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Lasting Purpose: For Jill Lao, Fashion Serves to Clothe, Protect, and Communicate

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Last year, Lao lent her talents alongside other designers to help those most at risk.

Easy, fuss-free basics that are made to last and can be worn from day-to-night define the Jill Lao aesthetic. Trained at the Parsons School of Design and having worked with Naeem Kahn and Oscar de la Renta, Lao also lived in Paris where she saw the impact of well-done, tailored classics on a wardrobe.

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A presence at the Comme Çix Cura V The Concierge fashion concept, and with her wares sold at Lanai, things were looking up last year. And then COVID-19 burst into the scene. Lao, along with many designers, had to adjust.

When the lockdowns were instated last year, her label’s production had to stop until further notice and her business was on stand still. She had to focus her efforts then to an initiative called Fashion For Frontliners.  

Common thread

Fashion For Frontliners is a non-profit group of Filipino designers who worked together to create Personal Protective Equipment suits for donation to healthcare workers, who are most at risk in the current situation. Lao saw the online clamor for designers to make PPE suits, and wanted to take action but did not have the in-house staff needed for full production.

“When I saw Yong Davalos starting to make her own PPEs, I asked how I could help,” shares Lao. “She tasked me to create the pattern and first prototype for our PPE suit, and the group organically grew to include now ten of us.” The group is composed of Lao, Davalos, Rosenthal Tee, Jot Losa, Rob Ortega, Andrea Tetangco, Daryl Maat, Debbie Co, Vina Romero, and Bessie Besana.

Jill Lao 1

Each suit is doctor-approved, made of talsan material and costs P400 to make. Along with the making of the suits, Fashion For Frontliners opened a fundraising round for the production, and 2they exceeded their goal of P3,200,000 for 8,000 suits. These, the group distributed to hospitals all over the metro, including Philippine General Hospital and Lung Center of the Philippines.

Cohesive collection

“In the midst of social distancing and the skeletal workforce everyone has to make do with, I’m experiencing camaraderie and a unified rallying cry in helping in any way we can,” Lao shared then, noting that she is glad to have found likeminded people in the industry to tackle this issue with her.

“Because there are 10 of us designers collaborating on Fashion for Frontliners, we are able to do so many things and grow on a scale that I couldn’t achieve a tenth of had I gone on my own,” she says.

Each member of the group assumed different roles to contribute to the project, from accounting and product development and production to distribution. “I’m humbled by the lack of egos in our team and how everyone is working full time on this,” Lao says. “I believe there is definitely an exponential value in working together.”

Form and function

Lao hopes that these efforts will push the fashion industry above temporary vanity and frivolity. “Fashion at its core serves to clothe, to protect, and to communicate,” she says. “I hope we will continue to make clothing with love and lasting purpose.”

Since reaching Fashion for Frontliners, Lao has been able to restart her line, introducing new collections and presenting pieces even at Tokyo.

But, as the pandemic rages on, she doesn’t want to forget the fight that continues. And she wants to remind those who are still fighting that there are many willing and ready for fight alongside them.

“Thank you for being on the battlefield on behalf of society,” Lao says, “may our God be with you, and be your strength and shield, your ever-present help in times of trouble.

This piece originally came out in the April-May 2020 issue of Lifestyle Asia.

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