If you've ever been to a tailor shop, then you've probably seen a bunch of leftover fabric scraps randomly lying around somewhere. In case you didn't know, in Filipino, these are what you call retaso. Most of the time, these textiles just end up going to waste and nothing else comes out of it because real talk: They're unwanted.
Not for sisters Nina and Thea, though. When they launched their clothing brand Nin and Yang just last month, creating fashion pieces from retaso was exactly what they focused on. They transform waste through thoughtful design and honestly, we're all for it. In an email interview with Cosmopolitan Philippines, we got to know more about these two Pinays, and the story behind their business. Keep reading to check out their beautiful designs below.
How did the idea of Nin and Yang come about?
"For as long as we can remember, DIY projects have always been an outlet of our creativity. When we were kids, we spent most of our time making things—picture frames out of cardboard, customized notebooks using old magazines, pencil holders from toilet paper cores, paper clip sculptures, the works. When we got older, we knew we wanted to share our creations on a bigger and more relevant scale; we chose something embodying both form and function—clothing. Because we have grown accustomed to finding value in materials that are commonly overlooked, retaso became the perfect medium."
"Whenever we piece random fabric scraps together to create new designs, it honestly feels like our younger selves are at play. That's what it feels like to be working with each other. Play. It's messy. There's laughter, and the occasional argument about who gets to play with what first. But at the end of the day, it's productive and really fun. We're roomies and besties (lol #cheeze), and while that makes it difficult to draw the line between work and personal life, 'business meetings' cannot go any smoother since we get each other on a telepathic level (no joke)."
What was the first product you created and perfected?
"Our very first baby is our Strappy-Go-Lucky Top (our bestseller!). Unlike how most clothes are conceptualized, our material dictated the design, not the other way around. We started by looking at the retaso pieces we sourced from a local tailor shop, and then explored different ways we could lay them out together, just like a puzzle. Once we found a silhouette and pattern we were happy with, we made a prototype using our own little sewing machine. Really, it's more of a toy than a machine, but it gets the job done! Haha. None of us have any formal background in fashion, but we are both passionate about style and design. Luckily, we found a local manufacturer who understood our vision, and was willing to work with retaso regardless of how tedious it was. They were able to copy our prototype perfectly and the rest is history."
What's been your greatest achievement and challenge so far?
"Our brand's greatest achievement so far is selling out on our launch day. None of us expected our first release to attract that kind of overwhelming support, especially from complete strangers. That night, we couldn't stop jumping and squealing every time a new order popped up on our website.
The greatest challenge is definitely generating continuous supply. Since we are working with scraps, it's difficult to produce uniform designs in big quantities. The search for discarded fabric that can match the dimensions and colors of our original designs is a long and slow process. But that's the charm of working with retaso. The time spent on each piece makes it more valuable. We are continually challenged to work with the quirks and irregularities of leftover textiles. The resulting clothes are just as unique."
How do your designs differ from what's currently in the market?
"From the get-go, we knew we wanted to start a business that didn't further harm our environment. Instead of exhausting new resources, our mission is to harness the potential of waste, and significantly add value and length to its lifespan through thoughtful design.
Nin and Yang is really about finding the balance between bold looks and comfort, and blurring the line between high style and ready-to-wear fashion.
We take pride in our original designs. Our personal favorite from our first collection is the Knotty and Nice Top. We love the two-way neckline and peek-a-boo side bows. We're all about strong silhouettes, asymmetry, unconventional necklines, and delicate details. We try our best to use adjustable straps, back ties, or side bows so the garments guarantee a perfect fit for everyone. Most of our designs are also reversible or multifunctional to cater to every mood or occasion. Above all, our clothes are accessible even if pieces are limited; good fashion shouldn't break the bank. Nin and Yang is really about finding the balance between bold looks and comfort, and blurring the line between high style and ready-to-wear fashion."
What are your goals for your brand in the future?
"We want to stay true to what Nin & Yang stands for. We will continue to produce unique designs, and convert as much waste as we can into someone's next favorite fashion piece. But we want to take our approach to fashion further than our material choices. We really don't want to hide under the ambiguous guise of 'sustainable' fashion.
We hope our material choice reminds people of the fashion industry’s environmental impact, and we also hope that our designs remind users that they, too, play a part in making clothes matter.
We knew waste was a prevalent issue in the fashion industry when we entered, but both of us still feel overwhelmed every time we witness, firsthand, the amount of retaso available in our country. Tailor shops literally have storage rooms overflowing with sacks of discarded fabric. Although we believe we are doing relevant work by breathing new life into a fraction of these scraps, so much more can be done to prevent these issues. We hope we can use design to deepen people's relationship with clothes. A reason why we incorporate multifunctionality in our designs is so that people will buy less and use what they have more often. We also try to make our pieces adjustable so they can fit the ever-changing bodies of their owners through time. We want to explore other design strategies too, like modularity. We hope our material choice reminds people of the fashion industry’s environmental impact, and we also hope that our designs remind users that they, too, play a part in making clothes matter."
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