“[I] probably will not be a model who wears the clothes [on] the runway.
That’s what I said when I was young whenever my mother brings me to watch the fashion shows. Then, I’ll see the designer, the last person who receives all the applause after the show. I told myself, I want to be the fashion designer.
I want to be the person who do the final bow,”
~ Dita Sandico-Ong said.
A proud Filipino designer, wrap artist and advocate of sustainable fashion, Dita Sandico-Ong has been in the ethical fashion business for 26 years—promoting Filipino fashion, while helping poor communities by giving them sustainable livelihood.
Having been born into a family who has been in the fashion industry for generations, it came natural for Dita to understand the substance, identity, and creativity of fashion collections.
“I am actually representing the third generation who has the interest in fashion,” Sandico-Ong said. “My mom always bring me to fashion shows even when I was young. My grandmother was one of the [pioneers] in the industry, through the C.O.D. Department Store. It is in my blood, I guess.”
A graduate of Fashion Merchandising in Tobe-Coburn School in New York, Sandico-Ong reminisced that the her first customers were actually the family members. “I design and make clothes [or gowns] for them and eventually, people are coming to me to create clothes for them. [My relatives] did the advertisement and promotions for me,” she shared.
The DSO Fashion
For Sandico-Ong, fashion is always evolving, changing, and moving forward “back to our roots.” This definition puts her name on top of the fashion pedestal. Her works—simple, elegant, and perpetual—are not just about being trendy. Her creations can probably last a lifetime, while maintaining its original shape and color.
“Sometimes, people will go to me and say that their dress is my creation [that] I made for them a long time [ago]. I don’t remember some of it, but whenever people tell that to me, it is a confirmation that I’m doing the right thing,” she explained.
The Sandico-Ong fashion, if described in just one word, is timeless—like a piece of art you can buy today and can still appreciate in the future. A piece that can be hidden in your dresser and still look fabulous without a slight change on its quality.
A wrap artist, Sandico-Ong has mastered the creation of wraps in varying color and style. “Everytime I come up with new collection, the additional design or accessories on that collection is applicable to my previous design. And that is how my designs are. I just keep on adding something new without losing the base or the identity, ” Sandico-Ong said.
Her creation mirrors the good old filipinianas. The clothes she makes are, more or less, a result of her reinvented filipiniana that is more minimal.
An advocate of sustainability, Sandico-Ong only uses indigenous materials like thepiña, banana fiber, and pinalino, a combination of piña fiber and irish linen.Though the fabrics are not easy to deal with, Sandico-Ong sees the difficulty of the fabric as an advantage and an opportunity to make use of it. Its different texture and shape give her label an identity that is unique and not easy to find. It became her signature trademark, like the Le Smoking suit of YSL and pleated creations of Issey Miyake, which she both admired.
“I look up to the Japanese market because their fashion is very Asian, having said that, Issey Miyake is an inspiration. His creation looks [as] if you don’t know how one can wear it but it is wearable and he can get away with it. It is simple and comfortable, and very close to their culture. On the other hand, I also do admire YSL for his global influence,” Sandico-Ong shared.
The DSO Philosophy
Most of the clothes by Sandico-Ong are ready to wear and can be bought off the rack. For clients who want customized designs, a month’s preparation is enough. “We already have design templates where my customers can choose from, since there are styles that [don’t] suit the fabrics I [use],” Sandico- Ong said.
The fabrics that Sandico-Ong uses are weaved by the mangyans (the umbrella term for the indigenous groups in Northern Luzon), who keep the tradition alive. According to her, the weavers are mostly mangyan elders, since the younger generation would rather explore other things, neglecting the dying tradition.
“You see, these people weave as part of their culture and you have to teach them discipline and help them through the things they are familiar with. You take care of them and give them livelihood. This what makes a benevolent fashion,” said Sandico-Ong.
At the same time, this is what Sandico-Ong wants to share with everyone: fashion is not just about clothes. It is what it is underneath, what it is made of, what it identifies. It is not a shallow subject because it is never just about dressing up and looking good. It is being confident and being conscious of what it takes to make a garment, understanding how difficult it is to weave, to create a fabric. For her, it is creating “fashion with a conscience.”
“There are so many fashion designers out there but I feel that they should go back to the basic, which is the fabric. We have to make use of what we have, to identify ourselves in the global market,” she said. When asked about her message to aspiring designers who are dreaming to make their mark on the industry, she simply encourages them to realize who they are.
And that’s what makes Dita Sandico-Ong more than just a fashion designer, but more so, a true artist. She continues to carry the Filipino identity through her collections, the most important element that most designers today seem to neglect.
Dita Sandico-Ong’s boutique is located at 35 Wilson Street, Greenhills, San Juan. She also has a boutique in Rustan’s, Resorts World, and Asian Society Store at New York. You can also view her collections online at http://www.dsowrapartiste.com.