Rosanna Ocampo-Rodriguez on How Fashion and Design Can Evolve and Adapt in a Crisis - Lifestyle Asia

“You need the peace to create beautiful things,” says the designer.

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As a veteran in the fashion industry, it is natural for a designer’s style to evolve not only as times change but as life takes a major shift as well. Looking back to her 30 years in the business, Rosanna Ocampo-Rodriguez shares that her social life changed.

As someone who likes meeting people and going places, it was a defining moment when she had to balance working full-time while spending time with her children.

This change bore the decision to create her first ready-to-wear label for her eponymous brand—a turning point in her career. “I’m more of a ‘dress up’ than ‘dress down’ and so I wanted to keep in line with that,” she explains. This paved the way for intricate tops and dresses, each still carrying her feminine and sensual aesthetic, reminiscent of sunny days and wanderlust.

The shift from classics to casual especially in the pandemic was a drastic change but she believes it to be necessary. “It was always a process of evolution because my style would really change depending on what point of my life I was in,” she says.

Adapting to the times

In the beginnings of the pandemic, when face masks became urgent essentials, Ocampo-Rodriguez and her team instantly knew they can produce such and help people. They have all the materials but the problem lies in the lack of access.

“We belong inside a gated community,” she explains. With lockdowns in place, the atelier couldn’t mobilize and operate. “I had two of my staff who were willing to live with me here in my residential home. That’s how we did it for a while.”

The result of the first set of face masks remained in line with Ocampo-Rodriguez’s brand. “We put all our heart into those masks. We made our usual hand embroidery, or applicator or hand techniques—it’s all in the masks,” she adds. From masks boasting of a marriage of textures and colors, the atelier moved to produce clothing fit for the needs of people during the pandemic.

Le Weekend was then born. Under this collection are Play for resort wear, Sport for activewear, and Le Bar, Ocampo-Rodriguez’s foray into furniture line: bar cars that are made of the finest rattan. The idea came from the designer’s enthusiasm for enjoying a drink once in a while. “There’s a market for this,” she says, “I was correct because the bar cars are still doing very well even until now.”

From introducing these new sub-labels, the atelier slowly found its footing. During the Christmas season, it came as a surprise when their pop-up in Rockwell garnered much attention from both loyal and new clients. This was the time when they brought back their black label consisting of cocktail tops.

“Starting from November, it’s been a total upward climb. We were doing so well,” she explains. After the holidays, it was only logical to return to Le Weekend as people weren’t going out again due to the rise of COVID-19 cases. “The price range is very different, but there’s more in volume,” she affirms.

Breaking barriers

More than a year into the pandemic, the country reverted to a lockdown amid continuous quarantine. This reinforces the cycle of seemingly never-ending restrictions for businesses. “I really don’t like operating on half-capacity. But we’re just following the rules,” Ocampo-Rodriguez says.

With travel limited, the fashion designer finds it tough to create pieces. Oftentimes, she takes inspiration from her trips and from her five-year stay and training in Milan’s Instituto Marangoni.

“My work is really all about texture and color and layering patterns. Because of that, I always had to source my fabrics abroad, which I love doing… So, it’s very frustrating for me to communicate with them on Zoom, and not feel them,” she explains.

A similar problem covers her Le Bar where she has to find suppliers that will produce the bar cars the way she imagines them to be. “I wasn’t going to the place to check the color of the bar car [especially when] I wanted a very particular shade of blue, a particular shade of green… So, the process was so long because of the restrictions.” It takes several back-and-forths to ensure the colors, materials, shape, and overall design are aligned with her vision.

Working with these challenges is difficult, but she keeps in mind the reasons her brand is still surviving until now. “I had to really wrack my brain and think of something to do that was relevant to the current situation,” she reveals. The endless quarantine taught her and her team to firstly, persevere, no matter the circumstances.

Apart from persistence, Ocampo-Rodriguez says compassion plays an essential role. “Thankfully, we’ve been understanding of the situation. We treat each other like family,” she says. Most of her team have been working with her for a long time and the years spent together created a healthy relationship among them. “That’s important in any workplace because you need the peace to create beautiful things.”

Above all, she believes “there are no shortcuts to do hard work.” She and her team must keep finding ways around restrictions to pull off their visions and to cater to the needs of their customers.

A new future

The way Ocampo-Rodriguez sees it, the pandemic will persist for another year or two. “That’s something I’ve come to terms with,” she clarifies. It will take time for the economy to recover, even industries like fashion.

“I think everybody realizes that things will have to go a little slower in the next few years,” she muses. “We cannot leave to do the normal things for buying. It’s a much slower production.” Thankfully, her brand is not much affected compared to fast-fashion as it has never been a part of it.

As a company, they maintain consciousness of the environment. “We still put a lot of care and thought into our pieces,” she adds. “In fact, [Le Weekend] has a slogan. It’s called ‘music, cardio, cocktails’ which means you can wear our pieces from day to night.”

They uphold this motto in their pieces by “[taking] our cue from our customers,” she firmly says. “While we have maintained our old customers, because it’s a new price bracket, and it’s lower… we reach a different market. So, these are new people we’re listening to. There’s a lot to learn from them.” Every piece in every collection they release, be it in clothing or their bar cars, Ocampo-Rodriguez and her team evolve to adapt to the needs of the changing consumers.

Difficulties remain but “I really just choose to meet them head-on and come across it with one problem at a time.” No matter the situation, she chooses to be an optimist. “I also believe though that every problem, there’s also opportunity. Hopefully, we’re able to go toward opportunity and make something out of it.”

Motivation to move

Before the pandemic, work and personal life were entirely separate. “I wouldn’t have to spend my mornings with [my children] because I would be so busy with work my normal schedule,” Ocampo-Rodriguez explains. Before, she would wake up at six in the morning and end as early as four-thirty in the afternoon to spend time with her kids, Alessi (5) and Aly (8).

Now, the quarantine blurs the line between these work and home, forcing people to discipline themselves and find ways to adjust. For Ocampo-Rodriguez, she has always worked full time but now her entire day fuses her role as a fashion designer and as a mother.

“They come in [and] they never leave me alone because they’re not used to mom leaving,” she says, referring to the times she had to run errands outside. “If they need me, they just come and ask questions because I can’t be far if they need [me].” Both Alessi and Aly are taking online classes for the first time and at such young ages, they need assistance with technical aspects.

Despite what can be considered distractions at work, Ocampo-Rodriguez finds it easy to focus. “What keeps me motivated is the fact that I have a lot of people under me [and] I have my family who is my biggest inspiration, and the essence of the brand,” she explains. She is unable to visit her immediate family and friends but she looks forward to seeing them again after the pandemic when fear for their safety no longer permeates.

It may seem lonely at a glance, but she believes the pandemic gave her realizations. “You will really stick to your truest and smallest circle, and you’re going to be fine with that because, at the end of the day, that’s the only thing that matters.” she asserts.

This story original came out in the May 2021 issue of Lifestyle Asia.

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