By: Tom Kennedy
Philippines-based fashion designer, Jann Bungcaras, opens up about the inner workings of his eponymous brand’s ethos, interwoven narratives, and revolutionary sustainable practices.
How’re you doing today, Jann?
Resting. I just finished two custom suits and need to take a breath after two months of hard work. We were pleased that our clients in the US (future grooms to each other) love them. I feel like, in addition to being a circular eco-sustainable brand, we are also becoming a premiere designer for gay weddings, and that is an honor.
What have you been working on recently?
At the moment, I am working on how to make my brand more accessible to people through our website. As for now, every transaction is limited to online communication, which may discourage rather timid customers though the process could really make the item more valuable.
We wanted some parts of our brand to be easier to purchase, rent, or simply to access. We are more than just an eco-sustainable clothing brand now: we accept textile-waste and clothing donations in exchange for discounts; we do vintage resales; we upcycle; we rent out pieces; and we do custom pieces. However, these services are not common knowledge - not even to our fans who have been following us since we started.
On another note, we are collaborating with stockists in the USA, South Africa, and India on a new collection and more partnerships.
How would you describe your brand’s ethos?
We started our brand with the promotion of being one’s true idiosyncrasy, while being kind to Mother Earth by using textile-waste. With our first collection being inspired by Exupery’s Little Prince, it then developed into something further, like how can we truly connect to our true selves when most of it is already suppressed?
“Jann Bungcaras is an eco-sustainable, circular and slow-fashion brand that uses narrations of fiction and history to create an emotional connection between his clothes, made from rescued and reclaimed materials, and his wearers.”
It is through these familiar storytellings that we will be able to inject our own messages to our clients, regarding self-expression and serious topics. For example, we addressed Anti-trans discrimination in our second collection titled “Howling: A Wolf’s Longing” where we portrayed Red’s wolf as a trans woman.
Last time I worked with you, we were in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. How has your brand evolved since then?
As a responsible brand we do not follow the wasteful cycle of fashion seasons, where mainstream trends are often introduced, labeling existing clothes as disposable. Since the last time we have worked together, most of our evolution came from the notoriety we were given. We won the Nylon Manila Gen Z Approve Designer and Fashion Brand Award in 2021, closed the Redress x Mercedes Benz HK Alumni Showcase Runway, launched our website, introduced more services(such as renting), first user customs and resale, and we introduced the Jann Bungcaras Forever discounts to avoid putting items in marked down prices and to discourage blind, haste consumerism.
I think the main evolution - aside from media and celebrity coverage of the brand - is that we were able to understand our true goal moving forward. In all honesty, there won’t be a seismic shift away from fast fashion consumerism anytime soon, but a shift is inevitable. We eliminated the production of our slow fashion Ready-to-Wear altogether in hopes of preventing dead-stocks and fast consumerism. We had acknowledged and told our customers that profit is not our goal, rather it is to create garments with an emotional attachment to them from reclaimed materials.
“I think the main evolution - aside from media and celebrity coverage of the brand - is that we were able to understand our true goal moving forward. In all honesty, there won’t be a seismic shift away from fast fashion consumerism anytime soon, but a shift is inevitable.”
How do you approach sustainability through clothing?
As what every environmentally conscious person would say, the most sustainable clothing is the one you already own. This is why we do not encourage end-user sales of our products, especially if the client only wants a one-time wear look.
To understand our eco-sustainable approach of our brand, I must categorize it into segments:
The first approach regards materiality and resourcefulness. It has been known since day one that we are using textile waste that we personally rescued and reclaimed from walking distance textile landfills in my area as main materials of our garments. We also up-, re- and down-cycle donated existing garments in certain collections or for our client’s request.
We also focus intently towards a positive environmental impact. More than 85% of a garment’s sustainability is locked in the design process, so we dodge certain techniques that are bad for the environment. These techniques include chemical bleaching, chemical dyeing and so on. To lessen our own carbon footprint, we opt to use non-electrical sewing, cutting and laundry machines in the production process, and we also use collective public transportation in all deliveries and errands.
In addition, we emphasize the importance of longevity in our products. We find that the most sustainable practice is to keep the garments until the end of their lives. For this, we need to establish a strong bond between our clients and their garments by making our wearers relate to their garments by integrating familiar narratives into the design and production process. We are also available for repairs and for maintenance until the garment’s end-of-life.
Another crucial component of our brand is circularity. Aside from creating a cyclical business model by using wastes as our main materials, we too encourage circularity by accepting textile waste and clothing donations in exchange for discounts. These donations are then used in future products or will be up for resale through our vintage store thrift-a-porter. We also offer our clothing library option, wherein our clients and partners can rent our products instead of owning, creating longevity.
Lastly, we implement blatant transparency towards our customers. One of our goals is to eliminate the stigma often labeled to sustainable / upcycled brands that these products will never tantamount to the ones that are sold ‘brand new’. In response, we are very unapologetic of the extra precaution we do just for our products to have a positive impact on the environment. We show how we source our materials through diving into landfills, how we travel in buses, and how we sew using old mechanical machines - all of these in juxtaposition to the glamorous pieces we produced on runways, red carpets and magazine pages.
What is sustainability to you?
Sustainability is such a broad term to grasp, since (in general terms) it means creating or building something that will stand the test of time, while not suppressing resources. This broad terminology is why we call our brand eco-sustainable, since that is where our goal is focused towards.
Eco-sustainability in fashion for me is an inevitable practice that will soon force fashion consumers to adapt to it, especially in this worsening environment and climate. It is the future, and it is the only solution for fashion to be part of the fight for climate justice instead of contributing to the problem.
Eco-sustainability in fashion - to me - means creating a fashion design, production and distribution system that creates a positive impact towards the environment and the people.
How would you describe sustainability in couture today?
Couture (or made-to-measure garments) has been eco-sustainable since its foundation, as they are intentionally made for a certain client and never to just be displayed in stores, waiting for a customer to purchase them. Made-to-measure garments are design and measurement specific to the client and would guarantee an emotional connection and attachment between the garment and the wearer, making it harder to dispose of it.
However, there are certain ways to elevate the eco-sustainability of couture, such as employing zero-waste patterns and cuts, eliminating harmful processes in design and production, and using sustainable/reclaimed materials.
Do you believe that the world of fashion today has successfully implemented sustainability into its consciousness?
Unfortunately no. For me, sustainability is treated as an additional branch or accessory to a certain brand instead of a necessary shift for the whole fashion industry.
Even the word ‘sustainability’ has been used loosely and roughly added to a certain product to attract more buyers or as an excuse to charge more for the very minimum practice of incorporating 1% recycled polyester versus their trillions of inventory made rashly in sweatshops.
Which of your collections do you feel best represents your brand’s philosophy?
Our second collection- Howling a Wolf’s Longing- really did tackled so much since it was released during a time where a transwoman was ridiculed by authority for using the Women’s restroom, and it became a phenomenon that placed the Sogie Bill ( Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Education Bill) in the forefront of discussion in Philippine Politics. So, the retelling of the Red’s wolf as a misunderstood trans woman was very timely.
The collection reflected so much of our philosophy, as we always use the statement “Fashion is Political”, being that we are one of the few Never Neutral brands that uses our designs to relay our Political Advocacies. It was also our first collection where we incorporated 100% textile waste as materials for all of the garments and hardware.
Which of your collections are you most proud of?
I will always have a bias towards the collection that started my career- The Wanderings of a Child Prince. It reminded me to chase my childhood dreams as a fashion designer at the age of 23 after knowing that I can no longer retain objective memory.
Which do you value more in your brand: couture or sustainability?
Our brand revolves around eco-sustainability and circularity, but our made-to-measure pieces make our products more sustainable. They tend to have the most palpable connection between the wearer and the creation, so for me, both work hand-in-hand.
Do you have any advice for someone that wants to pursue fashion?
Yes! I want them to pursue fashion - not for the idea of glamor, money, stardom and notoriety - but to change things up and make the fashion industry shift to eco-sustainability and circularity. We really have a long way to go and so little time. We do not need another brand to add to the piles of problems fashion has caused since the invention of polyester and industrial production.
I need them to think that they are more than a designer of clothing. They are a problem-solver, a revolutionary that will soon contribute to turning fashion into a solution.
I also want them to be a semipermeable sponge towards knowledge and criticisms. They should take what resonates and leave what could make them doubt themselves.
Do you have anything else that you would like to add?
I would like to say thank you to you Tom, for giving us this voice to share our knowledge when it comes to eco-sustainability, circularity, design and also to share things about our brand. I hope my sharing of our story will help you and others to make sustainable choices everyday.
I would like to encourage everyone to follow us on all our social media for updates on our future projects. We are @jannbungcaras.
Also, remember that we are all more than our clothes. Truly, eco-sustainable brands are more expensive than the usual fast fashion brands, but buying new clothes isn’t necessarily the answer when you need something nice to wear. Re-wearing something that has been in your closet for long would remind us so much of our growth from the last time we wore it. It makes us appreciate how far we have traveled from who we once were, and reminiscing happy memories embellished in that piece of garment can always brighten up anyone’s day.
For more information about Jann Bungcaras and his brand, visit https://www.jannbungcaras.com. Further contact with the designer is accessible through his Facebook (Jann Bungcaras), Instagram @jannbungcaras, or Twitter @jannbungcaras.