closet.
I honestly think that if we are going to grow the plus size fashion industry, there is always a need of collaboration and co-creation. The more creative and passionate people involve the more luxurious and alluring events we can produce, worthy of time and money of plus size women.
I always tell my Erzullie Icons, feel free to get other plus size modelling jobs and represent the plus size fashion industry and women it exists for. For me, if I don’t allow them to do that, their skills as plus size models would become under developed, they won’t learn how to be treated as models themselves and also it limits the exposure of the plus size fashion industry.
An industry, anyway, is not just one person. It consists of several people, projects, actions, investments and challenges. So for it to thrive, there is a definite need of collaboration.
As a couture brand for plus size ladies, do you follow trends in fashion for each season?
As designers, we really don’t. However, when we do create couture pieces or even any piece for Erzullie, we research first to know if it has been done before. This way, we become respectful of other designers’ work and also, our customer deserve something fresh and new. If we see that it has already been done before, we immediately scratch that idea and move on to the next one.
When it comes to trends, our Erzulliestas are never really a fan of it. We tried that one time and we got told off by our own customers to never do that again (in a powerful ladylike manner --- of course). They come to our brand because they want something unique and powerful.
In a society that often praises thin bodies over voluptuous ones, how did you find the courage to be body positive, and create an amazing brand for plus size women?
Honestly, it’s all about positive thinking. Many people think that the fashion industry ignores the plus size community, but I would like to think that it doesn’t. After all, if it did, there won’t be a lot of plus size fashion lines bubbling up for us to enjoy. Also, at the end of the day, when designers do couture, not all of these women actually are sample sizes 2 and 4. It can go smaller or even bigger than that. So, what I see there is “all is fair in style and fashion”.
Some may say that there is a lack of plus size fashion exposure in mainstream magazines, but there lies the opportunity for plus size fashion magazines to open, fashion bloggers to feature or even come up with more ways for the mainstream magazine to notice! It’s all about looking at what we can do rather than rely on what other people can provide for the industry.
We are like penguins. Whether or not the fashion industry ignores our existence, close their eyes and not think about us --- fact is, we exist and we are thriving.
KELLY is both a mother and fiancée, and keeps her own blog at mummybuiz.simplesite.com. She is passionate about the body positive moment, is currently planning her wedding, and spends her free time baking and testing recipes for her family.